Column: For humanity, there is no nuclear future

US President Barack Obama, right, shakes hands with Microsoft CEO Bill Gates during the 'Mission Innovation: Accelerating the Clean Energy Revolution' meeting at the COP2, United Nations Climate Change Conference, in Le Bourget, north of Paris, Monday, Nov. 30 2015. (AP)

Edward Abbey, the environmentalist-writer, said in a 1982 PBS interview, that society “seem[s] to really believe that growth is a good in itself and more growth the better, so I doubt if this expansion will be curtailed until something very unpleasant happens.”

Abbey, who died in 1989, did not witness the full impact of climate change, and so he never understood how prophetically he predicted mankind’s inability to manage the consequences of the Hydrocarbon Age.

While our pale blue dot has, to this point, handled our desire for growth, climate change has presented itself as the tragic result of this insatiable appetite. The need to adopt a carbon-neutral energy source is clear; yet, for this one problem, there exist millions of proposed solutions.

Peter Thiel, a noted venture capitalist, proposed a nuclear option in a New York Times op-ed, dusting off the patina on promised energy of yesteryear. Thiel argues “If we are serious about replacing fossil fuels, we are going to need nuclear power, so the choice is stark: We can keep on merely talking about a carbon-free world, or we can go ahead and create one.”

Once the heralded future of energy, nuclear power proved to be a bitter pill to swallow, with disasters dulling the promising glow of a nuclear future.

Nuclear power is the most viable alternative available today. However, alternative renewable sources—notably wind, sea and solar—could be viable if massive influxes of capital were secured.

Bill Gates released a statement in which he, and several others, announced the Energy Breakthrough Coalition, which serves as an investment platform for clean energy. Though cynics such as Fortune argue the platform is not “ready for primetime” their main concerns are a lack of investment and staff, the sole public commitment of $1 billion from Gates, as well as a “financial structure [which] is not yet settled.”

Though these concerns are legitimate, none provides a serious impediment to progress. The EBC is the sort of group on which Thiel should focus his resources.

While other technological breakthroughs, such as GMOs may not be deserving of the harsh criticism (though skepticism and scientific trials are a necessity), nuclear power is fully deserving of skepticism—especially in the wake of disasters.

While Thiel opines that the lack of direct casualties absolves nuclear power, such is a painfully ignorant claim. In Japan, there are still, according to the Guardian, 120,000 refugees who cannot return to irradiated homes. Further, the Guardian cited a Fukushima Prefecture survey, in which “67.5 percent of households said they had relatives who were showing signs of physical or psychological distress.” While Thiel focuses on favorable statistics, arguing “nobody in Japan died from radiation,” the reality is far more damning.

Granted, the overwhelming majority of the world’s 438 nuclear reactors have not experienced catastrophe. However, given the rise in storm systems, sea levels, and other unknown consequences of climate change, should we be investing in a power source which, when working perfectly is ideal, but when malfunctioning, threatens the life of those in the vicinity?

Nuclear power is the most readily available alternative energy resource; however, ease should not dictate choice. Sources of truly clean power, such as wind and solar also have their own problems and complications. Furthermore, both sources would require massive investment and infrastructure upgrades. However, if we are serious about preserving the Earth and the safety for all people, then investment and expedited effort are the only way forward.

Growth has left our pale blue dot graying and drowning, as glaciers recede and oil wells continue to suck every last drop of black gold from the Earth’s cavernous depths. In the coming years, we must commit ourselves to developing renewable energy, lest we capitulate in the face of enormous odds we face. Moving to nuclear power is not the right direction for humanity. Though Thiel refers to nuclear power as clean, it is hard to call a power source which leaves radioactive waste truly clean.

We should not shift from one proven, dangerous, and volatile energy source for another source with even an infinitesimal potential for disaster. In order to move forward to a better energy future, void of markets for fuel sources (whether fossil fuels or nuclear fuels); void of geopolitical struggle; lacking tangible threats to humanity and ecology; and truly sustainable, we must move past both fossil fuels and nuclear power, and on to the bright future advances in technology will use to supply the world with truly clean energy.


Christopher Sacco is opinion editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at christopher.sacco@uconn.edu.