I was at one of my party's local R&R meetings. I support nuclear energy and was open about that at the gathering, and the chairmen of the county headquarters really went off on a tangent about it. I wrote this in response and planned on e-mailing it to him. Your thoughts?
Before I begin, I want to summarize my position and make a list of points. If one wants to read beyond that, they can read the rest of my thoughts in detail.
*Our current nuclear power plants overwhelmingly consist of aged reactors, from the 70's and 80's, perpetuating the fear that nuclear energy is unreliable, unstable, dangerous, and not worth it, even if it does produce less pollution and kill less people in the big picture. I disagree with that assessment. New types of reactors are designed with much better failsafes than the ones we're currently using, and are much more efficient and less dangerous than the types of TMI, Chernobyl or Fukushima, all three of which were old models that are unlike what any new design would be.
*Wind, solar, and other renewables are probably the best energy resources. While not perfect, they are comparatively the least dangerous for the environment and to people. Thus, we should use them to the maximum possible practical capacity.
*Wind and solar farms take lots of space. It may be impractical for small, dense states (Rhode Island and Massachusetts, for example), or states whose open lands are primarily already in use for farmland. Especially with growing energy demands as populations increase, the need to use more and more land will only grow. The use of lots of land may also interfere with wildlife or cause other environmental factors (example: solar panels are often made with toxic chemicals that could prove environmentally problematic as they age and need replacing, especially if disposed of improperly, and will be magnified continually as we expand the use of solar). Wind may be less useful in mountain-surrounded areas or places with lots of skyscrapers, both of which could block wind. For these various reasons, nuclear should be kept as an open option – perhaps not something pushed for as a priority goal, but if renewables for various reasons prove impossible for 100% reliance, nuclear is a superior option to fossil fuels, despite its problems.
*Nuclear energy is legitimately dangerous if not handled properly. Mismanagement of waste, mining for minerals, and the continued use of aging power plants are serious issues. It can also affect water supplies (not that air pollution absorbtion from coal and fracking for natural gas doesn't also cause terrible consequences on water supplies). This means we should use it sparingly, carefully, and wisely. We should use the latest and best technology, and allow old reactors to be replaced with newer, safer, more efficient designs if, when and where renewables cannot be used for Enter Reason Here. This also applies to aging fossil fuel plants... or fossil fuel plants in general, really.
*As technology for nuclear improves, especially fusion, some of the associated problems with nuclear energy will be gone, others immensely reduced. Preferably, of course, I would prefer that wind, solar, and others improve to the point that all associated issues with them are ignorable and we can use 100% renewables. However, if we unfortunately have to use any non-renewable energy source, I would prefer that source to be nuclear in origin.
*By 2035, world electricity demands could reach 35 trillion kilowatt hours. . I generally support electric cars above biofuels, since I think biofuel could put a stress on food supplies when combined with other factors. There could be conflict there (consider that we'll have 438 million people in the US by 2050 , funny since I remember in geography that it'd be a billion, guess I remembered the professor wrong or he was wrong). It'd be simpler to go with electric cars when the electricity is from a free source; the additional demand for electricity in this case could greatly increase electricity demands, and could make using nuclear necessary, and still without using as much land space as some alternatives. The growing demands and population could also cause a hard limit to be reached where food is more important than electricity, and space needs to be freed for food, where nuclear could use less potential space.
*Around 600 coal plants provide 44.9% of the electricity in the US . 105 nuclear plants provide about 20% . Fewer nuclear plants could provide more electricity than coal plants.
