Forum reconsiders nuclear as energy solution

Joshua Goldstein led the May 11 Salisbury Forum.

Patrick L. Sullivan

Forum reconsiders nuclear as energy solution

SALISBURY — The solution to the problem of providing sufficient energy without burning fossil fuels and increasing already dangerous levels of greenhouse gas emissions is obvious, according to Joshua Goldstein.

That solution is nuclear power.

Goldstein spoke at the Salisbury Forum, held Saturday evening, May 11 at the Salisbury School.

He is the co-author of “A Bright Future” (2019), co-wrote the 2022 Oliver Stone film “Nuclear Now,” and is professor emeritus of international relations at American University.

He began by noting he has a two-year old granddaughter, who he expects will live through all of the remainder of the 21st century and possibly into the next.

He said he asks himself how well society is “setting it up” for the child.

The answer: “Not very well.”

Goldstein said that attitudes toward nuclear power are based on decades-old beliefs that are simply untrue.

Under “Scary,” Goldstein pointed to popular culture, from 1950s monster movies in which seemingly innocuous creatures became city-crushing giants after a dose of radiation, through the 1979 film “The China Syndrome” (released 12 days before the Three Mile Island nuclear accident in Pennsylvania), to the three-eyed fish that makes frequent cameos in “The Simpsons.”

Goldstein said that the statistics about accidents at nuclear power facilities “all come from one incident, Chernobyl” (in 1986 in Ukraine, then part of the USSR).

Nuclear power’s waste products are regarded as “dirty.” Goldstein said in fact the fuel used for nuclear reactors is highly concentrated, and the waste from traditional plants can be and is now being safely stored.

Newer plants produce less radioactive waste than the old models, and some processes even allow the waste to be reused.

He said the waste storage problem is not as bad as it’s made out to be. It’s not even close.

“The waste from all U.S. nuclear power plants would fit in a Wal-Mart.”

Under the heading “dangerous,” Goldstein said the primary problem at Chernobyl was the design of the facility did not include containment.

Radiation did indeed spread throughout Europe after the accident, but only the immediate area suffered from deadly levels.

Goldstein said the 2011 accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, caused by a tsunami and earthquake, resulted in zero deaths from radiation, but tens of thousands of deaths from the subsequent flooding and destruction, not to mention the “botched evacuation.”

Making the situation worse, Japan then shut down all its nuclear plants and switched to burning coal, thus contributing to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.

“But we think of it as a nuclear accident.”

Nuclear power is criticized as being slow and expensive to deploy, but Goldstein pointed out that France went to a largely nuclear-powered grid in 15 years in the 1970s and 1980s.

“It’s the fastest way to get clean energy into the grid.”

Goldstein noted that nuclear power is often associated with nuclear weapons, but “they are not connected.”

The processes used for nuclear power and nuclear weapons are very different, and having the first does not mean a country can suddenly switch gears and produce the second.

Goldstein said new reactor technology allows for small facilities, or microreactors, to be built quickly and cheaply, requiring two to three years, seven acres of land and less than $1 billion.

“No scary cooling tower.”

He likened conventional wisdom about nuclear power to someone who, when confronted with a house fire, hides under the bed.

“We have to come out from under the bed.”

The “Nuclear Now” film co-written by Goldstein and Oliver Stone is available on the Salisbury Forum website for free until May 19. Go to www.salisburyforum.org/ for details.

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