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Friday, January 18, 2019

The Nuclear Energy Debate: Should We or Shouldn’t We?

June 6, 2011  
Filed under Coffee Table

By Rod McLaughlin—

nuclear energy plantsIt’s been several months since Japan’s nuclear tragedy at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant shined a critical light on the risks that were pretty inherent to the global nuclear power industry.

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster is only the third in history to reach a Level 7 on the International Nuclear and Radiological Scale (INRS), which means the devastation is about as severe as the infamous Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

Believer it or not, we are all facing a serious energy dilemma here. There are over 6.3 billion people on the planet and we all want energy. And one of our most promising sources of energy is nuclear power with all its good benefits. It emits low levels of greenhouse gasses, making it favorable over other options such as coal-fired power plants, and nuclear power yields rather high amounts of electricity just from a single plant.

But, in the days immediately following the Japan disaster, the whole global nuclear energy sector was on high alert, causing many nations to reevaluate their nuclear programs. The United States was trying its best to convince Americans that our 104 nuclear reactors were safe. Germany had decided to halt all nuclear energy plans. Switzerland and Italy came to the same conclusion, halting their nuclear plans as well. Indian scientists wanted to halt their plans for nuclear development but the government was reluctant, citing the desperate need for energy in that country. Even China—a nation that currently builds as many nuclear power plants as the rest of the world combined—put a halt to nuclear development (CNN.com).

The major downsides to nuclear power are clear. For one, the half-life of nuclear waste can be more than 10,000 years, making safe disposal a problem. This nuclear waste can then be used to create nuclear weapons. The world supply of uranium—the energy source for nuclear reactors—will only last another 30-60 years. Because of the time necessary for regulations, planning and building, it takes 20-30 years to build a new nuclear plant in most western democracies, which means nuclear is not a quick fix for energy shortages (www.timeforchange.org).

What’s more? Nuclear accidents can spew contaminants over large swaths of the planet’s surface while making the immediate area uninhabitable for the foreseeable future—and this is the most significant risk of all.

It’s been several months since Japan’s nuclear tragedy grabbed the headlines, and one could almost be excused for thinking the matter has settled down altogether. But in some nations, the issue is just heating up. Case in point: Just this May, Germany announced that it will phase out all of its 17 nuclear reactors by 2022. This is a pretty dramatic move when you consider Germany gets 23 percent of its electricity from nuclear power.

Yet despite Germany’s bold move, most nations that halted their nuclear ambitions days after the Fukushima disaster, have reengaged their nuclear programs in earnest. France, a nation that derives over 75 percent of its electricity from nuclear energy, has 58 nuclear plants with two under construction.

India, a nation where 40 percent of households have no access to electricity, just announced that it stands firm on its nuclear ambitions. Currently only 3 percent of India’s electricity is derived from nuclear energy. They government hopes to quadruple this by 2020.

Nearly 80 percent of mainland China’s electricity comes from coal. China wants to reduce its reliance on fossil fuel, closing down older, inefficient coal plants and replacing them with newer coal plants and nuclear reactors. China now has 14 nuclear reactors with 25 more currently under construction. Sill more will be under construction soon.

And we can’t forget about the Netherlands, Britain and Poland, who are all committed to their nuclear plans as well.

So what do we as a society do? Do we continue to tap this seemingly plentiful yet risky energy resource? Or do we abandon it, seeking other alternatives, possibly raising prices and denying power to millions in the process?

I, for one, do not have an answer. I can see the rationale for nuclear energy—it provides cleaner energy to millions of people who need it, many of whom will be getting access to electricity for the first time in their lives. I can also see the arguments against it—nuclear waste that we have no idea how to safely dispose of and tragic accidents that will continue to happen no matter how hard we try to prevent them. There is no easy answer here.

So I put it to you. How would you recommend resolving this dilemma? Please comment below and let us know.

 

 

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