Many people around the world are questioning the safety and necessity of nuclear power as the emergency at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi plant continues to unfold.
Living in Massachusetts means preparing for vicious hurricanes and noreasters, but what about the possibility of a nuclear emergency in addition to these natural disasters? I didn't even know if that was possible, because I didn't know what kind of nuclear power Massachusetts generated, if any. The answers surprised me.
Massachusetts does have one nuclear reactor, located in Plymouth. Although it is one of the smallest of the 104 reactors in the United States, it generates 10 percent of Massachusetts' total energy production, trailing coal and natural gas according to the U.S. Energy Information Association. (A second reactor, located in Rowe, was decommissioned in 1992 for economic reasons.)
After the explosions and containment failures at Fukushima, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Committee (NRC) plans to conduct safety reviews of nuclear facilities in the United States, particularly the way they handle spent fuel. Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley asked the NRC to take a closer look at the facilities in New England especially. They may soon be licensed 20 years beyond their intended 40-year life span, and because there is no centralized location for storing used-up fuel in the United States, there are concerns about potential leaks of radioactive material if any state faced a major natural disaster.
But it is clear that there are substantial benefits to nuclear power — namely, it could be a much cleaner energy source than our current fossil fuel consumption. Nuclear reactors dont produce carbon dioxide while generating power, and they require vastly less CO2 to construct and prepare the plant and fuel when compared to natural gas and coal. If we properly address concerns about costs and radioactive waste, nuclear power may help alleviate our high demand for fossil fuels in the future.