As the hunt intensifies for greener alternatives to the most common fuels, coal and gas that originate from fossil, the interest in nuclear power has grown. Environmentalists as well as Scientists continue to argue the whether nuclear is the way forward or not. As such, the big debate continues in laboratories and parliaments.
` The first advantage of nuclear power is the fact that it is a cleaner source of energy in terms of emissions as compared to fossil fuels. With the rising world debates on the effects of petroleum emissions on our atmosphere, nuclear energy has scored better on this field. Global warming has been attributed to the fact that the increase amounts of Carbon dioxide that is a byproduct of fossil fuels production and consumption. Even as the world struggles to satisfy the demand for electricity, the world will need an ambitious plan to expand nuclear plants according to Totty. Nuclear plants do no also emit other harmful gases that have contributed to global warming and air pollution. In fact, the plants produce virtually no Carbon dioxide the amount being even less than that of hydro-power and solar energy panels. The fact that the reactors produce little emissions in a world that is conscious of the effects of global warming is a tremendous advantage.
Nuclear energy is also incredibly efficient. A ton of Uranium produces an equal amount of energy that several million tons of fossil fuels like coal and petroleum could produce. Due to this fact, the nuclear plants require very little fuel hence they are less likely to suffer shortages caused by strikes and natural disasters.
The international and political environment will have little effect on the supply of this energy as Uranium is evenly distributed worldwide. Mining Uranium reduces the future risk of exposure to radon as opposed to coal which on burning produces radon; this increases the risk of future radon exposure. It has been found that mining the fuel far a year reduces the risk of around a few hundred deaths, while ashes deposited from coal within this period will cause about thirty deaths. Nuclear power is thus more environmentally friendly and is committed to preserving the environment to future generations.
Economically speaking, Nuclear power tops the list. Using the measurement of kilowatt-hour, it is found that, the cost of nuclear energy is 0.4 Euro cents per kilowatt-hour. This is very low as compared to its counterpart’s natural gas at 1.3 to 2.4 Euro cents per kilowatt-hour and 4 Euro cents per kilowatt-hour in using coal.
A major issue in the fuel field is the location of the raw materials. Oil fields in the Middle East are located in politically unstable regions. Political unrest in these regions has caused unending wars and the death of thousands of civilians. This makes the environment economically risky and thus investors will not be attracted to such regions. In the case of Uranium, the minefields are found in stable regions capable of running the business with little political interference. Uranium is mined in Canada and Australia. These countries also have the infrastructure and manpower to mine this naturally occurring ores more efficiently. With a close to limitless supply and the strength of these countries, nuclear power compares very well to its power production competitors.
The main aim of energy plants is to produce the largest amount of energy while producing least harmful wastes. On this level, Nuclear energy beats them all by a considerable margin. A kilogram of Uranium will produce twenty thousand times the amount of energy that an equal amount of coal will produce. This in essence means that the large Uranium deposits will remain intact for thousands of years to come according to Klapp.
America currently has 104 nuclear power plants that have helped to boost the high demand for electricity on all states. Since 1973, American consumers have been able to save $44 billion due to consuming power from nuclear power plants. This shows that the energy helps boost the economy. If this were the case in developing countries, they would be able to pay the debts that pull them down.
Like everything else, Nuclear energy has its drawbacks. Even after all the advantages have been put down, nuclear energy is yet to penetrate many countries. Countries have found it hard to adjust to this form of energy due to the reasons that follow.
The most significant is the great risk of a nuclear meltdown. A meltdown occurs when the fission reaction goes wrong due to lack of water as the coolant for the reaction. Fission produces large amounts of heat and thus water is used to cool the reactors. To look at the full impact of this, the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine comes to mind.
The reactor in the Chernobyl event experienced an explosion on the unit 4 reactor. The April 26 explosion destroyed the entire reactor releasing the highest level of radiation to the environment. There were 56 direct deaths as a result according to the World Health Reports. Radiation exposure caused 600000 deaths to people in the radius of the radiation. A further 4000 cancer deaths are as a result of exposure to nuclear carcinogens. In a span of one week, the radioactive rays had covered the whole of Western Europe. In addition to this, a nuclear meltdown has other adverse effects; nuclear rain, contamination, death of forests and animals and the eventual evacuation of people in affected areas according to Buzzle.com.
Nuclear waste management has also turned out to be one of its major setbacks. Nuclear waste has to be stored and contained for thousands of years. This is done to reduce th risk that would come with exposing the material to the environment. The impact of this is that waste produced today has to be stored for generations to come. To try and imagine the amount of space required for the space for this waste is tasking.
The storage units are also specialized to avoid leaks and thus are expensive to build and maintain. The United States congress in 1982 established a national policy that was meant to solve the nuclear waste problem that had arisen. The nuclear waste Policy Act saw the building of the Yucca Mountain Repository in Nevada amid opposition from Nevadans who find it unfair since there are no nuclear plants in the area. This is one big setback because the site location will always be a topic of discussion, The Yucca Facility is yet to be opened, 11 Years past its opening date. Currently, nuclear plants have resulted to interim storage facilities for example dry cask storage facilities.
The fear that the nuclear power plants could fall in the hands of terrorists who would in turn produce nuclear weapons has been on the table since inception. Skeptics and critics alike believe that governments could use nuclear weapons like the Hiroshima bombings to gain power. The nuclear plans of Iran have continued to be under close scrutiny. With super powers fighting for world control and the fact that the same countries have nuclear technology, there is looming fear that countries could resort to nuclear weapons. It is speculated that most super powers already have secret nuclear weapon technology.
Nuclear energy is also a non-renewable source of energy according to Chamley. Uranium just like any other mineral occurs naturally in Canada and Australia and thus has the potential of being depleted by continuous mining without immediate replacement. Even though very small amounts are use at a time in nuclear reactors, if the demand could rise unexpectedly there is a great risk of a big unexpected shortage that could affect the consumers.
Nuclear reactors are still very expensive. The trend in the last 30 years has been that the cost of setting up nuclear reactors has increased by 15% yearly. The cost of installing a single reactor is a billion dollars. This is one reason why nuclear plans will only be founding developed countries as developing countries are financially strained. Apart from setting up expenses, running the plant is very expensive too. Specialized staff is the only ones who can be employed to ensure safety and integrity of the plants. Plant staff have to be trained regularly and the safety measures to ensure safety taken are financially straining. Measures such as the building of 4 feet walls around the reactor are expensive. Transporting and acquiring Uranium is all done in a specialized way that costs a lot to the plant management.