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I live in an area served by 40% nuclear power, I have a degree related to the field and I've been an advocate for it for some time. However I completely understand why people see it as unfavorable, and I understand the drawbacks and concerns people have. I presently see it as our only out to climate change but I think being reliant on it eternally should not be the end goal.

Mostly I'm just curious to know how you feel about nuclear energy, and why you feel the way you do, if you feel comfortable sharing. I know exactly why it is controversial but that's all the more reason I'm interested in hearing from a primarily woman-oriented community. Like most things in stem we get a male dominated perspective even in laypeople's discussion.

(Additionally if you have any questions I can try to answer myself or get links to resources that answer those questions. With nuclear power I definitely take a "facts over fear" approach, but I also respect that for many people the facts can reveal new fears.)

Edit: I have loved reading and responding to the comments here. It's nice to see people being respectful about it even if you aren't in favor of it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with me!

I live in an area served by 40% nuclear power, I have a degree related to the field and I've been an advocate for it for some time. However I completely understand why people see it as unfavorable, and I understand the drawbacks and concerns people have. I presently see it as our only out to climate change but I think being reliant on it eternally should not be the end goal. Mostly I'm just curious to know how you feel about nuclear energy, and why you feel the way you do, if you feel comfortable sharing. I know exactly why it is controversial but that's all the more reason I'm interested in hearing from a primarily woman-oriented community. Like most things in stem we get a male dominated perspective even in laypeople's discussion. (Additionally if you have any questions I can try to answer myself or get links to resources that answer those questions. With nuclear power I definitely take a "facts over fear" approach, but I also respect that for many people the facts can reveal new fears.) Edit: I have loved reading and responding to the comments here. It's nice to see people being respectful about it even if you aren't in favor of it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with me!

48 comments

As a person who studied physics, I am in favor of nuclear power, but with the caveat that it MUST be properly managed, ie, not by Mr. Burns with Homer Simpson at the controls. This includes figuring out how to safely deal with nuclear waste, which does not include burying it, dumping it into the ocean (we've all seen the three-eyed fish in the opening credits), or shooting it into space. I can't help but think there's some reaction we can perform to render it non-radioactive without generating further radioactive byproducts, but I don't know what that process is because it hasn't been invented yet. Other physicists? Chemists? Anyone? Bueller?

The main problem is that there are few known ways to generate electricity, and the dynamo is a pretty good one. For those who may not know, a dynamo is a machine consisting of a magnet and a coil of wire that move relative to each other. If a magnet moves near a coil of wire or vice versa, an electric current arises. (Try it at home with a fridge magnet and a coil of wire; you'll need an ammeter to show that something is actually happening, and you can get one at most hardware stores, usually in the form of a multimeter. You might even feel moved to build a potato clock afterward.) In a power plant, the dynamo is a giant magnet spinning inside a giant wire coil, and the power to spin the magnet is provided by steam. Whatever the power source for the plant, the ultimate goal is to heat the teakettle to provide steam to spin the magnet.

Given that power plants are currently set up to spin magnets, I have had the not-entirely-facetious idea to run the plants as health clubs where local residents provide the power. The idea is that if you're getting electricity and able to move, you should be required to participate for a reasonable length of time at regular intervals (eg, an hour monthly), on a treadmill or other exercise machine appropriate to a person's physical ability. If you're not physically able, you still get electricity because I'm not a capitalist. I'm sure that other people have different ideas about the proper economic model. But the physics is sound, and the waste depends entirely on the diet of the participants. This idea also depends on a community viewing itself as such, rather than a collection of individuals who happen to live in the same vicinity, which is a problem to solve in a different o/circle, I s'pose.

In summary, then, I favor carefully managed nuclear power, invention of a safe nuclear waste disposal process, and a move toward electricity that is generated directly by the beings who are using it.

