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Letter: Nuclear power option includes a lot of risk of exposure
A view of the cooling towers, right, and nuclear reactor containment buildings area, left, at Plant Vogtle Nuclear Power Plant in Waynesboro. - photo by John Bazemore
The universe began with a huge release of radiation. We call it the Big Bang.

Some of that radiation is still around, but nobody identified it until 1965 when two men, Amo Penzia and Robert Wilson, radio astronomers working at the Bell Laboratories, heard and identified it. They were working on satellite communication measurements and couldn’t account for some “noise” in the system.

It came from all points in the sky. After eliminating all other possibilities, they realized they were hearing background radiation from the birth of the universe.  

Life didn’t begin on Earth until the background radiation from the Big Bang dropped below a certain level, and even then, life began in the sea where it was shielded by the water.  

We still protect ourselves from nuclear radiation by shielding it with water. A nuclear power plant uses vast amounts of H2O, not only to cool the reactor, but also to store the high-level radioactive waste (spent fuel rods) produced by nuclear reactors.  

Unfortunately, over time some of this ionizing radiation has escaped into the atmosphere. For the first time since life began, mankind is reversing the process that has allowed life to develop. Nuclear technology is adding to the natural cosmic background radiation.

Much has been written about the rise in CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere. Gradually, we are admitting that much of that CO2 is manmade and that the burning of fossil fuels is the culprit. Gradually, we are developing alternatives. It has been suggested that nuclear is one of them.  

Nuclear energy is supposed to be CO2 free. While it’s true that nuclear reactors do not emit CO2, building and maintaining them does.  

President Trump has said that the connection between CO2 and change in Earth’s climate is a hoax. I’m pretty sure he knows better, but he understands the power the fossil fuel industry has over the world economy.  

Now that the public is beginning to experience the cost of climate change in dollars and human suffering, Trump is turning to another powerful industry for help: the nuclear industry. With its connections to the military, it may be the answer he seeks. The public is less well informed about radiation then it is about CO2.  

This is why the White House is now telling people that radiation may actually be good for them. The theory is something called hormesis, the idea that small amounts of a poison can actually strengthen an organism and protect it against a larger and otherwise harmful dose later on, but this is a misappropriation of the theory.

Small doses of allergens can desensitize an individual from an allergic reaction in the future, but ionizing radiation attacks life on the cellular level. A damaged cell can mutate and produce cancer.  

Both the National Academies of Science and the Environmental Protection Agency still say no level of exposure is without risk.  

Joan King

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