During the early stages of nuclear power there were many accidents that resulted in several people’s deaths and the destruction of millions of dollars of property. The accidents at Chernobyl which killed over 30 people and the incident at Three Mile Island are just a few of the catastrophes that occurred. How could something like energy be more important than the lives of innocent people? The race to perfect nuclear power continued and although many countries rely on nuclear power to operate effectively, it does not mean that nuclear power plants are without faults. They have numerous flaws in design and are not only producing power but harmful radiation as well.
Opponents of nuclear power argue that the waste that is produced is harmful and can persist for thousands of years. Today, thousands of tons of radioactive nuclear waste are constantly being moved through several states (Arnold). Robert K. Musil, PSR Executive Director, stated, ?Even one severe accident in this transporting of nuclear waste would cause up to 18,000 latent cancer deaths and cost over ten billion dollars to clean up?(Arnold). Not only is transportation of nuclear waste a problem but there are also decisions being made on where to store it. Currently, there are plans to dump waste at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. Although the waste would be buried deep underground, the site is only ninety miles from Las Vegas (Arnold). Many people are afraid that if the waste is dumped at the site it may leak into underground water sources. If this were to occur, the results would be disastrous. Contact with nuclear waste can cause cancer and genetic mutations? (Clearfield). The harmful waste that is produced during nuclear fission is almost unmanageable and can be very dangerous if not contained.
Nevertheless, nuclear waste can become less harmful than the waste produced in other power production methods. Direct contact with nuclear waste can cause cancer, but so can breathing smoke from the burning of coal and oil. The waste can also be easily contained in many areas. Canada is looking into proposed plans to store nuclear waste in the Pre-Cambrian Canadian Shield? (McCarthy). There are also many other places that are uninhabitable to humans that are suitable for dumping the waste, such as Antarctica.
Over time the nuclear waste can lose its radioactivity which makes it less dangerous. After only ten years the waste becomes 1,000 times less radioactive, and after 500 years the fission products will be less radioactive than the uranium ore they were originally taken from (McCarthy). The waste is also not as abundant as would seem. Each year the UK produces 40 million cubic meters of industrial waste compared to 20 thousand cubic meters of nuclear waste? (Collum). The waste can also be reprocessed. During the reprocessing of nuclear waste, the plutonium created during nuclear fusion, which can also be used in nuclear reactors, is separated from the waste which leaves only three percent of the original waste left (Collum). Through these processes the containment and storage of nuclear waste can be done safely and efficiently.
Many critics say nuclear power plants are easy targets for terrorist attacks. If a nuclear power plant was bombed, the fallout from the explosion would contribute to the incidence of cancer all over the world (McCarthy). There is also the issue of waste being used to create weapons. The plutonium in nuclear waste could be extracted and used in nuclear weapons. The RBMK reactors built by the Russians were designed to operate as reactors and suppliers of plutonium for weapons (Keeny). This fault in design is the main reason that the plants failed to operate successfully. With so many countries on the brink of war, nuclear proliferation could become a real threat. If countries that support terrorist groups were able to build their own nuclear power plants, the terrorist would have access to a supply of plutonium, which would allow them to create deadly weapons. The dangers that nuclear power plants create may far outweigh any benefits that they might have.
However, nuclear plants are more than likely not viable targets for terrorist. The plants are built very securely and even if they were attacked most of the radiation would not be spread (McCarthy). Also, the waste that comes from the production of nuclear energy is not suitable for making weapons. Using the plutonium from nuclear waste in weapons would result in a bomb that not only would be unstable but also one that would be complex and difficult to maintain (Rossin). Nuclear plants are not needed to create nuclear weapons. Every country that has tried to make a bomb has succeeded, and none of them used nuclear waste (McCarthy). Nuclear power plants are not targets for terrorist, and in no way contribute to the threat of nuclear proliferation.
Critics argue that power plants are also costly. The plants are so expensive that most countries cannot afford to build them. The plants also take a long time to build and are require skilled technicians to operate them. Adding to the costs, the plants also require a high amount of security. If the plants are not constantly maintained the problem could cause an accident, or result in the shutting down of a plant. In order to open the storage facilities in Yucca Mountain on schedule, it will cost an additional 58 billion dollars (Arnold). The solid bars of waste that will be stored in this site are a few cubic meters in volume and will cost about one million dollars each (Hagen). With all plants in the U.S. being maintained by the government, the costs of the plants adds greatly to the taxes that the average citizen has to pay (Hagen).
However, the total cost of nuclear energy is actually less than other sources of power. The current price of uranium is 50 dollars per pound (McCarthy). Since the cost of uranium ore is only 0.04 cents per kilowatt-hour, even large increases in ore are affordable without increasing the cost of nuclear generated electricity significantly? (Cohen). The energy invested in building a plant is paid back in five months (McCarthy). The basic fact about nuclear energy is that the input energy is 4.8 percent of the output energy? (McCarthy). Although the facilities to store the waste are expensive, producing the waste in glass form is not. Even if the bars of waste do cost one million dollars each, an average household of four people only uses enough energy in a year to produce an amount of waste equal to ?the size of a cigarette lighter? (Cohen).