Coal contains radioactive elements, and coal plants ironically release more radiation than a normal-working nuclear power plant does, according to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory . The same source says that the “US and world releases of uranium and thorium (in metric tons) from coal combustion has risen steadily since 1937. It is projected to continue to increase through 2040 and beyond,” and, “Thus, the population effective dose equivalent from coal plants is 100 times that from nuclear plants.” The EPA limits people living in public to be exposed to an annual 25 millirems within a two mile radius of a nuclear power plant , and I know of no similar radiation limit for coal plants. An EPA source states, “Fine particulates cause roughly 1 out of every 20 deaths in the U.S.”  An article on MSNBC says that “aging coal-fired power plants shorten nearly 24,000 lives a year, including 2,800 from lung cancer,” . From the American Cancer Society, “50,000 to 100,000 Americans died yearly from the effects of outdoor particulate air pollution.” From the American Medical Association, “[A]nnual fine-particulate pollutant averages... at or above the EPA limit in such metropolitan areas. he biggest sources of such pollution are coal-burning power plants in the Midwest and East, and diesel trucks and buses in the West.” 
In short, coal is pretty dangerous. Overall, it kills more people and causes more pollution than any other power source, and even releases more radiation than functional nuclear power plants. There are also concerns with mercury outputs from coal , its effects on water , and many other problems concerning coal and its pollutants.
The questions then turn to, “What about non-functional power plants that are broken down, such as [enter nuclear disaster event here]?” One of the main concerns with nuclear power isn't its lair pollution (which is lower than coal) nor radioactivity of a nuclear power plant when it is working normally (which is also lower than coal). People are afraid it breaking down. One broken down nuclear power plant that hasn't been shut off and isolated from people is certainly more dangerous to people when compared to a single working coal power plant. The problem with that truth is that it doesn't consider the fact that major accidents are rare, and due to their rarity, the overall risk with coal is still higher, even after taking into account deaths from radiation due to nuclear accidents. To phrase these common concerns with nuclear power accidents, “How many deaths have nuclear accidents either caused or are predicted to cause, and does it exceed the number of deaths that normal-working coal power plants?”
The answer to this question depends on who you ask. The World Health Organization says that 9,000 excess cancer deaths are to be attributed to Chernobyl , the Union for Concerned Scientists says 25,000 to 27,000 [8 and 10], and Greenpeace says 93,000 . The main reason for Greenpeace's much higher number is they include predicted deaths. In other words, they count people who are suffering from cancer as deaths, even though they haven't died yet. This is an improper way to count them, because they could die from things other than cancer, and so they cannot be fairly counted as a death until they actually die from cancer. The Union for Concerned Scientists a different one than the WHO, because their effective range of study was far broader than the WHO's study, and a similar number as Greenpeace when taking into account that the UCS separates cancer afflictions and cancer deaths as two separate numbers. The WHO tends to focus on those most affected, and other groups broaden their studies in order to include more people. I personally think the WHO counts it right, since counting lesser-radiated areas into the statistic risks counting people who were affected by other factors, but for sake of argument, we can go with the UCS number. By the way, just to be clear, the UCS is not against nuclear energy per se, they merely want to make improvements to it to be safe enough to replace fossil fuels where renewables cannot fill in. “An expansion of nuclear power under effective regulations and an appropriate level of oversight should be considered as a longer-term option if other climate-neutral means for producing electricity prove inadequate,” and, “While there are currently some global warming emissions associated with the nuclear fuel cycle and plant construction, when nuclear plants operate they do not produce carbon dioxide.” 
The deaths attributed to Chernobyl, even if you assume the highest worst-case possibility from UCS at 27,000, if coal plants are already causing 24,000 (and likely more, since the number only included “aging plants”), and 2,800 just from lung cancer (again, likely more), then if you consider the fact that this is a “yearly” rate, it's clear that Chernobyl still wasn't as bad . If you assume that 24,000 or a similar number happened per year since the Chernobyl disaster (1986), then the number of deaths would be around 600,000, enormously higher than the UCS estimate for the worst nuclear disaster in history, and ridiculously higher than the WHO estimate. However, one can chalk this up to being that the people around Chernobyl were mostly evacuated, and you'd possibly be right. The difference is with the invisible coal pollution disaster, we don't bother to evacuate anyone, despite it appearing to be more dangerous. Only in the rarest of cases does anyone care, such as Centralia, Pennsylvania, where an entire town was abandoned because a coal mine fire released too much hazardous material .
