We take you to Knoxville, Tennessee:

Several environmental groups are banding together in petitioning the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to stop TVA from operating a second reactor at Watts Bar nuclear plant.

The Sierra Club, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, the Tennessee Environmental Council, the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League and We the People Inc. on Wednesday asked the NRC for permission to intervene against TVA’s bid for an operating license at the Rhea County site.

The groups contend the Unit 2 reactor could harm water resources, including the Tennessee River, and risk public health and safety because of fundamental weaknesses in the reactor’s four-decade-old design.”

No nuclear reactor has ever harmed any water source in the United States. And just how, exactly, would the second reactor risk public health and safety? Would it be the radiation? Nuclear power plants do emit some radiation, but the amounts are environmentally insignificant and pose no threat. These emissions fall well below the legal safety limit sanctioned by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

Indeed, less than 1 percent of the public’s exposure to radiation comes from nuclear power plants. The average American is exposed to 360 millirem of radiation a year. About 83 percent (300 millirem) of this annual radiation dose comes from natural sources, such as cosmic rays, uranium in the Earth’s crust, and radon gas in the atmosphere.

Most of the rest comes from medical procedures, such as X-rays, and about 3 percent (11 millirem) comes from consumer products. The Department of Energy reports that living near a nuclear power plant exposes a person to 1 millirem of radiation a year. By comparison, an airline passenger who flies from New York to Los Angeles receives 2.5 millirem.

Maybe a terrorist attack on a nuclear plant a la 24 would threaten human health and public safety. A successful terrorist attack against a nuclear power plant could have severe consequences, as would attacks on schools, chemical plants, or ports. However, fear of a terrorist attack is not a sufficient reason to deny society access to any of these critical assets.

The United States has 104 commercial nuclear power plants, and there are 446 worldwide. Not one has fallen victim to a successful terrorist attack. Certainly, history should not beget complacency, especially when the stakes are so high. However, the NRC has heightened security and increased safeguards on site to deal with the threat of terrorism.

The same groups claiming we need to rid the world of carbon dioxide emissions are the same groups petitioning against nuclear power, which provide 20 percent of the nation’s electricity, emissions free. The 104 plants operating today prevented the release of 681.9 million metric tons of CO2 in 2005, which is comparable to taking 96 percent of cars off the roads. Explain that.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with raising reasonable concerns. But an efficient and fair mechanism must be in place so that these questions can be answered one way or another based on science and pure facts. These groups should not be allowed to use a system that was set up for real concerns to advance political agendas and make baseless claims that would halt the production of economically competitive projects.