Two opponents squared off in a debate last Wednesday in the Casella Theater over nuclear energy. Howard Shaffer III, of the American Nuclear Society, and Tyson Slocum of Public Citizen Energy Program verbally sparred over whether or not nuclear energy should be utilized on a local and global basis.Shaffer, a 35-year member of the American Nuclear Society and a nuclear engineer, started by detailing the history of nuclear energy in America and touting it as a safe energy source.
“The safety and environmental record of nuclear power record taken as a whole is superb. Nothing is perfect. Perfection is a political ploy,” he said.
This set off a barrage of arguments by Slocum, who works for a Washington D.C. non-profit, non partisan advocacy group called Public Citizen. Slocum said nuclear energy isn’t safe, and said history – including at nearby Vermont Yankee, shows us that.
“There have been so many promises over the decades that nuclear power was going to be the salvation for America’s energy challenges.And there was a lot of hope and desire that nuclear power could be an inexpensive, safe form of electricity generation for the U.S. Those promises did not translate into reality.”
Shaffer admitted to the proverbial “bumps” along the way to successfully using nuclear energy, but he said those bumps were more politically charged then scientifically related.
Slocum rebutted with the fact that Vermont Yankee is a prime example of nuclear energy failings. Tritium was being leaked into groundwater, the company has suffered from poor management over the years and misinformation has been given to the public about the leaks.
Moderator Marselis Parsons, a former WCAX director, then asked questions to Shaffer and Slocum regarding certain global and local issues about nuclear energy. He asked why the U.S. cannot utilize nuclear energy properly, while other countries (such as France, who supplies 80% of their power from nuclear energy) are successful at this?
“Just because your neighbor or your friend pursues a bad idea, that is not necessarily a good argument for the U.S. to chase after it,” Slocum quickly shot back.
Slocum added that transporting and disposing of nuclear waste was very dangerous to the public, to which Shaffer replied “what is evaluated are what are the odds that it would happen? And yes, you could have a very bad accident, but it would be down in the levels of getting hit by a meteor in this building, and the record proves that.”
So what did students think when the debate was done?
Michelle Rossman, a freshman, thinks she’s more in favor of alternative energy sources after listening to the debate.
“They both have really good, strong arguments. I didn’t really have an opinion when I came here. I learned about both sides, but I think I agree with the solar side because there are less dangers,” she said.
Robert Gorruso, also a freshman, wasn’t swayed that way, though.
“They both knew good points and altogether had good arguments. I think I still support nuclear energy, though,” he said.
Senior Tyler Shevchik agreed with Gorruso
“Both of the guys had a logical case and knew their stuff, but I think I agree with Mr. Shaffer because I support nuclear energy,” he said.