An Objective Look at the Future of Nuclear Energy

Ongoing concerns about the effects of the radiation released when Fukushima Daiichi was hit by both an earthquake and a tsunami — and about the nature of nuclear energy overall — are putting global markets at risk of casting aside an important and valuable energy source, according to Richard Muller.

The physicist from the University of California, Berkeley recently released Energy for Future Presidents: The Science Behind the Headlines about the importance of nuclear energy. He appeared online in a video interview with WSJ Live to discuss nuclear energy policy with Wall Street Journal Weekend Review editor Gary Rosen.

The keys to properly discussing Fukushima and other potential nuclear energy issues are to look at the facts, said Muller.

“People tend to respond to great disasters and then they pull them out of context,” Muller said. “The result is we determine policy based on what we thought was going to happen or how bad something could be.”

The reality, he said, is the size of the accident was far less than what people expected and people continue to overestimate how many additional cancer cases will result from the radiation exposure. This reality should not stop governments from utilizing nuclear energy.

“We should consider it based on its realistic dangers — not on the fear that spread from an overreaction to an accident in Fukushima that was actually tiny compared to the much greater damage done by the tsunami,” he said. “Let’s just keep it in perspective and respond in a proportionate way.”

In a related op-ed by Muller in the Wall Street Journal, he discusses the concept of the “Denver dose,” or the amount of ambient radiation in Denver, which is particularly high due to radon gas emitted from tiny concentrations of uranium found in local granite, at a rate of an extra .3 rem per year. Muller notes that the International Commission on Radiological Protection recommends evacuation whenever the excess radiation dose exceeds .1 rem per year, which technically would require the immediate evacuation of Denver.

In the op ed Muller wrote, “Remember that Denver has a lower cancer rate than the rest of the U.S., not a higher one. There is a strong argument for ignoring radiation dangers below the level of the Denver dose. In doing so, we would be ignoring risks that are unobservable and which we routinely ignore (and properly so) in other circumstances.”

>>Watch the full interview: