Top 10 Myths Debunked

Top 10 Nuclear Energy Myths Debunked
from the American Nuclear Society (ANS)

Myth # 1:  Americans get most of their radiation dose from nuclear power plants.
Truth: We are surrounded by naturally occurring radiation.  Only 0.005% of the average American’s yearly radiation dose comes from nuclear power; 100 times less than we get from coal [1], 200 times less than a cross-country flight, and about the same as eating 1 banana per year [2].

Myth # 2: A nuclear reactor can explode like a nuclear bomb.
Truth: It is impossible for a reactor to explode like a nuclear weapon; these weapons contain very special materials in very particular configurations, neither of which are present in a nuclear reactor.

Myth #3: Nuclear energy is bad for the environment.
Truth: Nuclear reactors emit no greenhouse gasses during operation.  Over their full lifetimes, they result in comparable emissions to renewable forms of energy such as wind and solar [3].  Nuclear energy requires less land use than most other forms of energy.

Myth # 4:  Nuclear energy is not safe.
Truth: Nuclear energy is as safe or safer than any other form of energy available.  No member of the public has ever been injured or killed in the entire 50-year history of commercial nuclear power in the U.S.  In fact, recent studies have shown that it is safer to work in a nuclear power plant than an office [4].

Myth # 5: There is no solution for huge amounts of nuclear waste being generated.
Truth: All of the used nuclear fuel generated in every nuclear plant in the past 50 years would fill a football field to a depth of less than 10 yards, and 96 % of this “waste” can be recycled [5].  Used fuel is currently being safely stored.  The U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the equivalent scientific advisory panels in every major country support geological disposal of such wastes as the preferred safe method for their ultimate disposal[6].

Myth # 6:  Most Americans don’t support nuclear power.
Truth: In surveys conducted in 2009, it was found that 70% of Americans support nuclear power [7].  Further, 84% of Americans see nuclear energy as an important source of electricity for the future, and 70% would accept a new reactor at the nearest nuclear power plant site.

Myth # 7:  An American “Chernobyl” would kill thousands of people.
Truth: A Chernobyl-type accident could not have happened outside of the Soviet Union because this type of reactor was never built or operated here.  The known fatalities during the Chernobyl accident were mostly emergency first responders [8].  Of the people known to have received a high radiation dose, the increase in cancer incidence is too small to measure due to other causes of cancer such as air pollution and tobacco use.

Myth # 8:  Nuclear waste cannot be safely transported.
Truth: Used fuel is being safely shipped by truck, rail, and cargo ship today.  To date, thousands of shipments have been transported with no leaks or cracks of the specially designed casks [9].

 Myth # 9:  Used nuclear fuel is deadly for 10,000 years.
Truth: Used nuclear fuel can be recycled to make new fuel and byproducts [10].  Most of the waste from this process will require a storage time of less than 300 years.  Finally, less than 1% is radioactive for 10,000 years.  This portion is not much more radioactive than some things found in nature, and can be easily shielded to protect humans and wildlife.

Myth # 10:  Nuclear energy can’t reduce our dependence on foreign oil.
Truth: Nuclear-generated electricity powers electric trains and subway cars as well as autos today.  It has also been used in propelling ships for more than 50 years. That use can be increased since it has been restricted by unofficial policy to military vessels and ice breakers.  In the near-term, nuclear power can provide electricity for expanded mass-transit and plug-in hybrid cars.  Small modular reactors can provide power to islands like Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Nantucket and Guam that currently run their electrical grids on imported oil.  In the longer-term, nuclear power can directly reduce our dependence on foreign oil by producing hydrogen for use in fuel cells and synthetic liquid fuels.
References

 National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements No. 92 and 95 

  1. CDR Handbook on Radiation Measurement and Protection
  2. P.J. Meier, “Life-Cycle Assessment of Electricity Generation Systems and Applications for Climate Change Policy Analysis,” 2002
  3. Nuclear Energy Institute (www.nei.org)
  4. K.S. Krane, Introductory Nuclear Physics, John Wiley and Sons, 1988
  5. Progress Towards Geologic Disposal of Radioactive Waste: Where do We Stand?, Nuclear Energy Agency, OECD report, 1999 (http://www.nea.fr/rwm/report s/1999/progress.pdf)
  6. Perspectives on Public Opinion, NEI publication, June 2008
  7. Chernobyl Forum reports 20-year findings, offers recommendations, Nuclear News, Oct-05
  8. DOE Fact Sheet (http://www.ocrwm.doe.gov/factsheets/doeymp0500.shtml)
  9. K.S. Krane, Introductory Nuclear Physics, John Wiley and Sons, 1988

 Last updated June 27, 2012, 8:49am CDT.

Energize Northwest’s additional responses about these myths:

Myth # 1:  Americans get most of their radiation dose from nuclear power plants.
If you want to see where you do get your real world radiation exposure print and fill out this Annual Radiation Dosage Chart from the American Nuclear Society. They also have an online calculator to that you can use. If you do not trust an organization with Nuclear as their middle name, compute your radiation exposure with the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s dosage calculator.

Myth #3: Nuclear energy is bad for the environment.
ANS’s response “Nuclear reactors emit no greenhouse gasses during operation.” is accurate and precise. What is does not say is that some green house gasses will be  emitted during the plant’s construction, the fuel mining and refining, the fabrication of fuel rods, waste disposal, and plant decommissioning. Recently, nuclear power opponents have attacked nuclear power as not being emission free citing these ancillary emission sources. They do this ignoring the fact that fossil fueled plants have similar and often greater ancillary CO2 emissions. A simple way to quantify their deception is to compare the cost of fuel for each type of plant. For nuclear power, the fuel represents about 10% of the cost of energy production.  For the fossil plants it ranges from 20 to 30 percent. Since there is a general correlation between the cost of an item and the energy needed to produce it, one can reasonably assume that the ancillary emissions for fossil fuels’ production exceed those of nuclear. 

Myth # 4:  Nuclear energy is not safe.
What is not safe? What is dangerous? Safe or dangerous compared to what? As I sit here typing this a gas line in my basement could spring a leak and BOOM! We all use energy and we want it to be safe to generate and use. We can not eliminate all risks, but we can sure minimize them. One way to do this is to pick the energy sources that pose the least risk to us and our planet. Among the safest are hydroelectric, wind, solar, and nuclear. Among the most dangerous energy sources are coal, oil, and natural gas.

The Human Cost of Energy  article from the September 2011 issue of Scientific American reports that the production of energy by these three fossil fuel sources are about ten times as deadly as the other energy sources. The graphic also documents the health burden on the United States cause by particulates from fossil-fueled power plants. These particulates cause about 30,100 Americans to die prematurely as well as cause workers to miss over five million days of work each year.

Myth # 5: There is no solution for huge amounts of nuclear waste being generated.
The ANS response is correct as far as it goes. Nuclear waste is still a major problem in that we know what to do with it but for over thirty years we have not had the political will to proceed with the solutions. See our page Nuclear Waste $$$!.