Comparing American numbers to European numbers might get complaints. Alright, so how's it differ in Europe? Air particulates in Europe cause 310,000 deaths per year  (for comparison, the American Cancer Society says that 50,000 to 100,000 die from air particulates per year  - again, most of which is from coal plants and diesel trucks and buses, though this is obviously due to Europe having more total people and more area to affect, so the statistic is broader).
It should also be generally noted that Chernobyl's main reason for having an accident in the first place was not because nuclear is inherently dangerous, but rather because it was “suffering from inadequate funding. Much basic maintenance had never been performed. It had only a skeleton crew, nearly all of whom were untrained workers from the local coal mine.” 
The only major nuclear accident to happen within the US was Three Mile Island, in which case the first major study (Columbia epidemiological study) found that no deaths had been linked to cancer from TMI beyond what would normally be expected naturally, and while later studies had been conducted, most either state that the increases were fairly small and that links were sometimes inconsistent. .
Fukushima and Japan is a difficult issue to address, mainly because new information keeps coming out and most reports on it are selling on the anti-nuclear shock value hype. While most people focus on the fact that Fukushima blew up, most people don't even mention at all of the refineries that blew up in giant fireballs of oil and the like . The particular report there saying fourteen industrial complexes were ablaze at the time of the report, releasing who knows how much air pollution that will affect countless numbers of people. Keep in mind that our most densely populated sate in America is New Jersey, with 1,189 per square mile (if you count D.C., it's 10,065 per square mile) . Japan's most dense prefecture is Tokyo, 6,000/km2 (16,000/sq mi) . This is despite the fact that New Jersey has about seven times more area than Tokyo. Also, Japan has about 90% of the land area of California while also having roughly 1/3 the population of the entire United States. Therefore, these industrial complexes that went ablaze have high potential to affect many people since the population densities tend to be much higher as compared to the United States. Still, Fukushima is definitely a huge problem for Japan, and of course the densities will make the nuclear incident affect them more.
Since they are so much more densely populated than we are, a similar disaster here would physically be incapable of having the same scale or effect as Fukushima. The reactor was old, from the 1970's, and modern power plant designs are much safer, but contrasts are usually made with our current power plants that are similar in designs due to their age. It wasn't until February of this year that the US allowed its first new nuclear plant in more than 30 years . This is important, because it means that we're refusing to upgrade current or build new nuclear plants, continuing to use old nuclear plants from the 70's and 80's that aren't as safe nor as efficient – only one reactor is new out of our current 105! Whenever they break down, it justifies people who claim that nuclear is unsafe and unusable, ignoring the fact that these are designs that are old and not anything like what any new design would be like [18, 19]. It should also be noted that Japan is part of the Ring of Fire and surrounded by water, thus naturally prone to earthquakes and tsunamis . This kind of geography poses a unique risk to their nuclear power plants (as well as other power plants), and thus the kinds of risk with Fukushima cannot be said to equal the risk here in the US, even when compared to nuclear power plants of the same reactor generation. There is enough here to take at least some of the blame off of the mere fact that the disaster was a disaster simply because it was a nuclear plant. Consider the fact that the power plant's damage was primarily caused by the earthquakes and ensuing tsunamis, and that the earthquake was the largest in Japan's history , and the seventh largest world history .
Japan has to import much of its energy resources due to them simply not being available in their country. They are the second largest importer of coal and third largest in oil, and in total import 84% of its energy needs . “According to the government's 2010 Energy White Paper, the cost per kilowatt hour was ¥49 for solar, ¥10 to ¥14 for wind, and ¥5 to ¥6 for nuclear power. However, the calculation for nuclear power does not include reprocessing costs for nuclear fuel or insurance liability... Son estimates that if these additional costs are included, the actual cost of nuclear power per kilowatt hour rises to about the same cost as wind power. ” (Converted to US currency, the numbers are, in order, 0.6245 for solar, 0.1275 to 0.1784 for wind, 0.0637 to 0.0765 for nuclear before fuel and insurance.) The government doesn't entirely agree, “A METI committee looking at the issue said in April that its members estimated the costs for renewable energy at between ¥15 and ¥20 per kwh, well above the cost of nuclear, oil and natural gas.”  The average fuel cost for a nuclear power plant in 2011 was 0.68 cents / kwh, and 1.51 cents for non-fuel operation and management costs. .
