On Your Side: Is nuclear right for Nevada?
Currently the United States is the world's largest producer of nuclear power, but Nevada is home to zero of the 99 plants operating across the country. With a potential nuclear repository at Yucca Mountain, could the Silver State capitalize on bringing nuclear energy to Nevada?
Nevadans consume more energy than the state can produce; in fact, 90 percent of the energy used in the Silver State comes from outside of our borders.
Nuclear energy produces 19 percent of our electrical energy supply as a country, and Nevada has very little coal, oil and gas reserves. While we lead the nation in solar potential, our solar sector is stuck in political turmoil.
So could a sustainable energy source like nuclear work in Nevada?
One of the well- known benefits of nuclear energy is it emits zero greenhouse gases, which could help protect our skies. Senior Scientist for the Yucca Mountain Project Michael Voegele explained how nuclear is a clear choice for our future:
"We will probably not come to a consensus on global warming and climate change in my lifetime, all right, but we do know that it's got to get better. We cannot be burning all that carbon, all right, and nuclear is part of an intelligent solution to not relying on so much carbon."
Another precious resource in Nevada though: water. Dr. Nicholas Tsoulfanidis, Emeritus Professor of Nuclear Engineering at UNR, has been studying the topic for over 50 years and said the technology just keeps getting better,
"There are various designs of nuclear reactors, the so-called pressurized water reactors need a considerable amount of water and probably would not be good for Nevada. But there are designs that use gas to cool the reactors, helium primarily, and those designs need a minimal amount of water to operate. Such a plant would be ideal for Nevada."
But what about the radiation risk? Well we live in a radioactive world -- radiation is all around us, and each one of us receives between 100 to 300 units of radiation each year. By choosing to live in Reno, you gain extra radiation every year compared to a lower elevation city. We make choices everyday, and you can calculate how much radiation you encounter at this site: http://www.nrc.gov/about-nrc/radiation/around-us/calculator.html
Dr. Tsoulfanidis explains more,
"What does a nuclear power plant give you as extra? If you decide to pitch a tent next to a nuclear power plant, you may receive one or two units extra a year"
And nuclear energy isn't the only energy plant that produces radiation. According to the European Nuclear Society, radiation is emitted through most known power production methods;
- Coal: 0.5-2 units per year
- Oil: 1 to 4 units per year
- Natural Gas: 0.2 to 1 unites per year
- Nuclear: 0.1 to 5 unites per year
But is it safe? According to Dr. Tsoulfanidis, a nuclear meltdown or explosion is impossible in American-designed nuclear plants.
"People should not ever consider that a nuclear power plant may have a nuclear explosion. No, the probability is zero. So I believe it is a technology that has proven itself and is accepted for the benefits it gives to humanity."
Is nuclear a technology Nevada is missing out on? Well that is up to you to decide, and a local grassroots group wants you to decide for yourself.
To watch Madison Corney's report on the future of Yucca Mountain, click here.