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Kaye Shaw
Senior-Idaho State University
Major-Biochemistry, premed
Written for a persuasive speech assignment class, December 2004

Posted by permission.

 On April 25, 1986, the world was shaken by a devastating nuclear power disaster.

A.            Chernobyl literally rocked by chain reaction explosion from the nuclear power plant.

B.            Killed 30 on impact, and sent deadly radiation 20 miles in every direction.

C.            Soviet President Gorbachev uttered these words “For the first time, we confront the real force of nuclear energy, out of control.”

Nuclear energy is indeed a mighty force, and one that must be harnessed, but when handled responsibility, nuclear power is the international community’s most available, economical, and environmentally friendly source of energy.

My father is an environmental chemist, so I was raised to value the environment and be very conscientious about the way things affect it. Thus, I have learned a great deal about nuclear energy. But this is not merely a topic of personal interest. Far from it! Power and the use of energy sources are topics of global concern. They touch everyone in this room, and indeed, every citizen of this globe. We must assume responsibility for the generation, use, and disposal, of energy. Each person in this room uses electricity, drinks water, and breaths air. As such, we should all be concerned with those things that affect air, water, and power. Thus, the nuclear energy issue is yours and mine.

PROBLEM STEP: The primary sources of energy in the United States, coal and fossil fuels, are economically and environmentally unfavorable when compared to nuclear power.

A.            According to the United States Census Bureau, the average American household uses approximately 1.7 tons of coal per year.

B.            The global market for oil is increasingly undependable, and coal sources are depleting.

C.            As we face an energy debt in the future, we must evaluate our use of energy from economical and environmental standpoints.

SATISFACTION / SOLUTION STEP: Nuclear energy should be recognized as a superior energy source, economically and environmentally.


A.            Nuclear Energy is more economical than energy from coal and fossil fuels, and gives more energy per unit ore.

B.            Nuclear energy is healthier for the environment than coal and fossil fuels. It is a green gas, giving off no air pollution, and its waste is much safer to transport.

PROOF OF CLAIMS: Effectiveness: There is overwhelming evidence to support these claims.

A.            Nuclear energy is more economical than energy from coal and fossil fuels.

1.             Uranium ore gives more energy per unit volume than coal does. The average American uses over 10,000 kWh of power per year. The amount of uranium ore that must be mined to produce 10000 kWh of electrical energy occupies a volume of 200 ft by 200 ft by 6 miles. The volume of coal that must be mined is 200 ft by 200 ft by 60 miles. That is ten times the volume of ore that must be mined. REF (1) Beckmann, Petr. The Health Hazards of Not Going Nuclear. Boulder: Golem Press, 1976.

1.             Uranium is more economical to mine and process than is coal.

a.     According to Beckmann, author of The Health Hazards of Not Going Nuclear, by 1976 the cost of a kilowatt-hour of nuclear power was 50% cheaper than fossil-fired power.

2.     Beckmann also states that more energy can be extracted from crude uranium than from crude oil or coal.

a.     Gabbard, of the US Oak Ridge National Lab, agrees. He gives an average value for the thermal energy of coal as approximately 6150 kWh/ton. The thermal energy released in nuclear fission produces about 2 x 10E9 kWh/ton. That’s over 300,000 times as much energy.

b.    Gabbard, goes even further. He states that the waste from coal combustion contains more energy than the coal itself. “Assuming 10% usage, the total of the thermal energy [available from coal waste] is 10.1 x 10^14 kWh, 1.5 times more than the total from coal…indicating that coal combustion wastes more energy than it produces.” (3)

B.            Nuclear energy is far superior to coal from an environmental standpoint.

1.     Because nuclear power plants do not burn fuel, they do not emit combustion byproducts, which contribute to air pollution and the greenhouse effect.

a.             According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, in 2000 alone, US nuclear plants prevented the discharge of 174 million metric tons of carbon into the atmosphere. REF (8) National Energy Institute.“Nuclear Energy and the Environment.” 1 July 2002. 6 Dec. 2004.

 b.             Between 1973 and 2000, US nuclear power plants reduced cumulative emissions of NO and SO2 by 33.6 million tons and 66.1 million tons, respectively.

2.             Much more acreage of earth must be disrupted per unit energy gained from coal or solar than from uranium.  

a.             According to Council of Environmental Quality, 9120 acres for deep-mined coal, 14,010 acres for surface mined coal,       and 50 square miles for a 1000 MW solar energy plant, as compared to 785 acres for uranium ore. (This is a ratio of 14.7 to 1 in favor of nuclear power.) REF (3) Energy and the Environment. United States Council of Environmental Quality, Aug., 1973. (Government Document)

b.             Again, this is a consequence of the high concentration of energy in uranium and the low concentration in coal.