Our lifestyle requires energy. While everything from hairdryers to cars gets more efficient by the year, it will remain energy intensive, and I have no interest in the alternative: air conditioning and heating are not luxuries in much of the world, I like my refrigerator and microwave, and I don’t think it’s fair to insist the developing world live without what I refuse to live without.

Since we need energy, the question is whence we obtain that energy. Hydro electric power is one of the safest and cleanest sources; Canada has the most water and among the lowest population density of any country on the planet, and even Canada can’t rely 100% on hydroelectric power. (And it still has environmental consequences.) There is objectively no question that nuclear power is cleaner and safer than oil, gas, or coal. It doesn’t induce dependence on the uniformly vile people who sit on large oil reserves (proof that God has a sense of humour). As you will know, people have a fear of death from nuclear reactor mishap that is irrational, compared with the risk of death from failing dams, or coal pollution. But at a certain point (I know this is a distant hope at this point) we have to stop making policy based upon timidity or histrionic fear, and start looking at our objective best interests and actuarial approaches to risk.

A colleague used to work as a researcher at a reactor. (I’m not in that industry; he moved.) They had radiation sensors at the doorway, so if someone were exposed and it somehow weren’t caught at the time, the sensor would flag it as he walked out. One morning, he triggered the alarm as he walked in to the plant. The investigation found that it was because, the night before, he’d tossed his pants into the basement of his stone house, where the laundry was, but then decided to wear them again, and they’d soaked up enough radiation to trigger the alarm. In other words, you’re exposed to more radiation in the basement of a house (depending on the materials and if it’s built on rock) than working a shift in a reactor. Time to put away the fainting couch and get ourselves off Russian and Saudi fossil fuels for good.

But one thing the last two years have revealed is how utterly innumerate most people are about statistics and risk, and how utterly disproportionate their response is to the most minute risk if it’s hyped the right way, and for both good reasons and bad, the hype and nonsense around nuclear power has been extremely effective.

Where I live there have also been several coal related disasters, so the safety reason is something that actually brings me behind nuclear and got me interested in it. If everything ran to the standard of safety NPPs do in the US, we'd be golden. I just think it's crazy people would literally rather burn lignite than use a reactor. Coal releases more radiation in emissions than NPPs do. Love your story about house radiation, I live in a house with a limestone basement... you know that radon is cooking me lmao

As you will know, people have a fear of death from nuclear reactor mishap that is irrational, compared with the risk of death from failing dams, or coal pollution.

Yes, the Bhopal disaster for example is not as widely known as Chernobyl.

I agree we should be using more nuclear power. The modern advances around molten salt and thorium reactors look really attractive, which makes me even more upset about my country (Japan) shutting down all its nuclear reactors and shifting to more oil/coal based power after Fukushima. My degree is in biology, and when I used to do public science communication events, they warned us (correctly) that we may get accosted by some "anti-GMO" crazies with wild irrational fears that see us as driving some evil covert agenda, and I see a lot of similarities there with nuclear power. Similar to Japan's failure to make political progress on anti-vaccine fears, we're victims of this populist anti-science idiocy. It's kind of similar to the pushback against geothermal energy as well. Even though Japan should be an excellent place for geothermal power, currently only 0.25% of Japan's power is geothermal largely because of idiots who think that developing geothermal power will hurt their thermal hot-spring tourism because it will dry-up/cool-down/lose-the-magic of whatever their tourism image is.

Yet, at the same time, I get (and unfortunately agree) that some of the fears are legitimate. Like @Jellyfishes said, "My country is known for cutting corners and doing things half-assedly", and sadly I put Japan (and most countries) in that category too, and sadly we have the lax safety of Fukushima and the government cover-up following the accident as a recent example of the government demonstrating incompetence. Inevitably these things get run by private companies (Tepco, in the case of Fukushima) with an interest in maximizing profit over transparency/safety, and as long as the old guard politicians are in power, I don't see how that changes in most countries...

I have a relatively pessimistic view of molten salt stuff taking off unfortunately, I think the next thing we're going to see is small modular reactors. But it would be cool if we got outside the box, I just know the approval process for new nuclear tech is prohibitively slow.

