Nuclear power is not a viable path forward, but rather a giant leap backwards

by mcaponci on November 29, 2016 - 3:27pm

With climate change at the forefront of most environmental discussions, scientists have taken it upon themselves to seek out a viable path forward towards achieving our climate targets by 2050. Clean energy and a move towards decarbonization has been distinguished as the most urgent task. Scientists conclude that through the use in nuclear power, whole civilizations can be powered and carbon emissions can be dramatically lowered. Nuclear power is being characterized as environmentally advantageous in comparison to alternative for of energy. Scientists have highlighted nuclear energy as a factor that will determine the future state of our planet.

 

Although there are degrees of validity within the article, the scientists neglected to mention the sheer cost of nuclear energy. Not only has nuclear power consistently increased in price over time, but the cost to set up nuclear power plants is astronomical, with the potential to cost governments billion of dollars. Given that 50% of nuclear plant projects fail before they are even completed, it is clear that not only is this energy risky but it is also incredibly expensive. Comparatively, renewable energy has shown a steady decline in price, making it much more cost efficient and undoubtedly much more environmentally friendly.

 

Scientists have highlighted that nuclear energy is clean and environmentally advantageous compared to alternatives. The radioactive waste that is created during the nuclear fuel process has the potential to destroy surrounding environments and impact human health if it is not properly controlled. Within the process of creating nuclear energy, uranium is an essential part of the process as it is often used as the fuel to produce nuclear energy. The process of extracting uranium from the earth have had widespread and severe health and environmental impacts. Furthermore, it is also responsible for the displacement of many indigenous groups as some groups have land claims that sit atop bast uranium reserves. Nuclear energy's dependency on uranium is responsible for the health and environmental implications as well as the displacement issues that have come as a result of uranium extraction. 

 

Nuclear power is characterized as a reliable source of energy that has the potential to power entire civilizations. Looking back over the history of nuclear energy and the various plants that have opened and operated, nuclear power does not function as a reliable source of energy. When you consider the various nuclear accidents that have occurred including Fukushima, Tokaimura, and Chernobyl, it is estimated that at least one massive nuclear accident will occur every 25 years. Given the fact that Fukushima alone cost over 257 billion dollars to recover from, the risk and cost associated with nuclear power far outweigh the reliability of nuclear power. With power plants constantly shutting down for safety issues, the high failure rate of nuclear projects, the long term health and environmental risks that radioactive waste and uranium extraction pose, it is clear that nuclear power is not a viable path forward, but rather a giant leap backwards. 

 

News Article Link: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/dec/03/nuclear-power-paves-...

 

References:

 

Kinsella, W. J. (2012). Environments, risks, and the limits of representation: Examples from nuclear energy and some implications of Fukushima. Environmental Communication, 6(2), 251–259. doi:10.1080/17524032.2012.672928

Rabl, A., & Rabl, V. A. (2013). External costs of nuclear: Greater or less than the alternatives? Energy Policy, 57, 575–584. doi:10.1016/j.enpol.2013.02.028

Comments

Hi mcaponci,

I completely agree with your take on nuclear energy as it is definitely not the best solution towards cleaner energy for our climate. You make some very valid points in your argument substantiating claims against nuclear energy. However it would be interesting to learn about the specific goals that the Canadian government has suggested for future nuclear energy projects. Did you come across any nuclear energy proposals or projects that are already in the works in Canada while conducting your research?

Hi mcaponci,
Until reading this post, I had completely overlooked the environmental impacts of uranium extraction as part of the nuclear process. I also previously thought that nuclear was a step in the right direction due to the reduction in carbon emissions, but the costs are as mentioned, gargantuan. I recently read about the Watt Bar plant in Tennessee, which took 43 years as a project to complete and cost $6.8 billion as opposed to $370 million. Based on Canada's timeframe for being fossil fuel free by 2030, this is not going to cut it for us. The risk to human health, the risk to the environment and the price tag does make it seem like a poor option. This is reinforced by the numerous clean alternatives we have at our disposal. Great post.

Hello mcaponci,

Thanks for writing about this topic. It's very complex, and I think your first paragraph was excellent at introducing the issue at hand. I have a few points I'd like to write about after reading this post. First, my position on this topic is opposite from yours. I agree with the authors of The Guardian article you wrote about. The need for an alternative energy source that can meet modern demands is imminent, and I believe that nuclear power is that alternative. Despite this, I do agree that the social and environmental costs that are attached to uranium extraction detract from the "clean" image of nuclear energy. I still believe it is the best alternative available at present, but I don't have the answers for how to address these extra costs.

Based on the argument and calculations in Rabl and Rabl (2013), nuclear energy is the only alternative energy source with the potential to provide for our demands consistently. Wind and solar power come from sources that vary throughout time, while hydroelectricity has significant environmental implications as it disrupts any ecosystem that resides downstream from a dam. The reality is that our current demands are too high for these sources to meet them reliably. As for the reliability of nuclear power plants, I believe they are safer than they seem to the Canadian public, especially with the majority of nuclear power operations being in Ontario (an area with little seismic activity).

In closing, I agree partially with your position. Costs associated with uranium extraction need to be minimized should nuclear power rise further to prominence and wind and solar energy are part of the future. In my opinion, however, nuclear energy is currently the best alternative to meet current demands.

Hi mcaponci,

Before I read your post here, I had this belief that nuclear power was still in the development stages and that there would be many more advancements that could make this a viable solution for the future. But then I realised that this may not be entirely true. Like you said, there are other alternative sources that are becoming viable due to their price reductions and how they have a low amount of danger if a mishap were to occur. Even though the risks of a nuclear meltdown could be reduced by advancements, the impact that a meltdown has on the earth would still be catastrophic, whereas if a wind turbine were to fail it would result in a broken turbine. Overall, I found your article to be well informed and the argument to be sound. However, I think that the structure of your writing could be improved. When I started to read your last paragraph, I just felt like you were repeating yourself and this lead me to be confused. I think that in the future you should hint that your next words will be a summary of the paper. You could use the words ‘In conclusion, ...’ or In summary, …’, for example. Other than that, you write a good post!

Hey Milana,

I think the topic of nuclear power is an interesting subject, and your article got me thinking. There are two ways to look at this situation. On one side, you must be able to appreciate the magnificent ingenuity of mankind and our ability to harness the power of natural elements derived from our planet. The ability for scientists to apply theoretical concepts to physically and chemically alter specific elements to provide energy for humans is simply astonishing to me. On the other hand, you can also see evidence of the devastation that this type of energy produces. Major implications for the environment pose serious threats to many aspects of human life as the toxic remains of this process are either not disposed of properly or manage to leak into the environment through a variety of human or climatic factors. I personally think the biggest problem with the production of nuclear energy is one that we have yet to fully experience or notice just yet. The decay process for active nucleic atoms can take thousands of years, and with disasters like Chernobyl and Fukushima being relatively recent on that timescale, availability for long-term scientific studies on the effects of radiation cannot adequately provide the necessary information needed. I agree with you that going forward, nuclear power may not be a viable option much longer. Although, we must also consider that this type of energy is currently relied upon as a vital source of power to areas all over the globe and so transitioning away from this source will have its complications. That is not to say however that it should not be done.

Cheers,

Cam