Now, the numbers get really hard to financially deal with if you add “full coverage”. Apparently, the previous “insurance liability” numbers do not cover the full disaster insurance, in which case if done, it could have a “range of values - €0.14 per kilowatt hours (kWh) up to €2.36 per kWh – depending on assumptions made.“ (Converted, 0.1702 to 2.8695)  I feel like these extreme insurance scenarios are unfair for reasons already explained and hinted at before. If we build new nuclear plants or at least apply major upgrades to current ones, rather than continue to use these old nuclear plants that are seen as inefficient and dangerous, the disaster insurance would be about as useful as alien invasion insurance. We don't bother to force coal to buy extremely non-competitive insurances to cover the people who get cancer, asthma, lung diseases, and so on for the lives they destroy. Why do it for nuclear and not coal when all data available shows that even in disaster scenarios, let alone normal conditions, nuclear power plants are still far less dangerous? I put forth the idea that it's because nuclear reactors make big scenes when they go wrong and are focused on the media, while coal kills people silently enough for the media to not cover it. Nuclear seems more scary.
The average warranty lifetime for a solar panel is 25 years . The fact that we had 104 active nuclear reactors as of 2011 , all of them the 70's and 80's, at the very least proves their longevity. If you make solar farms in every state, and even try to utilize states where there's not a lot of space by attaching them to telephone poles, light posts and on top of buildings, how much will it cost the state to replace them all every 25 years, all across the state?
Another issue to include is the land use solar and wind farms would require, and the fact that nuclear power plants are comparatively less space consumptious. This is again important for Japan, being small and dense, and for smaller or more dense states (Massachusetts and Rhode Island are perfect examples of states both small and dense). Wind generally requires lots of open space so that tall buildings and such don't block the wind, and can “occupy anywhere from 28 – 83 acres per megawatt.”  Airborne wind turbines could work to an extent, but obviously only when the weather is good. Offshore wind farms is also an option, but the technology of it is currently expensive. [35, 36] A solar farm in Pittsgrove, New Jersey would use 90 acres for 14.4 megawatts, after the initial request to use 422 acres was denied. Compared to nuclear stations, they have an average of 1,000 watts per square meter  (a lot of numbers on WikiAnswers and Yahoo Answers say about 1,000 kwh average) and require 50 to 100 acres of land space  (this same source says it becomes “thousands” with the addition of transmission lines and lakes and that the land can, which is just artificially bloating the number up – it's a power plant, of course it'll have power lines, and frankly what building doesn't have power lines? The statement that the land can never be used for anything else is simply not true, just Google or check Wikipedia for “nuclear decommissioning,” or , ) . “To obtain 20 kilowatt-hours per day from wind, one person would require roughly 330 square meters of wind farm — or, to put it another way, would need to share a big 2-megawatt turbine with 600 friends. To get the same power from deserts would require roughly 50 square meters of concentrating solar power station — the same area as a typical British house. And 20 kilowatt hours per day from nuclear power would require roughly a one-millionth share of a modern nuclear power station.” 
Now, with all that put in place, Oklahoma has lots of open fields and what parts of it that aren't being used for farmland or future construction for towns and the like could arguably be used for wind and solar. I agree that we should push for as much renewable energy use as we feasibly can. I don't know how far it could go, but currently Oklahoma produces 45.3% of its energy from coal , barely behind natural gas at 46.7 (though the overall national primary source of electricity is still coal ), only 3.1% from renewables and 5.1 from hydro  (natural gas has its own non-renewable and pollution issues , not least of which include fracking ). But even if it is possible to use renewables for 100% of our energy requirements, what effects would it have on wildlife and the environment, agriculture, etc., and would it be better than using a combination of renewables and nuclear?
