Serving the UMN community since 1900

The Minnesota Daily

Serving the UMN community since 1900

The Minnesota Daily

Serving the UMN community since 1900

The Minnesota Daily

Daily Email Edition

Get MN Daily NEWS delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday!


Ogren: Nuclear energy is more than clean; it’s unifying

If you are serious about clean energy development and energy independence, you should be pro-nuclear. These two advocates show you why in different ways.
Image by Ava Weinreis

Professor Todd Allen and influencer Isabella Boemeke advocate for nuclear energy in starkly different ways, but they are both fighting for our clean energy independence. Together, Allen’s pragmatism and Boemeke’s “cool” factor can lead us into the future.

Isabella Boemeke identifies herself as the world’s first nuclear energy influencer. She created the social media identity “Isodope” for this purpose.

In her recent TED Talk, Boemeke advocates for nuclear energy, which she calls our best hope for ditching fossil fuels. Boemeke describes how all of the relevant experts she talked to about nuclear energy agreed that “it’s good, we need it, people hate it.”

While Boemeke takes a more humorous approach to nuclear energy advocacy through sarcasm and the use of popular TikTok trends in her videos, she provides a lot of the same arguments as the technical experts pursuing the same goal.

Todd Allen is a professor and chair of the nuclear engineering & radiological sciences department at the University of Michigan. Unlike Boemeke, Allen takes a pragmatic approach to advocacy.

Allen has pursued becoming an advocate of nuclear energy because he wanted access to public discussions and wanted to make sure we’re not leaving out possible choices that would help us diversify energy sources to protect from cost or availability fluctuations.

Allen noted that nuclear energy plants currently produce 20% of U.S. electricity, which is currently more than 50% of the zero-carbon sources.

So, what are the arguments for nuclear energy according to these advocates?

Nuclear energy is clean, efficient and safe

When developing cleaner energy sources, the levels of carbon emissions (how clean the fuel is), efficiency and safety must all be considered.

“You get no carbon dioxide emissions as you’re producing electricity,” Allen said of nuclear energy. This places nuclear energy in a position to be a valuable alternative to fossil fuels right from the start.

Nuclear has a high energy density, so very little fuel input is needed to generate energy. “You compare one nuclear reaction to burning one coal atom to get a billion times more energy, so you get way more energy out of a fixed amount of fuel, and you also produce far less waste,” Allen said.

Nuclear energy is safer than many people have been taught to believe. Both Allen and Boemeke agree that many people have false assumptions about nuclear energy, often because of its association with nuclear weapons.

As Boemeke says in her TED Talk, “Their logic was nuclear bombs are bad. Therefore, nuclear energy is bad. Which, if you think about it, is like saying the electric chair is bad. Therefore, electricity is bad. The case against nuclear power was never based on science.”

Boemeke also notes that nuclear energy waste is “fully contained in concrete casks that are so good at blocking radiation that I [sic] might do a photo shoot there.”

Additionally, nuclear energy facilities can be built near enough to population centers that they may avoid some of the problems seen with wind and solar energy facilities.

Often, wind and solar facilities are built out in open fields far away from where the electricity is needed. This results in some loss along the transmission lines and land jurisdiction issues in building and maintaining those transmission lines.

Allen noted that when building transmission lines, difficulties can arise from crossing state lines, tribal lands and federal lands. “You may be going through different states who have their own rules, and the types of tribal and federal lands there. You’ve got all these different jurisdictions that may end up being part of the pathway,” he said.

Wind and solar facilities also take up large amounts of land and only generate electricity when the wind is blowing or the sun is out. Wind and solar “change the way you deliver electricity because they’re coming on and off, essentially, as the fuel is available,” Allen said.

Nuclear energy, however, can be generated constantly, regardless of weather conditions.

As Boemeke noted, “in the last 10 years, we have spent trillions of dollars on renewables, yet, we only get 8% of our electricity from wind and solar. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love renewables. But to me, it’s clear that we need more. We need a source of energy that’s clean and works 24/7 to complement them.”

Nuclear energy could mean energy independence

If the conflict in Ukraine has reminded us of anything in the past several months, it is that energy independence and diverse, reliable energy sources are critical to maintaining the security and financial health of nations.

We can plainly see that dependence on fossil fuels can contribute to and fund wars. Europe is currently suffering an energy crisis due to its dependence on Russian fossil fuels in the midst of the invasion of Ukraine. European countries are beholden to buying Russian oil, while simultaneously supporting Ukraine’s resistance.

Boemeke noted, “Poland will use similar technology to convert their aging coal plants into nuclear plants, they’ll use the same building, the same transmission lines, even retrain the same workers, but now make clean energy instead of buying dirty fuels from dictators.”

The United States currently has 94 nuclear plants in operation. However, we could build more and develop a mutually beneficial model for ourselves and our allies abroad who have weaker economies or fewer resources.

The United States could invest in nuclear energy domestically to help reduce our carbon emissions and sell natural gas abroad to provide a cleaner fuel to other countries and therefore reduce carbon emissions abroad as well.

This could allow for clean energy independence, not to mention the potential for job and economic growth.

Nuclear energy could provide political common ground

In an era of seemingly complete political divide on party lines, nuclear energy could provide some common ground in the political arena that we have not seen in a long time.

Congress members across party lines have begun to show agreement on the move to nuclear energy. Allen noted there was a recent nuclear energy bill in Congress that had four sponsors, including Democrats Sheldon Whitehouse (RI) and Cory Booker (NJ) and Republicans Mike Crapo (ID) and James Inhofe (OK).

Allen noted the reasons for supporting this bill are likely different in each case. Whitehouse is fighting for climate change goals while Booker is focused on the health risks of coal. Crapo is representing a state that is very supportive of nuclear energy and Inhofe, who is usually in opposition to Whitehouse, supported this bill out of interest in American energy competitiveness and jobs.

With so many arguments that serve so many people from different political viewpoints, could nuclear energy be the political unifier we have been looking for?

As Boemeke said, “What if, instead of viewing nuclear power as destructive, we view it as a force for energy independence, and even peace? What if this technology offers our best hope for the future? A future where wars aren’t funded by our addiction to fossil fuels. A future where energy is clean. A future where electricity finally makes its way to the 700 million people on Earth who still don’t have access to it. The idea that nuclear power is bad is costing us that future. And it’s time to let go of it.”

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Accessibility Toolbar

Comments (0)

All The Minnesota Daily Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *