Kentucky should keep saying no to nuclear energy


At the beginning of March, a state investigation revealed there was improper disposal of radioactive waste at an Ashland landfill. This provides another warning for our future — although nuclear energy might seem appealing and safe, it is constantly causing problems.

Two hours away from Ashland, Estill County officials had recently found low-level nuclear waste in creek and pond water. The Blue Ridge Landfill nearby was causing alpha levels to be slightly above drinking water standards.

However, “Kentucky does not currently produce nuclear energy,” according to the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition (CASEnergy Coalition).

While the state deals with the declining coal industry, nuclear energy could be an alternative to consider. But the cons are much too harsh, ranging from unknown risks to nuclear energy being a target for terrorism.

Kentucky does not produce nuclear energy, but the Bluegrass state has been home to the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant. The plant operated since the 1960s and closed in 2013, and it dealt with the beginning stages of nuclear energy production.

“The natural uranium, the stuff that’s in the dirt, does not contain a high enough concentration of the specific type of uranium that is used in the fuel in a nuclear power plant,” said Jerry Hiatt, a certified health physicist with the Nuclear Energy Institute. “So you have to take that dirt, that has the natural uranium in it, and through a conversion process develop that uranium into a form that is used in a nuclear plant. Part of this process is what they did in the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant.”

Although it’s not the same as a nuclear power plant, a gaseous diffusion uranium enrichment plant is not without hazards. According to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the primary concerns are, “the chemical and radiological hazard of a UF6 (Uranium hexafluoride) release and the potential for mishandling the enriched uranium, which could create a criticality accident (inadvertent nuclear chain reaction).”

Many nuclear energy mishaps have happened throughout history. One is a household name — Chernobyl — where four reactors exploded resulting in more than 30 deaths in the immediate aftermath, and experts predict that thousands of excess cancer deaths are a result of the Chernobyl disaster.

Closer to home, the Three Mile Island power plant accident in Pennsylvania in 1979 was, “considered the United States’ worst nuclear accident and led to major safety changes in the industry,” according to British Broadcasting Corporation.

But nuclear energy is still vital to this country’s energy profile, providing about 20 percent of electricity according to the CASEnergy Coalition.

Even though a nuclear power plant in Kentucky is possible, Hiatt said it likely wouldn’t happen. And why would we want to put Kentuckians at risk for more nuclear waste related disasters? Kentucky does not currently produce nuclear energy, but nuclear waste has still been found in Estill County and Ashland, polluting our streams.

The Paducah plant hasn’t operated in about three years, and Kentuckians should keep it that way. We already have so much to deal with, like budget cuts, health care instability and a heroin epidemic. Kentuckians do not need another major issue, especially one of nuclear proportions.

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