As far as nuclear waste deposits go, most of the accidents involving them have been from mismanagement . This mostly proves that the waste is a problem if it's improperly handled, but not that it inherently can't be dealt with. Although some sort of accident will inevitably happen once in awhile (at least with older plants), I will again restate that these issues do not make nuclear power more dangerous to people than fossil fuels in an overall big picture sense. Most waste is stored on site, and wouldn't pose as big of a problem if they had a designated off-site area to be safely stored (in , 11 acres from a decommissioned plant were kept under NRC license since that was used for waste deposits). Yucca was the previous planned national depository site, but the location had volcanoes  and the residents of Nevada felt the location to be unfair since they didn't even have nuclear plants in their state. The transportation of the material itself, if we ever decide on another site, would be safe . As it stands, the waste that exists already exists and will continue to exist for thousands of years. It is relatively safe on-site, but it would be much better if we gave the stuff a more proper and permament national storage site.
Wind and solar don't have perfect track records with the environment, other than their large land consumption. To be sure, their problems are among the smallest, but they should nevertheless be mentioned. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says that windmills are responsible for killing “nearly half a million birds a year.” Even the group with an obvious self-promoting interest says they kill around 150,000 . Bats are also susceptible, but the problem might be at least partially mitigated by attaching radar devices to them . They also can change the temperature and airflow enough to affect the environment; for example, plant germination . With the already mentioned off-shore and airborne turbines, this might be mitigated, but also as already mentioned, these options are limited in usability and costs. With solar panels, many of them are made with various environmentally unfriendly chemicals that, when the panels get old and need to be replaced/recycled, will pose problems. [45. 46]
Water user and nuclear power is a fairly complex issue. By nature of the reaction, fission uses water both for cooling and as part of the steam turbine process for generating power. This brings up a few issues. At least 36 states in 2013 are expecting to experience water shortages, whether or not they have drought conditions , not that droughts aren't happening . “Nuclear power plants use large quantities of water for steam production and for cooling. Some nuclear power plants remove large quantities of water from a lake or river, which could affect fish and other aquatic life.”  A Department of Energy document strategizing on contamination cleanup showed an example of water found a "223 acre portion of the underlying Great Miami Aquifer had uranium levels above drinking standards."  However, aside from theoretical risks and a few example incidents, coal is still without debate affecting more water and aquatic life in negative ways than nuclear activities are, being the primary contributor to mercury pollution in water and all. Regardless, there are clear concerns with water supplies and how nuclear plants could effect them from their use, even assuming that things work out as well as they could.
The most comprehensive study I could find of water use involved in making electricity is a report from the US Department of Energy in 2006. 
“Water withdrawal statistics for thermoelectric power are dominated by power plants that return virtually all the withdrawn water to the source. While this water is returned at a higher temperature and with other changes in quality, it becomes available for further use. Many power plants, including most of those built since 1980, withdraw much less water but consume most of what they withdraw by evaporative cooling. In 1995, agriculture accounted for 84 percent of total freshwater consumption. Thermoelectric power accounted for 3.3 percent of total freshwater consumption (3.3 billion gallons per day) and represented over 20 percent of nonagricultural water consumption.” It goes on to say that growing populations will increase the need to use water for electricity, and that renewables could reduce this, but the cost of them have prevented mass use of them. It mentions that use of biofuels, hydrogen, natural gas and synthetic fuel from coal would increase water use “significantly”. While coal plants require less water than today's nuclear plants, it shouldn't be left unmentioned that “Some renewable power plants also use steam turbines with closed-loop cooling.”
To repeat some of that and add more from the Nuclear Energy Institute : Thermoelectric power plants (which includes nuclear, gas, oil, and coal) account for only 3.3% of freshwater use for their various processes, and of that amount, a typical nuclear power plant uses 13 gallons of water per day, or 23 gallons per day for each home in a wet cooling environment. This can be compared to regular home water use, which is 6.7% of freshwater consumption, 94 gallons of water per day. They return about 98% of the water they back to the source it was taken from. Basically, in summary, nuclear energy water use is a tiny fraction of other uses. That doesn't mean it should be ignored, it of course should be maximized in efficiency if any room is to be had for improvement, and alternatives that use less water should be considered, but the point is that nuclear water use is honestly just not a big deal. We could save way more water and energy by hanging our clothes out to dry instead of using electric clothes driers, or if a person happens to live alone,he or she could consider skipping a shower for whatever day he or she doesn't work day. We should also think about genetic modification or good selective breeding of crops to make them grow more easily with less water, basically adding or improving their drought resistance.
