NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


March 28, 2005

The benefits of nuclear energy are real, while the risks are mostly hypothetical. When decisions are made concerning future sources of electric power in the United States, facts, not fear, should be the basis for appraising the nuclear industry's place in the mix, says Larry Foulke, the immediate past president of the American Nuclear Society, and H. Sterling Burnett, a senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis.

The events at Three Mile Island (TMI) were serious. However, rather than proving nuclear power plants are inordinately dangerous, TMI showed that redundant safety measures built into the reactor worked, say Foulke and Burnett:

  • Despite the melted fuel, the integrity of the reactor vessel was maintained and the containment building confined the radioactive material as designed.
  • The small amount of radiation released into the atmosphere was equal to about one X-ray per person for those living within 10 miles of the plant.
  • The maximum dose received by any single individual was equal only to what the average U.S. resident experiences as normal background radiation each year.

Between 1981 and 2002, none of the more than dozen studies examining the health effects of the TMI accident found any injuries, deaths or discernable health effects from the small amount of radiation released.

With more than 50 years' experience with nuclear power in the United States, no deaths or negative health affects have been conclusively linked to radiation leaks from nuclear plants or spent fuel. In addition, the U.S. Navy has operated nuclear-powered vessels for 50 years. Despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of Navy personnel have served in close quarters with nuclear power plants and radioactive material, there have been no radiation-caused deaths, say Foulke and Burnett.

Source: Larry Foulke and H. Sterling Burnett, "Dispelling the Myths About Nuclear Power," National Center for Policy Analysis, Brief Analysis No. 508, March 28, 2005.

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