What? Huh? Who? - Nuclear Energy

Jonathan Johnson
March 23, 2018

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2018


Fig. 1: President Jimmy Carter leaving Three Mile Island. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Fossil fuel is a non-renewable energy source, meaning that its sources are finite. In addition, the energy sources are known for their harmful emissions that are damaging the environment. Since this technology enables the use of the majority of common appliances & systems, an effort to find an alternative energy source is a top concern . Nuclear energy has become a promising resource that could sufficiently power cities and communities. [1] However, amidst the development of nuclear power reactors, there has been public concern that the energy source could be more harmful than it is helpful, due to several incidents of the past where the technology was mishandled. Incidents include Chernobyl, Fukishima, Three Mile Island, and others. The latter, which occurred in the U.S drives a point of interest as it garnered international attention.

Three Mile Island

"The accident was initiated by mechanical malfunctions in the plant and made much worse by a combination of human errors, as said within The President's Commission (shown after the President leaves the Three Mile Island site shown in Fig. 1). [2] Once an issue occurs, it can be perceived that it was hard to stop because of the limited knowledge of the technology, leading to human error. The report conveyed that a relatively small group of people were affected by the incident. Regardless of the size of the immediately affected population, scientists noted that the incident could cause birth defects, radiation-induced cancers, along with mental-stress (trauma) on individuals in the surrounding areas. [2] Aside from the immediate incident, removing the nuclear waste carried a heavy risk-factor because it could cause further damage to the human population and create a $1-2 billion deficit. [2] Additionally, the public began to fear the associated danger of nuclear reactors, as the incident attracted national attention. [3] Subsequently, public approval of the technology vastly dropped by 15% as the prospect of nuclear energy was casted into a gloomy light. [3]

However, the United States still uses nuclear energy. Over the past five years, nuclear energy usage has shown significant increase from 183.2 to 191.8 (million tonnes of oil equivalent), showing tremendous increase. This trends signals the rising adoption of the technology in the United States. [4]

The public's perception of the danger of nuclear power has caused some countries to pledge to completely distance itself from nuclear power. Germany, for instance, has pledged to eliminate nuclear energy usage by the year 2022. [5] They have decided that the perceived risk of the technology outweighs the massive benefit of the technology. There seems to be a recurring issue for nuclear power plant managers, especially when trying to ensure that the plant stays in perfect condition to prevent the chance of an incident. Even though nuclear energy contributes significantly to the industrial sector in Germany, the choice to stray away from nuclear energy seems to have an air of permanence. [5] It could be possible that Germany's decision will influence other countries to follow suit.


In conclusion, although there are some opponents to nuclear energy, nuclear energy seems to be here to stay in the U.S, especially according to trends indicated in statistical review. [4] However, countries should continue to increase precautions when using the technology by educating their workers and the public.

© Jonathan Johnson. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] D. Cardwell, "Nuclear Plants, Despite Safety Concerns, Gain Support as Clean Energy Sources," New York Times, 31 May 16.

[2] J. G Kemeny et al., "Report of the President's Commission on the Accident at Three Mile Island," U.S. Government Printing Office, October 1979.

[4] "BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2017," British Petroleum, June 17.

[3] T. Blackwood, "U.S. Public Opinion of Nuclear Energy in the Wake of Three Mile Island," Physics 241, Stanford University, Winter 2017. -

[5] S. Evans, "Germany: Nuclear Power Plants to Close by 2022," BBC News, 30 May 11.