3.     The emissions from a nuclear plant are very strictly monitored, regulated, and limited by EPA laws, while the emissions of coal and other fossil fuel plants are un-regulated.

a.     The Department of Energy, and the United States Government, takes nuclear power and radiation very seriously. Consequently, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards, and numerous other governmental agencies have been established.

1.             NRC's primary mission is to protect the public health and safety, and the environment from the effects of radiation from nuclear reactors, materials, and waste facilities. We also regulate these nuclear materials and facilities to promote the common defense and security. REF (9) United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission. 9 Sept. 2004. 6 Dec. 2004.

4.     If a coal power plant were it regulated as a nuclear one is, it would not pass the release standards based on its uranium and thorium emissions again due to the huge amount of material that must be processed for the power given off. (9)

OBJECTIONS:  Arguments against nuclear include the statement that radioactive nuclear waste is too threatening to human health, that the possibility of a nuclear meltdown is to great a risk to make nuclear technology worthwhile, and that the cost of building nuclear power plants is much greater than the cost of producing cola power plants.

A.    The argument that nuclear waste is a threat to health is, in essence, a red herring argument. In addition, it is a causal oversimplification.

1.     Nuclear waste does not pose a significant threat to humans in comparison to all the other radiation sources to which we are exposed every day, including television, x-rays, UV rays, air travel, toxic emissions, fuel emissions, argon gas heat, and food consumption.

2.     According to the Catalog of Risks by Cohen and Lee having a full-fledged nuclear power program in the US would add the same risk as a regular smoker indulging in an extra cigarette every 15 years! REF (2) Cohen, Bernard. The Nuclear Energy Option: An Alternative for the 90’s. New York: Plenum Press, 1990.

3.     Cohen and Lee use the LLE =Loss of Life Expectancy is a way often used to compare risks of activities and exposures. Living next to a nuclear power plant for ones entire life gives an LLE of 0.4. Eating one tablespoon of peanut butter, which contains alftoxin (which cause liver cancer) gives an LLE of 1.1…almost 3 times that of living next to a nuclear plant.

B.    According to the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements, toxic and radioactive waste of coal and fossil fuel plants far exceed that of nuclear plants.

1.     Population exposure from power plants amounts to 490 person-rem/year for coal plants and 4.8 person-rem/year for nuclear plants. Thus, the population effective dose from coal plants is 100 times that from nuclear plants (NCRP)

2.     Cohen asserts this claim. In terms of milirems of exposure, each person is exposed to 85 mrem per year from natural sources. The largest source of radiation is from the radon gas used to heat homes, which gives a cancer risk equal to that of exposing all body organs to 200 mrem per year.

3.     People who live near nuclear plants, which leak small amounts of radioactivity, receive about 1 mrem per year of extra radiation. According to the us National Academy of Sciences Committee on Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation, being hit with one mrem of radiation is as risky as driving an extra five miles in a car, crossing a street 5 times, or an overweight person eating 20 extra calories.

4.     Air pollution, natural genetic mutations, caffeine, and alcohol present more risk than one mrem of radiation. In fact, the fact that men wear pants increases the genetic risk for offspring defects. Wearing pants warms sex cells, thereby increasing the probability of spontaneous mutations, the principal source of genetic disease. 1 mrem of radiation is equivalent to 5 hours of pant-wearing. REF (2) Cohen, Bernard. The Nuclear Energy Option: An Alternative for the 90’s. New York: Plenum Press, 1990.

5.     According to a study done by McBride et al about the Radiological Impact of Airborne Effluents, Americans living near coal-fired power plants are exposed to higher radiation doses than those living near nuclear power plants that meet government regulations. REF (6) McBride, J.P., et al. “Radiological Impact of Airborne Effluents of Coal and Nuclear Plants.” Science. December, 1978: 23-26.

C.    The argument that nuclear accidents are so devastating that they make the whole technology unacceptable. This argument is fallacious for the following reasons:

1.     The case of a nuclear meltdown is a hypothetical case…it has been developed based on worst-case scenarios. A nuclear melt-down has never happened.

2.     Hypothetical arguments always generate devastating statistics. For example, there are at least two hydroelectric dams in the US whose sudden rupture would kill over 200,000 people REF (2) Cohen, Bernard. The Nuclear Energy Option: An Alternative for the 90’s. New York: Plenum Press, 1990.  

3.             There are hypothetical explosions of natural gas that can wipe out whole cities.

4.             There has never been a nuclear meltdown. Nether of the two most publicized nuclear accidents were meltdowns. a.             Three Mile Island accident, there was no breach of containment, and coast no lives nor threatened the environment.
b.     Chernobyl did not have a containment anything like those used in the US, and the Chernobyl accident occurred because safety procedures were not followed, not because of some uncontrollable, unforeseen event. Chernobyl could have been prevented.

