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By Kim Mejia
Grade 11
Media Academy
Oakland, CA
Are the US nuclear power plants safe?
- Posted April 19, 2011
 Survey says...






I definitely think the US’ nuclear power plants are safe. Why wouldn’t they be? Although the ones in Japan aren’t safe, that doesn’t mean all nuclear power plants are unstable. Although the Japanese earthquake and tsunami occurred, no California reactors failed. Nuclear plants can survive the strongest earthquakes as time has proven. We constantly improve our plants: KansasCity.com reports that plants today are better than they were 20, even 10 years ago. Nuclear power plants have little waste, so they solve the problem of global warming. Even if they are radioactive, it’s very rare that the radiation will get to the public. In all of our history, we’ve only had two nuclear plant breakdowns. The country’s always finding new ways to make its energy sources greener and prevent the acceleration of global warming. Nuclear power is just one of the many green energy sources the US uses today.
- Kim Mejia-Cuellar, Grade 11, Media Academy, Oakland, CA




The US and other rich countries around the globe rely on nuclear power for their energy. But is this source safe? Not necessarily. Even though we’ve had 2 major nuclear plant breakdowns, there have been many nuclear accidents that have killed people. Japan and Chernobyl are just an example of how bad it can get. Our government is creating incentives for today’s businesses and even the average civilian to go green--rebates on eco-friendly equipment or reduced prices on hybrid engines. What we have to realize is that we have to move away from nuclear energy and turn to cleaner, safer forms of energy. Sure, there are already many state governments that have taken initiative and welcomed green companies to their state, but those efforts alone will not solve the bigger problem. What the government needs to do is set an example to the rest of the world that we can change the way we produce our energy and that going green is possible. We live in constant danger every day in the US when we live in cities surrounding a nuclear power plant. And that fact rings true to most of America, where more than half of our states are home to power plants. Take Pennsylvania and Illinois for example, both of which are home to 6 power plants that were recently featured on the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s list of most vulnerable power plants in America. We don’t just have to reform our power plants, we have to get rid of them completely.
- Gloria "Jack" Mejia, Grade 11, Media Academy, Oakland, CA




Nuclear power plants might be harmful in rare occasions, but does that justify closing them and continuing to use coal and burn fossil fuels? I think not. We’ve never had a nuclear accident in the US, so there’s no reason to believe it will happen. Besides, nuclear power is cleaner than natural gas, the most common and currently available green alternative today. We don’t have to rely on just nuclear energy; we can use a wide array of power sources, like solar and wind power. California Governor Jerry Brown wants to do that. In America, nuclear power plants are viable alternatives to fossil fuels. They’re not 20 years away--they’re right here, right now, and they’re a sure way of solving global warming.
- Kim Mejia-Cuellar, Grade 11, Media Academy, Oakland, CA




Power plants will only accelerate global warming in the long wrong. They may be an easy way to get energy but having power plants around risk disaster. In the contrary, plants are very outdated (they were built in the 1960s) and in the past four years there have been 56 safety violations at plants nationwide. That number is scary: some of those violations include the mishandling of nuclear material. Some nuclear material has even gone missing. For that reason I believe that it is better for us to turn our sights to clean energy which is virtually risk-free.
- Gloria "Jack" Mejia, Grade 11, Media Academy, Oakland, CA




A major argument in favor of nuclear power plants is that they're better than the alternative, fossil fuels. However, we must not forget that there is not an alternative, but several alternatives, and that nuclear power research and funding has taken away a rather large amount of funding that could have been used to make solar and wind energy efficient enough to enter the energy market in larger proportions. Had all those funds gone into truly clean energy, there's a high chance we would not be looking at nuclear power as the only viable alternative for fossil fuels. Another important point to remember is that nuclear plants are not nearly as efficient as we expected them to be; they were originally hailed as promising sources of energy "too cheap to meter," but several decades later this has not yet materialized. The main reasons are that they take a huge amount of effort to build, maintain, and close down, and mining and refining ore is an energy-intensive process. Similar barriers exist to solar and wind energy, but then again nuclear research has benefited from much more funding than these sources. And finally, there is the problem of nuclear waste. The possibility of meltdowns is not the only problem (and bear in mind that, before the earthquake, Japan's power plants were considered quite safe); as of now, nobody has found a viable use or disposal method for spent nuclear fuel rods. A currently popular solution is to place them in pools of water above the energy plants, which, as we saw, worked wonderfully in Japan when the cooling systems failed. The half-lives of several isotopes in spent fuel are on the order of several thousand years; for example, in 24,000 years, half of the plutonium in the rods will be gone. In 48,000 years, one-fourth will still remain. To give meaning to the numbers, the US has only existed for slightly over 200 years. No containment system we can design today could ever have the capability of safely holding nuclear waste for that long. While nuclear power certainly does reduce fossil fuel emissions, it replaces carbon dioxide with radioactive waste, which, if produced in large quantities (as would be if we switched over completely to nuclear power), has in the long run substantially more potential to harm our society than carbon dioxide. In addition, it has turned out to be far less efficient than the energy "cure-all" we had originally hoped it would become while draining potential funds away from much cleaner energy sources.
- Julien Malard, Grade 12, Washington HS, Fremont, CA


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