June 19, 2019

YES: Chernobyl was catastrophic, and we need nuclear power more than ever.

As Mazin’s series reveals, the accident at Chernobyl was the result of two things: a cheap and unsafe Soviet-era reactor and an almost unbelievable confluence of human errors that occurred in precisely the order necessary to trigger the reactor explosion.

The Chernobyl reactor type was never built again and never existed outside the Soviet Union. Only 10 remain in use, and all have been modified to prevent a Chernobyl-style event. The Soviet design lacked vital safety features, included on every other commercial power reactor in the world, that would have prevented an accident of this magnitude. And the chain of operator mistakes that led to the Chernobyl explosion would be comical if they had not resulted in tragedy.

So no, we’re not going to experience another Chernobyl. And there has never been another nuclear reactor accident, before or since, that has resulted in human death from acute radiation exposure. Not Three Mile Island in 1979; no one was even injured in the Pennsylvania accident. And not at Fukushima, Japan, in 2011, either. There, the World Health Organization said the radiation exposure levels for those evacuated from the area were below detectable levels, though one plant worker died years later from lung cancer related to the accident.

By contrast, the burning of coal results in about 3,000 deaths in the U.S. alone every year, according to the Clean Air Task Force.

And if you think we need to get serious about reducing carbon emissions, you’d better think we need to get serious (again) about nuclear.

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