Many people have read the article “Nuclear Represents Best Option” by Leo Lasdun, which was published in the Review last Friday. This piece is a direct response to that article and an attempt to encourage further discussion regarding nuclear energy and U.S. energy policy in the future.
Lasdun uses four main points to support his argument that nuclear energy is the most realistic option for energy production in the United States: nuclear power is emissions-free, which is pertinent given the rise of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere; is economically feasible due to the fixed cost of existing nuclear power plants; has high energy production efficiency compared to other energy sources, such as solar, wind, and coal; and is safer than other methods.
Lasdun’s fourth point — the safety of nuclear power plants compared to other power sources — is unrealistic. Lasdun presents statistics from NASA to argue that nuclear power does not kill more people than other power sources do.
“[B]etween 1971 and 2009, nuclear … prevented 1.8 million deaths — thousands of times more than it caused — that would have resulted from extracting the energy using more dangerous and polluting methods over the same time period,” he wrote.
I do not know how and with what methods NASA calculated the value of 1.8 million. I can say, though, that phenomena that have happened in a parallel reality, where “more dangerous and polluting methods over the same time period” exist instead of nuclear power, are not sufficient evidence to support one’s claim, and cannot be calculated accurately in any way. Although the writer wants to emphasize the necessity of facing “the reality,” the writer supports the argument using statistics that are not realistically calculated. Furthermore, Lasdun evaluates different energy sources by comparing the number of deaths that each energy source could potentially cause. This utilitarian approach to analyzing the “safety” of nuclear power is dangerous, as it affirms and even strengthens support for the possibility of future nuclear meltdowns or nuclear-related incidents.
Additionally, this article does not realize how catastrophic a nuclear meltdown is and misunderstands the relationship between nuclear power and ecology. Lasdun states that “I’m happy to say I’ve reviewed more accurate literature, and confidently believe that the future is nuclear.” I do not know what “accurate literature” is and, moreover, I cannot understand where Lasdun’s happiness and confidence comes from given the numerous people who are affected by nuclear meltdowns and their aftereffects and have to strive to live their lives normally because of them.
Another upsetting and disturbing sentence that Lasdun writes is the following: “Fear of nuclear disaster is pervasive, maybe even more so than fear of climate change, the much more imminent and dangerous disaster.” It is very disappointing that the pervasiveness of the climate crisis motivates Lasdun to write such an article. Although I agree with Lasdun’s point that nuclear power plants do not produce greenhouse gases, reducing and eliminating dependency on nuclear power is still compatible with solving the climate crisis.
Still, we should not just immediately refute pro-nuclear arguments. We must carefully look at language and framing devices such as “economic feasibility,” “efficiency,” and “productivity” that are often used in pro-nuclear arguments. We must holistically analyze nuclear power; while it may provide some benefits, the negatives gravely outweigh the few positives.