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Matching the facts with perceptions: nuclear energy

Troy Wilkenson
Troy Wilkinson

I’ve always been on the opposing side of nuclear energy. Similar to most of the general public, I thought that nuclear energy would be too risky for an acceptable path towards acquiring clean energy. After watching documentaries on nuclear energy, reading about radiation and learning about different green energy sources, I’ve begun to question my position on nuclear energy. As it turns out nuclear energy may not be nearly as dangerous as I, along with most others around the globe, have perceived it to be.

The negative stigma that’s been attached to nuclear energy seems to derive partially from a misunderstanding in how radiation works and what levels are harmful. The negative stigma has also come to be due to media framing and nuclear energy’s typical associations with nuclear weapons.

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Radiation, while harmful in large doses, is something that all things on Earth are naturally exposed to, most often in small, safe doses. Not only that, but the threat of a nuclear energy plant melting down seems to be vastly over exaggerated. Man-made medical systems, like a spine x-ray, exposes the subject to what the modern science accepts as an acceptable amount of radiation. Often times the infamous Chernobyl is perceived to be uninhabitable due to massive amounts of radiation, and still will be for at least another half century, but that seems to be a common misconception.

Though Chernobyl had dangerous amounts of radiation released during the reactor’s meltdown and explosion, it has lowered to habitable levels, and seems to have been that way for quite a while. For example, within the Chernobyl cemetery the amount of radiation per hour is .002 of a spinal x-ray. To put that into further perspective, the average annual amount a person living in the United States receives annually is around four times as as much as a spinal x-ray. When comparing the two numbers, Chernobyl really isn’t as much of a untouchable wasteland as I previously had thought. A relatively new documentary on Netflix called Pandora’s Promise details cases of people moving back into what is deemed the disaster zone of Chernobyl and who are living healthily. Pandora’s Promise goes into further detail about background radiation levels all over the world.

There’s also a common generalization about nuclear energy that groups all nuclear energy as nuclear fission. In actuality there are two main different types of nuclear energy: nuclear fission, which is what we have today, and nuclear fusion. Nuclear fusion is a more sophisticated, greener, safer and more rewarding type of nuclear energy. Instead of splitting an atom like nuclear fission does in order to start a chain reaction that produces energy, nuclear fusion fuses two atoms together to create energy, like the way our sun does. I find that the two are unfairly grouped together. Nuclear fusion is one of the most promising forms of energy production, but is often overlooked or demonized because it is unfairly put right beside nuclear fission.

In an energy hungry world, it’s imperative that we inform ourselves about each type of energy and their distinct negative effects. Though nuclear energy may have its dangers and its forms of waste, our main goal should be to get off energy production methods that emit greenhouse gases. We need not only to constantly check our facts and beliefs, but to also support better sources of energy, even though they may not be perfect. International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, one of the most advanced nuclear fusion endeavors, can help provide useful information on the topic. I encourage everyone to check out what their doing and get insight into nuclear fusion at their website ITER.org. Nuclear fusion very well may be our savior from dirty and unsustainable energy, but it can only be achieved with the strength on a united globe, educated and open-minded.

Collegian Columnist Troy Wilkinson can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @blumitts.

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