A draft excerpt from a book I am writing about what the world will look like in 100 years…
There are about 2,500 times more deaths from coal power than from nuclear power, per unit of energy produced. And before you think that solar is safer than nuclear power, there are 10 times as many deaths from solar as nuclear power. I few years ago I would have been the first to say nuclear power is dangerous. But recently, I discovered that’s not true.
Based on what I hear in the media it is tempting to believe that we are heading into an energy shortage. If we don’t find another energy source we will be screwed, right? Well, it turns out that nuclear power is cheap, clean, reliable, safe, easy to distribute and can power the world for the next 1000 years based on uranium and thorium reserves that have already been found on earth. But nuclear power scares people. Let’s talk about that.
In the history of nuclear power there have been something on the order of 1,000 deaths including research and operations. In Fukushima in 2012 there were no casualties from the partial nuclear meltdown. The radiation was largely contained by the safety mechanisms. People died because they were rushed out of ICU that day but no one died because of radiation poisoning. The three-mile Island meltdown was similar. No casualties resulted. The only nuclear meltdown to cause deaths was Chernobyl, which caused up to 125 immediate deaths and up to 4,000 others. Some reports that hundreds of thousands of people were killed or had shortened lives because of the Chernobyl meltdown are inaccurate and don’t hold up against inquiry.
Long term nuclear storage is a concern for some people. Nuclear waste from reactors running on Uranium is dangerous for about 100,000 years after that there are no major fission products that can cause harm to people. There are two main long term solutions for waste from nuclear reactors: bury in the ground or bury in the seabed. One of the solutions is already built, but facing political resistance: Yucca Mountain, Nevada. No radiation will ever come out of that. The other main long term disposal method of waste from nuclear reactors is in the mud in the sea bed. The mud of the sea bed in some areas is hundreds of feet deep. Anything in there can be geolocated but it can never come out. The mud has been there for millions of years.
A new kind of nuclear reactor is being tested that uses Thorium, rather than Uranium. Thorium produces almost no waste, the waste that is produced is safe in 100 years and thorium cannot be used to make nuclear weapons. China and India will likely have Thorium reactors operational by 2030. The United States has no plans to develop Thorium reactors.
The future of energy is already here. I thought about going into the nuclear power business this year, but I realized as an engineer I wouldn’t be able to move the needle very much: nuclear power doesn’t have an engineering problem—it has a PR problem. Somehow even though coal kills 2,500 times as many people, nuclear power is painted as the villain.
So check it out for yourself if you still think nuclear power is unsafe. I hope I made you think ;-)
Reach out to me if you have contrarian thoughts on what the world will look like in 100 years.