5.     According to the Reactor Safety Study, there would be no detectable deaths (deaths caused by radiation exposure from a nuclear accident) in 98 out of 100 meltdowns. Even in 100,000 meltdowns, there would be about 3500 detectable fatalities.  In London, in 1952, 3500 deaths were directly attributable to an air pollution episode. Thus, the equivalence of 100,000 meltdowns has already occurred as a result of coal burning! REF (2) Cohen, Bernard. The Nuclear Energy Option: An Alternative for the 90’s. New York: Plenum Press, 1990.

6.     According to Murray, author of Understanding Radioactive Waste, states that nuclear Fuel is far safer to transport then any other again due to concentration. 38,000 railcars of coal will supply a 1000 Megawatt (1 Gigawatt) plant for one year. It takes only 6 truckloads of nuclear fuel! 100 people die in just the transportation to the power plant per year, Nuclear transport has killed no one at least it has not been even record-able. REF (7) Murray, Raymond. Understanding Radioactive Waste: Third Edition. Columbus: Battelle Press, 1989.

D.    The argument that the cost of construction of a nuclear plant is much higher than that of coal plant construction is a false analogy. In order to compare the two, we must first ensure that we are comparing apples with apples. 

1.     Nuclear plants costs and coal plant costs cannot be compared directly because nuclear plants are much more regulated, and have several multi-step regulatory requirements for their construction. Coal and fossil fuel plants are not subject to these strict rules, and therefore cost much less to build. However, it is this very regulation that makes nuclear plants safe, while leaving fossil fuel plants to emit toxins and CO2 into the environment.

2.     According to the Virtual Nuclear Tourist, in actual breakdown, including capital, coal costs 29.1 dollars per kWh while nuclear power costs 30 dollars per kWhr. This fact, in conjunction with the fact that nuclear power generates less waste and produces much more energy, makes the cost-efficiency of a nuclear plant very apparent. REF (5) Gonyeau, Joseph. “Cost Comparison for Nuclear vs. Coal.” 15 March 2004. 6 Dec. 2004.

3.             Gabbard of the US Oak Ridge National Laboratory states that if the radiation emissions from coal plants were regulated, their capital and operating costs would increase, making coal-fired power less economically competitive. REF (4) Gabbard, Alex. “Coal Combustion: Nuclear Resource or Danger.” 8 Nov. 2004. 6 Dec. 2004.

4.             The low cost of nuclear fuel outweighs the cost put into building a nuclear power plant.

Positive Projection: The use of nuclear power will decrease airborne toxins, impeded the greenhouse effect, and be economically advantageous to the United States. The Nuclear Energy Institute and the US Oak Ridge National Laboratory verify these claims.

Negative Projection: If we continue to use coal and fossil fuels, we are neglecting a viable energy resource, we are knowingly polluting the air, and we are costing the American taxpayer undue amounts of money.

Take steps to voice your support of nuclear power.

A.            Write to your congressman

B.            Become informed by visiting the DOE website, the INEEL website, or the NEI website.

C.    Until nuclear power becomes a dominant reality become a conservative energy user. Turn off lights, buy fuel-efficient cars, and keep them in good repair. What we put into the air stays there…and our children will have to breath it.

Nuclear power is here. It is well understood, available, and economical. But perhaps most importantly, it lessens the burden we place on our environment.

Audience Analysis:
(1) Composition/make-up of audience
: My audience consists of college students, most of whom are in there first or second year. Many of these students are returning students, parents, or people who already have careers. As such, they are for the most part a mature group who can recognize the need to care for the environment and minimize costs of energy. Most, if not all, of the audience members pay their own energy bill, and many of them vote and are aware of the political implications that are inherent to any coal/fossil fuel power discussion. I believe that nuclear power is an applicable, and interesting, topic for the group at hand.

(2) Major obstacles: Many Americans have a stigma against all things nuclear. The word nuclear conjures up images of atomic bombs, weapons of mass destruction, and birth defects due to radiation. As such, I will make an effort in this speech to illuminate the positive, healthy, and well-regulated nature of nuclear medicine and present it as a viable, economic resource. In my rebuttal section, I will address the issue of the dangers of radiation, and also the threat of a nuclear meltdown. I believe by addressing these issues I can reveal common misconceptions and replace them with a more accurate view of nuclear power.

Enthymeme 1:
Safe, economical energy sources should be used in the United States.
Nuclear power is a safe, economical energy source.
Nuclear power should be used in the United States.

Enthymeme 2:
Humanity should use power sources that minimize negative environmental consequences.
Nuclear power has less negative environmental results than does fossil fuel energy.
Nuclear energy should be used over fossil fuel energy.

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