Myth #1: A nuclear reactor can explode like a bomb
No nuclear power reactor can explode like a nuclear bomb, it is physically impossible. The uranium supplied to nuclear power plants is low enriched uranium, which means its concentration is under 20% and generally only between 3 to 4%, whereas weapons-grade uranium is enriched to a much higher concentration, usually between 80 to 95%.
To explain why low enriched uranium is not able explode we must turn to another term, which is critical mass. The term simply means that there’s enough fissile material present to sustain a chain reaction, and a supercritical mass is where enough material is present for the fission rate to increase. The amount of non-fissile uranium in low reactor-grade uranium is far too high to achieve supercritical mass and therefore the fission rate cannot increase.
A nuclear weapon is designed to release all its energy in one incredibly destructive blast, which means the material needs to be as densely packed with as much fissile material as possible, and the material should be packed into as much a homogeneous a sphere as possible.
This is absolutely nothing like the design of reactor cores, which produce a steady, controlled release of energy, and even the sort of energy build-up needed to produce a meltdown can’t ever attain the speed and intensity needed for an explosive nuclear energy release.
Myth #2: Nuclear energy is bad for the environment
On the contrary, nuclear reactors emit no greenhouse gases during operation. Over their full lifetimes, they result in comparable emissions to renewable forms of energy such as wind and solar. Nuclear energy requires less land use than most other forms of energy. Over the past decades, nuclear energy has saved the environment from countless CO2 emissions, had the equivalent power been produced by fossil fuels. Nuclear is not against renewable energy in any way, but it is extremely important to realise that every country needs an energy mix, and in this mix, it is vital to have a source of power that can create baseload as and when it is needed.
Myth #3: Nuclear energy is unsafe
Nuclear power is one of the safest methods of producing energy when compared to that of fossil fuels. Coal generation alone has resulted in over 4000 times more deaths than nuclear. The stringent regulations and passive safety systems take all possible factors into consideration. To put this into perspective, if an aircraft had to fly into a full sports stadium with 100 000 people in it, it would be a disaster of epic proportion, but do stadium builders take this into account when building a sports stadium? The simple answer is no, but this is taken into account when a nuclear power station is built. A lot has been learned from Chernobyl and Fukushima and preventative measures have been put in place to make sure these kinds of disasters will never happen again.
Myth #4: Nuclear energy is hugely expensive
The initial cost of nuclear power plants is very expensive. However, it is unlike most other technologies, in that it equates to a 60 to 80 year investment, as nuclear power plants far outlive their fossil fuel rivals by as much as three times. Once the initial costs have been paid off, a nuclear power plant creates abundant power for a fraction of the cost and essentially becomes a cash cow for the country. Koeberg, for example, is South Africa’s only nuclear power station and was synchronized to the grid on 4 April 1984. Today it is South Africa’s cheapest and one of the most reliable sources of energy.