For fathers day — let us consider all the ways that nuclear energy is sorta like your dad.
Nuclear reactors have been producing the vast majority of carbon-free electricity in the United States since the 1970s, but how many people actually know that? We recently did a series of man-on-the-street interviews in Seattle, Washington, and asked several dozen people what the largest source of clean energy in North America and Europe was — what’d we hear? “Wind” “Solar” “Hydro”, and even “natural gas”. Just like your dad — nuclear energy is doing at lot for you that you don’t even realize.
Thanks to the energy density of uranium and the immense amount of energy released when a uranium nucleus is fissioned, nuclear power plants pack a punch. This means they require a lot less mining and less land than every other energy source.
Just like your dad wants to get that diaper changed in an expeditious fashion, nuclear power also works to keep the air clean. In fact, nuclear energy’s contributions to clean air has saved around two million lives since its inception.
Just like your dad might have helped you pay for college or simply given you some of the important life skills you need to be successful, nuclear power is looking out for the future. Nuclear reactors are one of the few energy sources that span several decades. When a plant is built, it guarantees that the surrounding region will have good paying jobs, reliable electricity, and clean air for several generations.
Most of the nuclear plants in existence were completed in the 70s and 80s. While they might have dad-bods in comparison to the advanced reactor designs that are being proposed now, they still get the job done, and have plenty of good years left before they need to retire.
Nuclear plants produce clean energy 24/7/365, for 18 months at a time. But they do need to power down and refuel every now and then, just like your dad.
Just like a lot of dads, nuclear power has its roots in the military. The first commercial nuclear power plant at Shippingport, Pennsylvania was essentially a nuclear submarine reactor put on land, using solid uranium fuel with water as a coolant and moderator. This design, called the Light Water Reactor, is still the most commonly used reactor type in the world, by far.
Most nuclear reactors have containment domes as an extra safety feature. Your dad might also have a dome-like appearance, and what’s inside of that dome is pretty special.
Though they’re unquestionably the safest way to make electricity, everyone likes to bring up the one time in history where bad operations at a nuclear plant caused casualties. Just like when your dad did that stupid thing in high school, and it still comes up at family get-togethers.
The nuclear industry is one of the most highly regulated industries in the world. The radiation standards are so stringent that if you brought a granite countertop into a nuclear power plant, you wouldn’t be allowed to leave with it because of the natural radiation it gives off. Kind of reminds us of your dad’s hard-line on touching the thermostat.
Nuclear power plants can produce medical isotopes, desalinate water, and with a little bit of investment, produce hydrogen! Of course, just like your dad, if nuclear never has an opportunity to show off these hidden talents, no one will even know that they exist.
by Eric Meyer, Generation Atomic Founder and Executive Director
Eric started out pursuing a career in professional singing, but after hearing about the promise of advanced nuclear reactors, he decided to devote his life to saving and expanding the use of atomic energy.