Plan II Honors Logo
Plan II Honors

2010 Worthington Essay Prize

Topic: Nuclear Moratorium

In the summer of 2017, a series of mechanical and human errors resulted in a catastrophic meltdown at the Lohman Nuclear Power Plant in eastern Nevada. Eight plant employees and 11 first responders died within 24 hours of the accident. In the weeks that followed, 143 people were hospitalized for Acute Radiation Syndrome.

For days, helicopters dropped tons of boron, sand, clay, and lead on the disaster site to extinguish fires and bury radioactive material. The government initially evacuated towns only in the immediate vicinity of the disaster, but weeks later, with elevated levels of radiation being detected as far away as St. George, Utah, a general evacuation order was given for a 125-mile radius around the disaster zone.  Many thousands of people were relocated to refugee centers in California and Idaho. While some of these evacuees will be able eventually to return home, many will seek permanent resettlement. The economic impact of the disaster is estimated at $280 billion.

You are the Secretary of Energy of the United States. The President has asked you to draft an advisory report concerning a potential moratorium on the construction of four new plants slated to go online within the year.

In a recent meeting, several colleagues discussed the proposed moratorium.

“The President is furious,” explained Bill Knox, a White House liaison. “He ran on an energy platform of ‘no more coal, no more oil’, and we’ve built six new nuclear plants since he was elected. Now he owns this disaster. Now what?”

“This was supposed to be impossible,” Undersecretary of Energy Larry Morton said. “This is a well-regulated industry. We have regular safety inspections. There are multiple redundancies. There are response plans. But it did happen. So if the President wants to know if it can happen, the answer is yes.”

“We should put this in perspective,” added Mellissa Kurai, another senior DOE official. “How many people died in coal mines? How much damage was caused by oil spills? This disaster may actually be comparatively minor, if it’s an isolated event. If these plants don’t go online as scheduled, moreover, we’ll have to use our strategic reserves of coal and natural gas to supply energy to over 30 million people. That won’t last long. Then we’ll be buying fuel on the global market again at a cost that could devastate our economy.”

“This is the bottom line,” explained Knox. “What we need from you is a recommendation either to proceed with the construction of these new plants or to issue a moratorium. Your report will be classified top secret—your suggestions aren’t for public consumption, so don’t worry about the politics. What we want from you is a no-nonesense assessment, balancing the safety of our citizens and our environment against the energy needs of our country. If you call for a moratorium, you’d better offer a realistic plan on how we’re going to compensate for the lost 5GW of power without bankrupting our country. If you tell us to proceed with construction of the new plants, you’ll have to defend to the President the calculated risk of another disaster like this one.

  •   Map
  • Plan II Honors Program

    University of Texas at Austin
    305 East 23rd St
    RLP 2.102
    Austin, Texas, 78712-1250