I believe nuclear energy is a safe and necessary energy source; here's why it's so powerful and, if misused, dangerous.
When we burn any fossil fuel, we are breaking chemical bonds that are of the order of 1 eV (electron Volt; we jokingly call this 1 mosquito sneeze). When we break a nuclear bond (fission), the energy release is roughly 200 million mosquito sneezes. Fission is 200 million times more energetic than fossil fuels; thus, the power of nuclear weapons and reactors.
The major issues discussed by nuclear opposition are safety, waste, cost, and construction time.
The three major accidents are Three-Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima Dai-ichi. Three-Mile Island didn't cause any fatalities or physical injuries.
The fuel meltdown at Fukushima caused a large evacuation; however, no one has died from radiation exposure. The earthquake and tsunami caused roughly 25,000 people killed, missing, or injured.
The 1986 Chernobyl explosion is the worst nuclear accident in history. Unlike many media reports, Chernobyl caused far fewer deaths, cancers, and ecological damage. International Atomic Energy Agency studies indicate the final cancer death toll would be less than 4,000. This is surely a disaster, especially for the families involved; however, it's far below the millions that are reported even now. With humans gone, wildlife flooded into the Exclusion Zone and flourished. Former residents of Pripyat, the nearby town, have moved back and show no related health effects.
As regards waste disposal; I believe Yucca Mountain is very well studied and safe it's intended use. We've spent over $15 billion on it; sadly, it sits unused today.
I realize there’s a fear of nuclear power and its related radiation. Unfortunately, this causes the USA and Europe to restrict expansion of nuclear energy. If we look at countries in Asia, we see extensive reactor construction. Consider this, reactors (operating/under construction): China (36/20), India (22/5), Russia (32/7), and South Korea (25/3).
We are sadly underutilizing this safe and necessary energy source.
Dr. T. Douglas Reilly
Los Alamos, New Mexico
and summer Sprucewold resident