Good Question: How Dangerous Is Nuclear Energy?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Minnesota emergency management officials executed the first alert in the history of Minnesota’s Prairie Island nuclear plant Thursday, when chlorine spilled after a break in a 2-inch pipe.

While the level two alert was not a threat to the public, it left some to wonder: How dangerous is nuclear energy?

The splitting of the uranium atom to generate energy has long divided the masses. Some think about clean energy and emission free power. Others say nuclear energy brings thoughts about hazardous waste, nuclear weapons, and even the Japanese earthquake last year that caused catastrophic meltdown at the Fukushima plant when reactors overheated after power failure.

The Chernobyl and Three Mile Island disasters also plague history, but Minnesota’s minor Prairie Island chlorine spill should not be a concern, according to Dean Abrahamson, a retired professor from the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs. Abrahamson spent his career specializing in energy policy and even worked as a reactor physicist, and later as a scientist at Honeywell.

“We have a dreadfully uninformed electorate and when it involves a nuclear plant, there is a special sensitivity,” said Abrahamson. “There is a justifiable caution about nuclear power, but that doesn’t have anything to do with this chlorine leak.”

Abrahamson said when it comes to nuclear power overall, he isn’t sure if the advantages outweigh the risks.

“I don’t think nuclear power is safe, but for reasons that have nothing to do with this chlorine leak. The nuclear power issue is very complicated, it involves waste management, safety, it involves proliferation of nuclear weapons, it involves cost,” said Abrahamson.

Abrahamson’s concerns stretch beyond Minnesota. He believes we should focus on how nuclear energy is harnessed globally.

“Any country that has nuclear power, if they want to, can make nuclear weapons,” he said. “Look at Iran, look at North Korea. That is the real issue with nuclear power. But the bottom line is there is a potential for accidents. We saw that in Japan a few months ago, there is a real problem with management of high level wastes.”

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) oversees 104 nuclear plants in the United States. Spokeswoman Prema Chandrathil said the NRC’s mission is to regulate nuclear energy and ensure safety for the public, environment and for workers.

Chandrathil said every site is assigned two on-site federal inspectors, who are on duty around the clock all year long. When the NRC perceives a risk, they won’t hesitate to shut down the plant to protect the public.

The agency increased inspections at nuclear plants nationwide after the Japan disaster to scrutinize whether similar problems could happen in the United States.

Minnesota also has another nuclear plant in Monticello, which has a good safety record, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Minnesota’s nuclear plants supply 69 percent of the state’s emission-free power, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute.

Last year, NRC inspectors found a slight problem at the Prairie Island plant when testing a battery charger for backup power, but the problem has been fixed.

  • garyr

    What exactly does a chlorine leak have to do with nuclear energy?? Nothing. I work
    in Utilities (Water and Sewer). The water treatment plant routinely swaps out chlorine tanks.

  • Ferris Lind

    Wcco is so liberal i puke everytime coming to this site

    • lara

      it is so bad

  • Joe Hanson

    I’m more concerned about the megawatts of energy radiated from the TV towers in Shoreview, MN.

  • Jerryw

    Why would Dr.Abrahmson, who fears nuclear power, spend part of his career working near it. The Japanese reactors should never have been built on a coast line prone to Tusanamis. Is this a nuclear problem ? The Russians Chernobyl, well, that’s the Russians. Nuclear proliferation, we can control that, just follow the lead of Israel. We will learn to harness nuclear power someday, to produce hydrogen from water, which we will burn to get water back, provided Liberal bias can be disolved, trust me.

    • lara

      nice to see you

  • Richard F

    I was disappointed in this report by Lindsey Seavert. The report mixed the topics of a non-eventful chlorine leak with the safety of nuclear energy, and then ignored important aspects of nuclear energy. For example, France generates more than 75% of its national energy from nuclear power plants, has an impressive long-term safety record, is a net exporter of electricity, has the lowest cost of electricity in Europe, is able to support a national, electricity-based high-speed rail system, has low CO2 emissions, and has developed worldclass engineering talent in the field, including the reprocessing and recycling of fuel rods. Their leadership in this field is exemplary. Instead of highlighting many of these or similar facts, Ms. Seavert’s report overemphasized an interview with Dr. Abrahamson, who, in the first place, did not want to discuss “safety” because it is a complicated subject. True enough, so it requires better journalism to prepare a truly informative segment. This report was a diservice to the listening audience and to a complicated subject. If WCCO can’t adequately research and allocate air time to a complicated subject, it would be better not to cover the topic at all. WCCO owes viewers a better report on this subject.

  • The Angry Walrus

    The should change the title of these article to…

    Good Question; Terrible Answers

  • Redneck Purist

    Stupid question: Nuke energy is by far the safest, cleanest and easiest energy per kilowatt to make. It’s not even close. Coal, hydro, gas cause far and away more pollution and deaths related to their respective industries. Who writes this stuff?

  • fkafka

    You might as well have interviewed Hanoi Jane for this biased article. The French are 80% nuclear and haven’t had issues – they’ve had power since the 1960’s. In another few years, we won’t even know how to build one while everyone else does.

  • josh

    i think all “nuclear” stuff will be always dangerous, specially if the safety measures are not optimal, i read something about a new “super secure” reactor, manufactured by Westinghouse Electric, i think this will help to create better nuclear energy plants, this is the full report of this new reactor

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