December 14, 2009
Nuclear power has been used commercially for forty years. Given this, visiting Middlebury Prof. Richard Wolfson challenged a room full of Monterey Institute students, faculty, and members of the general public to come up with a list of nuclear power plant accidents. The room was able to find three. After informing the crowd that the emissions from coal power plants kill 24,000 people a year, Prof. Wolfson presented an idea that seems to have been lost in the debate over nuclear power: that the safety systems are impeccable. Even at Three Mile Island the safety systems functioned as they should have.
Of course, he went on to say, it is not that simple. Nuclear power has many problems such as waste storage and risk of weapons proliferation, but given that it provides nearly carbon-free baseload energy, it cannot be ruled out, he says. In the end Prof. Wolfson left the crowd with a view from both sides of the nuclear power issue. He implored those in attendance not to rule out nuclear power and to constructively participate in the debate.
Prof. Wolfson’s November 11 lecture was part of the continuing Monterey-Middlebury Speaker Series, which features faculty members from each campus visiting the other to deliver talks on current topics in their respective fields of research.