The next thing I want to discuss as far as nuclear technology goes is nuclear fusion. Fusion would similarly use steam to turn a turbine  (finding that statement was so difficult and the fact so obscure that I didn't know about it until researching this paper), but it is entirely possible that they could use sea water for this instead of local potentially drinkable sources, as they're going to need to use the sea water's deuterium anyways. It would produce far more energy than anything else could, the materials would last thousands of years or more, and the radioactive waste would only be radioactive for a few hundred years, versus the thousands of years of fission waste . If we could use helium-3 for fusion reactions, it would increase the efficiency of the fusion reaction by causing less degradation to the reactor over time, and was one of more lucrative goals of the previously proposed moon base. Remember the movie Moon? The main character's job was to mine helium-3 from the moon for nuclear fusion. He-3 is rare on Earth, but is found naturally on the surface of the moon . One of its potential sources is from decommissioned nuclear weapons  – a far better use for them than blowing the world up, especially considering how many of them we have , but other useable resources could easily come from rock deposits and minerals found naturally from ocean water. Lastly, I'm under the impression that fusion's fail safes designs make it safer than even many, if not all, of the current fission designs. All these factors make fusion an incredibly good technology to strive for. It would have all of the benefits and almost none of the drawbacks of fission technology.
The last topic that could be considered worth talking about is the economics of nuclear energy , which is perhaps the most complex topic. Since it wasn't the primary thing discussed at the R&R, I won't be talking about it much. The basic summary of it is that nuclear plants can turn in a profit, but the steep initial investment make it a slow return that's more easily measured over a longer period of time. It's not impossible, it's just it needs lots of regulation and management costs that bog it down – not that I'm implying that's necessarily bad, they should of course be regulated and managed to proper safety requirements. This may or may not justify many of the substantial subsidies nuclear energy is known for receiving . Personally, I would say that subsidies to start newer and safer plants, or to remodel old plants to achieve better conditions, would be good investments, but that yearly annual free bonus money may not be. I think it's something that can be fairly debated and reviewed.
To end, nuclear energy is likely the best non-renewable source of energy available. Obviously, I would prefer to use 100% renewables, but we're simply not at that point yet. We may never get to it. None of us know future events, what technological breakthroughs could occur, or the complexity of the economic and environmental impacts that will affect our decisions in the future. Our best knowledge today is hypothetical and based on statistical trends that could be affected by future events, outcomes, and new realizations. Different energy strategies might make different sense in different geographical or economic areas. What I'm saying is, I would like to not use nuclear power and all other non-renewable energies, but I would also like to keep nuclear power on a “maybe” list as a last resort to replacing fossil fuels where renewables turn out to be insufficient, and I disagree with the Democratic party's platform that nuclear energy is to be used “under no circumstances”. I feel that position is not open-minded enough to possibilities, and not willing to make difficult decisions for the overall betterment of society when the time comes to choose between what is best for people and what is best for philosophy.
http://minnesota.cbslocal.com/2011/03/14/good-question... When the question of tornadoes came up about nuclear power before, I noted that there was research to make underground nuclear reactors (Hyperion – http://phys.org/news145561984.html), but what I didn't know was that they are already existing designs to place the reactor in what is essentially a tornado shelter, so even if they get hit by an F4 ot F5 tornado, the reactor would be pretty much fine. This is ironically more reason to use nuclear power in tornado-likely areas, since solar and wind would have to be left in the open, and would very easily be damaged by tornadoes, leaving people out of power if they don't have a secondary source, aside from the environmental damage that could be cause by solar panels if they weren't retrieved after the tornado blows them away.