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Nuclear has a powerful effect on writer’s psyche

By Tom Fetters

Blame it on Three Mile Island.

Whenever I learn about safety problems – or potential safety problems – at nuclear power plants, I wonder again whether nuclear energy is the right choice.

I’ve spent much of my life within an hour’s drive of one nuclear power plant or another. For a couple of years, cooling towers stood just beyond the treetops bordering my backyard. Over the years, I remember occasional unscheduled shutdowns and one lengthy closure when corrosion deteriorated a reactor vessel head.

And with every shutdown, which was nearly always followed by an announcement by the plant’s operator that there was no danger to the public, my mind flashed back to spring break in 1979 when a malfunction at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania caused part of a reactor core to melt.

No one was hurt at TMI, but the what-if possibilities planted permanent doubt about nuclear energy in my mind.

That doubt was reinforced seven years later when the Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster in the Soviet Union was blamed for dozens of deaths and who-knows-how-many illnesses. (Of course, the Chernobyl plant operated under different rules from those covering U.S. plants.)

That doubt resurfaced recently with reports of potentially harmful levels of radioactive tritium found in groundwater at the nuclear plant in Vermont and reports that tritium leaks have occurred in dozens of U.S. nuclear plants, many built in the 1960s and 1970s.

I realize that nuclear power has its benefits: We have nuclear energy to thank for 70 percent of the country’s electricity produced by so-called clean sources, according to the recent reports. And President Barack Obama envisions new nuclear power plants to further wean the country from fossil fuels.

But I can’t see myself ever being comfortable with nuclear energy. That doubt just refuses to go away.

Tom Fetters is a copy editor at The Daily Reporter. He won’t be relocating to the area around Point Beach 1 north of Two Rivers, Wis., anytime soon.

One comment

  1. I share your concern about the safety of nuclear energy. I ask myself would I want one of these new reactors close to my home? I can’t say the answer is an unequivocal “yes”. Nonetheless, the new fourth generation reactors are reportedly much safer than the 20 and 30 year old reactors currently in existence. I still think that nuclear energy plays a significant part of our overall energy policy for the next few decades, while other energy sources are developed and energy efficiency becomes a household word.

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