Some people believe that nuclear power plants are dangerous. The radiation that occurs during the process of nuclear fission can cause different types of cancer, and lead to death. In the Chernobyl accident, over 30 people were killed in the explosion caused by the overheating of the plant (McCarthy). The blast also made about 20 square miles of land uninhabitable for a long time. An accident like the one of Chernobyl might happen again today. When the reactor began to overheat at Chernobyl there was nothing that could have been done because the whole process lasted only a few seconds before exploding (Cohen). If a plant were to blow up it could cause thousands of deaths and spread deadly radioactive particles through the entire atmosphere.
Actually, nuclear power plants today are very safe. The amounts of radiation that are released are insignificant. The protective walls of concrete keep the workers in the plants safe. The amount of radiation that someone would receive at a nuclear power plant is less than the amount that he would get daily from the sun (McCarthy). With today’s technology a nuclear plant would not blow up. The reactors used today are opposite the ones used at Chernobyl in that the reactions slow down when water used to cool the rods begins to boil. The ones at Chernobyl sped up the reaction which is what caused the immense heat and quick buildup of pressure (McCarthy). Considering that cave-ins of coal mines have killed hundreds, the accident at Chernobyl was a rather small disaster.
One of the best reasons to use nuclear power is that there is an abundance of fuel. Compared to coal and oil powered plants, nuclear plants use significantly less amounts of fuel. The small bits of uranium found in coal would make more power in a nuclear plant than burning the coal itself (Cohen). Uranium is very abundant and serves no other purpose than to be used in nuclear power plants. If the Earth’s supply of Uranium is ever depleted, Thorium can be used in the plants. Although it is less effective than Uranium, Thorium is three times as abundant. Also, the spent fuel can be reprocessed into new fuel. Again, the plutonium produced is less effective than the Uranium, but it is a good way to recycle if there is a great need.
Not only is nuclear power easily fueled but it is also the most reliable of power sources. Unlike hydroelectric plants, which have to be built on a water source, nuclear power plants can be built anywhere. Other sources of power such as solar power and wind power are too expensive and unreliable. Solar panels will probably never be a major source of power because of the high cost it takes to produce them. There are only a few places in the world that wind could even be considered as a source of power, because of its unpredictability. Besides Uranium and Plutonium, another source of nuclear power is Hydrogen. This gas is one of the most abundant elements in the world and is the main element used in nuclear fusion.
Nuclear fusion could supply countries with almost endless amounts of energy. Fuels for nuclear fusion are very abundant. Fusion requires using isotopes of Hydrogen and Tritium. Tritium is rarely found in nature because it is radioactive and has a short half-life, but it can be produced from lithium, one of the most abundant metals in the earth’s crust (Murari). There is no waste produced in nuclear fusion. When the two atoms are combined in nuclear fusion the only product created is helium (Murari). After the fusion occurs the radiation that affects the surrounding area declines rapidly because of the less radioactive sources that are used (Murari). Although nuclear fusion is only in the early stages of development it could one day become the only source of power needed to supply the entire world with energy.
In conclusion, nuclear energy is a valuable source that should be used in today’s society. Not only is it safe and reliable, but the benefits far outweigh the few drawbacks. What little waste that is produced can easily be contained, the plants are under no threats, and the energy that the plants produce is needed for many large countries in the world to function. Without nuclear energy there would be more pollution caused by the burning of fossil fuels, more blackouts like the one in North Eastern United States recently, and also a greater economic struggle to obtain fuels for power. The production of nuclear power through nuclear fission and fusion should be continued because of the benefits that it offers to society.
Arnold, Ed. Dangers of Nuclear Waste Transport. 3 July 2003. U.S. Newswire. 29 Sept. 2003 http://usnewswire.com/topnews/first/07030129.html.
Clearfield, Abraham. Nuclear Relapse. 17 Aug. 2001. NIRS. 29 Sept. 2003 http://www.nirs.org/nuclearrelapse/toptenreasons.htm
Cohen, Jameson. Pro Nuclear. 9 June 1998. UIUC. 29 Sept. 2003 http://www2.uiuc.edu/ro/er/dec2002/pronuclear.html
Collum, Hugh. 20 Feb. 2000. BNFL. 29 Sept. 2003 http://www.bnfl.com/website.nsf/s2/7F65C8EA0C84538280256B9E0065AF56?OpenDocument
Ronald, Hagen. Nuclear Analysis. 1 Dec. 2002. EIA. 29 Sept. 2003. http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/nuclear/page/analysis/anasum2.html
Keeny, Spurgeon. Plutonium Reprocessing. 22 Sept. 1998. Frontline. 29 Sept. 2003 http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/reaction/readings/keeny.html
McCarthy, John. FAQs about Nuclear Energy. 11 March 2002. Stanford University. 29 Sept. 2003 http://www-formal.stanford.edu/jmc/progress/nuclear-faq.html
Murari, Andrea. Fusion Energy. 8 April 2003. Jet. 29 Sept. 2003 http://www.jet.efda.org/
Rossin, David. Spent Fuel Reprocessing. 31 March 1998. Frontline. 29 Sept. 2003 http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/reaction/readings/rossin.html
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