I like this story, mostly because it proves that people can change their minds as the facts warrant. It goes without saying that I prefer it when people change their minds in ways that bring them to align with my thinking. Don’t we all. The former protester, Gwynneth Cravens, has looked into environmental issues as they relate to nuclear vs other power sources and has come to interesting conclusions.
Wired News talked with Cravens on the phone from her home in New York.
Wired News: You don’t argue that nuclear power is entirely safe, but that it’s vastly better than coal and fossil fuels. Do we have to choose between them?
Gwyneth Cravens: I used to think we surely could do better. We could have more wind farms and solar. But I then learned about base-load energy, and that there are three forms of it: fossil fuels, hydro and nuclear. In the United States, we’re maxed out on hydro. That leaves fossil fuels and nuclear power, and most of the fossil fuel burned is coal.
In the U.S., 24,000 people a year die from coal pollution. Hundreds of thousands more people suffer from lung and heart disease directly attributable to coal pollution.
WN: That’s opposed to a minuscule number of people who have been directly harmed by nuclear power?
Cravens: It’s zero in the United States. Of course there is the occasional industrial accident amongst the workers. But over the lifetime cycle of nuclear power, if you go cradle-to-grave with uranium, the total carbon emissions are about those of wind power.
WN: You have an interesting statistic comparing the waste levels produced by individuals over a lifetime.
Cravens: A family in four in France, where they reprocess nuclear fuel, would produce only enough waste to fit in a coffee cup over a whole lifetime. A lifetime of getting all your electricity from coal-fired plants would make a single person’s share of solid waste (in the United States) 68 tons, which would require six 12-ton railroad cars to haul away. Your share of CO2 would be 77 tons.
WN: What about clean coal plants, and carbon-sequestration technologies? Aren’t they a practical alternative?
Cravens: At this point, no. There’s one prototype in Colorado that the government is trying to sponsor. From a practical point of view, I think nuclear plants could be up and running and replacing fossil-fuel plants sooner than we get clean coal.
As the joke goes, more Americans have died in Ted Kennedy’s car than from nuclear accidents. Read the rest of the article. It’s interesting stuff.