Campus & Community

Author says nuclear power is the new green

Author Gwyneth Cravens first became interested in nuclear power as a protester, but she says the more she learned, the more she realized she had to change her views.

Visiting the University of Denver Oct. 17 and speaking to physics students, Cravens talked about her eight-year investigation into nuclear power and the resulting book that led her to surprising conclusions.

Nuclear power, she decided, is the new “green” energy the world needs to survive.

In her book, Power to Save the World: The Truth About Nuclear Power (Knopf, 2007), Cravens says nuclear power offers a cheap, steady supply of electricity without polluting the air and contributing to climate change.

“I love talking to students because students are more open minded,” Cravens said.

Research Professor Robert Amme was part of a group effort to bring Cravens to DU, with help from the Division of Natural Sciences and Mathematics Marsico Fund and Sigma Xi. He said exposing physics students to the benefits of nuclear power lets them explore the topic in a balanced way and exposes them to new jobs as the U.S. begins reinvesting in the power source for the first time since the 1970s.

“The public doesn’t know or understand much about nuclear energy,” he told the class.

Cravens, who holds a degree in English, not science, said she didn’t know much about nuclear power when she began her research.

“I just assumed they were bad things,” she said.

Cravens presented her supporting points for nuclear power: less dangerous emissions than a coal plant, more reliable and prolific than solar and wind power, and a steady supply of uranium for fuel right here in the U.S.

Then she readied for the questions. Students grilled her on safety, the Chernobyl disaster, nuclear waste, cost, reliability, terror attacks and mining for uranium.

Cravens handled the queries with confidence developed through years of research, visits to nuclear plants and exposure to the raw science. She maintained that waste issues are far less troubling than many have been led to believe and that only nuclear power can replace fossil fuels for providing the base the electricity grid needs to run.

“Everything else is supplemental,” she said. “Wind? It’s great. We need more, solar too. But they are too diffuse. They cannot, at this point, provide the base load.”

The debate was lively, and students piled on the questions. When it was over, sophomore physics major Paulina Filus was left intrigued, but with more questions.

“I was pretty skeptical of this, but it is good to know how little waste there really is with nuclear power,” she said after class. “The only part I really need to learn more about is safety. How safe is it? As a child, I lived for some time in Poland. That plume from Chernobyl came right over there. I need to know more about that.”

Cravens said progress in waste management and safety has been tremendous. Old ways of mining have been curtailed by government regulations, and nuclear watchdogs and even the industry itself have become stronger at policing policy and plant operation, always looking for better ways of doing things.

“When I was younger, I was very anti-nuke,” she said. “I even joined a group protesting to shut down a plant on Long Island. And they did shut down. Now, I’m sorry about that because I understand more.”

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