Fukushima was really a mess and I'm sorry you had to experience that in your home country. I met some of the BWR experts that have analyzed it, and my one thing about nuclear is I'm now against putting it in places with fault lines like that lol. But I've also read a lot about how tepco ignored tsunami concerns years prior and didn't build seawalls or something? Can't remember the details rn but I just hope everyone learned from it. Where I live (american south) is perfect for nuclear so I reckon I'm lucky. No wind blows here so wind isn't much of an option, but lots of water so hydro and NPPs are our best bet.

I’m pro nuclear power. We have to get off fossil fuel by any means necessary.

[–] Beru 13 points

I'm in two minds about it and tbh I'd rather we focused on how to change the way we live to consume less or better, like you say, being reliant on nuclear eternally should not be the end goal- but nobody's looking at that end goal. It's a conversation nobody in power is interested in having.

Yet. But often it’s people of the lower economic tier who suffer. They are not over consuming and will face significant hard ship with mismanagement of energy and increased energy costs

It's interesting how nuclear energy is so politically polarizing. Most of the people behind it in America are conservative and yet they also don't buy the climate argument to justify its existence, so nuclear ends up bedfellows with coal, which also holds back the advancement of nuclear, and makes nuclear look even worse to the left. The petty back-and-forth definitely prevents them from thinking of the future or thinking of any transitional energy to save our skins... I don't see a magical carbon capture bailout happening.

I am split on it. I just see what feels like the inevitable result: tons of nuclear waste we don't know how to deal with.

Humanity has a pattern of "woo hoo! this new thing is great!" and then later "wow, that really fucked everything up."

The waste problem is the elephant in the room, but a lot of what keeps us from moving forward in managing it is politics and policy. I'm personally in favor of reprocessing and a geological repository but currently the United States has neither and yet we have over 90 reactors.

reprocessing and a geological repository

What would this mean exactly?

Lessening the amount if waste by extracting more fissionable isotopes from it, and then putting what we can't use back into the eartg basically.

I am comfortable with nuclear energy, and I think that it is essential to solving our clean energy problems. I am getting a degree in a STEM field and I have learned more about it than the average person.

I think that most people think only of the failures (how could they not?) but I think that nuclear will solve more problems than it will cause.

We need to focus on engineering to the 0.0000001% safety margin - Fukushima happened because they had a once-in-500 years storm. When we design these systems, we need to assume we will be encountering that, especially with possible climate change occurring.

I really like your point about factoring in extreme weather and unpredictable events with climate change. I honestly haven't thought much about that before.

Extremely efficient method but humanity decided that waste management is not a thing they want to discuss about.

Hmm... it's the politicians holding us back. The industry would love to do something.

I'm not opposed to it. As you say, i doubt it's a long term solution. Ideally, i'd like society to organize more efficiently. Like most things, we need to go to the root of the issue, which is our power consumption and then where our power comes from. They used to call electricity "white coal", we are always moving toward cleaner alternatives.

To me, nuclear power is like the death penalty: ok in theory if everything goes 100% right and you never execute an innocent person or release radioactive isotopes. Humans being human, it’s not going to go 100% right so we’ve got to find another way.

This is an interesting perspective, I feel a little similarly about this which is actually why I'm against the death penalty. However I see how many innocent people are harmed by fossil fuels (via heart disease & miscarriage from emissions, ash spills, and in the long haul, climate-change-driven weather events) and I feel it's like we're already executing the innocent without batting an eye

And there is still crime, we just have to look for other ways to stop it. In the case of energy, nuclear isn’t the only alternative: there is also efficiency and renewable power.

Given the climate disaster we're experiencing, and the fact that no one seems willing to cut their energy consumption 90% (hell, I can't even get my dad to eat a turkey burger), I think we need it. Yes it's risky, but the tech has improved over time and the risk of doing nothing and just burning oil, coal, and gas is much worse.

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