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Future demands role for safe nuclear power

To the editor:

In a guest column Nov. 20, Andrew Larkin concluded that extreme weather events could cause life-threatening nuclear reactor problems, and that we should “stop risking our lives, our lands, and our Earth itself on a dangerous source of energy” (“Future storms and aging reactors”).

But the problems are solvable by having protective walls and better in-depth cooling and electrical systems for both the reactors and their spent fuel pools. Dry cask storage should be expanded and use made of the Yucca Mountain long-term storage facility that was shut down by Sen. Harry Reid. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission thoroughly reviews the status of aging reactors and has extended the lifetime of many.

The key question underlying Larkins’s article is how dangerous is low-level ionizing radiation? Considering the Fukushima disaster, in which 15,000 people were killed by the tsunami, there has been no evidence of radiation-related illness to date. The best projection is eventually 100 radiation-related cancers, a number lost in the statistics of the 20 percent who would develop cancer in any case.

Currently the accepted radiation-protection standard is the Linear-No-Threshold Hypothesis that assumes all radiation doses are cumulative over a lifetime and are dangerous. In contrast, the radiation hormesis hypothesis says low doses of ionizing radiation above natural background levels are beneficial and stimulate cell repair mechanisms that are missing in its absence. Evidence is accumulating in support of hormesis.

In Earth’s long-range future, when our population is projected to be over 10 billion and climbing, a central problem will be global warming. Small modular reactors will be able to safely provide electricity without producing climate-exacerbating greenhouse gases. Nuclear power should play a significant role in our future.

G. A. Peterson


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