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Experts Debate Pros And Cons Of Nuclear Energy

There hasn't been a new nuclear power plant started in the United States since the Three Mile Island Accident in 1979. And the announcement Ohio is building the first U-S nuclear plant in decades draws both opposition and praise. Harvey Wasserman of Bexley is a Senior Advisor to Greenpeace USA. He says Ohio's two current power plants - Perry and Davis-Besse - already have questionable safety records. "Perry is the only nuclear plant in the United States to actually be damaged by an earthquake. And Davis-Besse had a Boric Acid leak that ate almost all the way through its reactor pressure vessel," says Wasserman. But others argue that nuclear plants are very safe. Ohio State Nuclear Engineering professor Richard Denning specializes in reactor safety and risk analysis. Denning says the safety risks are negligible. "Somebody that lives within one mile of a nuclear power plant their risk is far less than 0.1% of their risk of just dying in another accident like - in particular - driving their automobile," says Denning. Ohio gets a large portion of its electricity from coal power plants. Professor Denning points out that nuclear power produces zero carbon gas emissions - a major criticism of coal power plants. And in terms of human health, he says nuclear power is far better than coal. "If you look at the health effects of coal, they're tremendous. I mean, historically they've been. If you just look at the number of people that die from emphysema - it's a very large number, per year," says Denning. But even though Greenpeace's Wasserman is no fan of coal emissions, he says nuclear power is a step backward in energy policy.

"We need to get away from coal, but the answer is not to go to something worse - it's to go to renewables and efficiencies. Getting from coal to nuclear is jumping from the frying pan into the fire," says Wasserman. Wasserman also argues that no one has come up with an effective way to get rid of toxic waste. He points to the vigorous debate which has stalled the nuclear waste storage project in Yucca Mountain, Nevada. "After 50 years, with the abandonment of Yucca Mountain, there is still no solution to the nuclear waste problem. Why would you build a plant in a Ohio that has no where to go for its nuclear waste?" says Wasserman. But Professor Denning says toxic waste is probably the most misunderstood -and emotionally charged - issue surrounding nuclear energy. He says risk analyses indicate Yucca Mountain would be completely safe, but explains there are other options: "If it turned out that we decided we're not going to do Yucca Mountain - this is we, being the country - then they would probably be sent to an interim storage facility until whatever is going to be done with them is going to be done with them," says Denning.

Until 2001, the Piketon site was a uranium enrichment plant. The United States Enrichment Corporation currently operates the facility.