College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

Professor addresses big questions for nuclear power

On May 26, 1958, in western Pennsylvania, the first nuclear power plant began generating electricity in the United States, ushering in a new era in energy production that would fuel economic growth and eventually transform the industrial world.

Yet more than a half-century later, even as nuclear power moves to the fore in helping to shape a lower carbon world, its position in the global economy is being questioned and challenged as never before.

Why this debate about the single most important source of emission-free energy — and a very reliable one — that accounts for about 20 percent of the electricity in the U.S. and 15 percent globally? There are the traditional concerns – safety, waste disposal, security and the economic cost of building new nuclear plants.

The Fukushima accident in Japan has raised anxieties about the safety of nuclear power plants. Some worry that an accident in the United States could lead to the deaths of large numbers of people from acute radiation poisoning.Certainly the Fukushima accident poses big questions for nuclear power. But there are those who stereotype and disparage the U.S. nuclear industry without regard for actual facts. No member of the public has ever died or been injured as a result of a nuclear power plant accident in the United States. Here at home, the safety record of the 104 U.S. nuclear plants is impressive.

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