The Nuclear Power DebateIn 1953, nuclear energy was introduced into America as a cheap andefficient energy source, favoured in place of increasingly scarce fossil fuelswhich caused air pollution.
Its initial use was welcomed by the general public,as it was hoped to lower the price of electricity, and utilise nuclear power forit’s potential as a resource, not a weapon. However, as people became aware ofthe long term dangers involved in storing nuclear waste, it’s use was criticised. Two accidents, at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, demonstrated to the worldthe enormous risks involved in producing nuclear power. Nuclear power provides 17% of the world’s electricity but coal is themain source, making up 39%.
However, fossil fuels such as coal, require greaterquantities to produce the equivalent amount of electricity produced from Uranium. The use of nuclear power opposed to burning fossil fuels has reduced carbondioxide emissions by 2 billion tonnes per year, minimising the global warmingeffect on the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is responsible for half of man madegases contributing to the Greenhouse Effect, and has sparked action from the UNIntergovernment Panel on Climate Change. Their consensus is a concern for theenvironment in the next century if fossil fuels continue to be used, even atpresent global levels. The Panel claims that for carbon dioxide to bestabilised to safe levels, a 50-80% reduction in all emissions would be required.
The United Nations has predicted a world population growth from 5. 5billion to 8. 5 billion by the year 2025, meaning demand for energy will increase. Nuclear power is the only practical source, in consideration for theenvironment, cost and efficiency. Coal-fired generation of electricity wouldincrease carbon dioxide emissions, and renewable sources such as solar and hydro,are not suitable for large scale power generation. Nuclear power is not without its own implications.
The process includesdisposing of radioactive waste, which poses a threat to the environment and theworld if not contained properly and temporarily disposed of with maximumsecurity. In the thesis, “Nuclear power: an energy future we can’t afford”,by Peter Kelly from Hamilton College, he wrote,”. . . we’d still have to worry about terrorists making bombs out of nuclear waste.
Just five pounds of plutonium, a component of nuclear waste, is enough to make anuclear bomb. Such a bomb could topple the World Trade Centre and kill hundredsof thousands of people. . .
Terrorists may be able to recruit disgruntledscientists. . . “Disposing of nuclear waste is extremely controversial, because it takesthousands of years to decompose, and the radiation remains active. Other than the environmental effects of disposing nuclear waste, thepotential of radioactive fallout from a faulty reactor is a dangerouspossibility, and the events following the accident at Chernobyl demonstrated thelong term destructiveness radiation is capable of.
In 1986 at Chernobyl, anunauthorised experiment conducted with the cooling system turned off, lead tothe explosion of one of the reactors. The radioactive fallout spread throughthe atmosphere, reaching into northern Europe and Great Britain. The Sovietsclaim 31 people died directly from the accident, while deaths due to radiationare yet to be determined. Radiation sometimes causes genetic mutations in thechild whose parents were exposed to radiation.
A few years ago on thetelevision program 60 Minutes’, they presented a story on the after effects ofthe Chernobyl accident. They revealed horrific shots of mutated embryospreserved in jars, the most disturbing, an embryo named Cyclops’, because itonly had one eye. While nuclear power is more efficient and environmentally safer in termsof global warming than fossil fuels, it has a destructive potential that cannotbe ignored. Electricity, generated from the nuclear fission of Uranium 235 orPlutonium 239 are both elements which are used in nuclear weapons.
Radiationeither from waste or fall out from a reactor explosion can cause detrimentaleffects, both long and short term, to the environment and society. Precautionsmust be taken in security, disposal, and generation of nuclear power and itswaste, in order for it to be a successful resource and temporary alternative. At present, renewable energy sources are too expensive and are not suitable forlarge scale power generation. However, advancing technology may improve oncurrent systems, making them more efficient and suitable for major electricitygeneration.
Peter Kelly concluded his thesis, . . . nuclear power should be seenas a way to tide us over to an age of conservation and renewables. Barring anunexpected breakthrough in fusion, the age of nuclear power will end in theforeseeable future. BIBLIOGRAPHY1.
Microsoft Encarta ’95 Microsoft Corporation 1994-952. Nuclear power: an energy future we can’t afford Peter Kelly3. World Energy Needs and Nuclear Power Nuclear Issues Briefing Paper 11 UnknownScience