Issue Report: Nuclear energy

Is nuclear energy justified and should it be expanded?

Nuclear power is any nuclear technology designed to extract usable energy from atomic nuclei via controlled nuclear reactions. The most common method today is through nuclear fission, though other methods include nuclear fusion and radioactive decay. All current methods involve heating a working fluid such as water, which is then converted into mechanical work for the purpose of generating electricity or propulsion. Today, more than 15% of the world’s electricity comes from nuclear power, over 150 nuclear-powered naval vessels have been built, and a few radioisotope rockets have been produced. Some countries in the world currently use nuclear power. However, high construction costs have hindered the development of nuclear power in many countries. Yet, rising concerns regarding global warming and energy prices, however, nuclear energy has seen renewed attention as alternative form of energy. The world energy demand is projected to grow by 50% by 2030. To meet the short-term demand, the use of coal and other fossil fuels will increase. The main question and debate is whether nuclear energy should be included as a major component of 21st century plans to combat global warming and to help us meet the growing energy demand? Many questions frame this debate: Is nuclear power helpful in reducing greenhouse gas emissions? Can nuclear power scale to become a serious energy replacement to coal electric power (the main source of electricity globally)? Does the construction of nuclear plants contribute to global warming in any significant ways? What about the mining of Uranium, and what general environmental risks might this pose? What concerns surround nuclear waste? Can these concerns be addressed? How long can we expect supplies of Uranium and nuclear energy to last? Centuries? Even if it will run out in the future and is not “renewable”, is it still worth pursuing now (particularly in the face of global warming)? Do nuclear plants pose a risk of “melting down”, or have modern nuclear plants eliminated the risk of another Chernobyl or Three Mile Island disaster? Are there any radiation risks to local communities and to workers at nuclear plants? What about the threat of terrorist attacks on nuclear plants? What weapons proliferation risks surround nuclear energy? Should this prevent the further development of nuclear energy, particularly if it is believed that nuclear energy is part of the solution to the global warming crisis?
See Wikipedia’s article on nuclear power for more background.

Vs. renewables: Can nuclear energy co-exist succesfully with renewables?

All carbon-free energy sources are needed, including nuclear

Pascal Zachary. "The case for nuclear power". SFGate. February 5, 2006

“At the same time we need to push wind, solar and other renewable technologies. We need to promote mass transit and curtail automobile use by sharply raising taxes on gasoline and restricting cars altogether from some areas. We need to campaign more vigorously for conservation. And, yes, we need nuclear power.”

Fossil fuels, not nuclear, are the real enemies of renewables.

While it is true that nuclear energy does compete with renewables, it should be noted that fossil fuels are equally competitors. In so far as fossil fuels contribute to global warming and nuclear energy does not, therefore, fossil fuels are the real enemy of renewables.

Nuclear energy competes, but so do renewables compete against each other.

While it is true that nuclear energy competes with renewable energy sources to provide cheap carbon-free electricity, so do all renewable energy sources compete against each other. Nuclear energy should not, therefore, be seen as doing anything wrong by competing.

Nuclear energy detracts resources from superior renewable energy

"The case against nuclear power". Greenpeace. January 8, 2008

“going nuclear would squeeze out renewables. Any investment put in nuclear is investment taken away from renewable energy, the proven climate change solution. Nuclear energy distracts governments from taking the real global action necessary to tackle climate change and meet people’s energy needs.”

Nuclear energy will compete with and squeeze out renewable energy.

Nuclear energy will compete with new and up-and-coming renewable energy resources. If the government supports nuclear energy (a well established and easily scalable industry), newer and less mature renewable energy start-ups will have difficulty growing. Ultimately, therefore, the world will be left without sufficient renewable energy sources to effectively combat climate change in the long-run.

Nuclear power is often given favor at the expense of renewable power

Climate change: Can nuclear energy help reduce emissions, fight climate change?

Nuclear power dramatically cuts emissions and fights global warming

"Nuclear Power Is the Future". Wilson Quarterly. Fall, 2006

“Roughly 700 million metric tons of CO2 emissions are avoided each year in the United States by generating electricity from nuclear power rather than some other source. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, that is nearly equivalent to the CO2 released from all U.S. passenger ­cars.”

Nuclear energy is the primary alternative to dirty coal

"Going Nuclear A Green Makes the Case". Washington Post. April 16th, 2006

“Wind and solar power have their place, but because they are intermittent and unpredictable they simply can’t replace big baseload plants such as coal, nuclear and hydroelectric. Natural gas, a fossil fuel, is too expensive already, and its price is too volatile to risk building big baseload plants. Given that hydroelectric resources are built pretty much to capacity, nuclear is, by elimination, the only viable substitute for coal. It’s that simple.”

Nuclear energy has a carbon footprint, but it is negligible.

Fossil fuels are not inherently required in mining Uranium and building nuclear plants. It just so happens that all modern machinery and vehicles involved in this process are powered by fossil fuels. Yet, these fossil-fuel-based machinery can be replaced by electric vehicles and machinery, possibly supplied by nuclear power plants themselves. In sum, nuclear energy is inherently clean. It is only the processes surrounding it that are dirty. This can and will change.

Entire nuclear cycle may emit substantial greenhouse gases

"The case against nuclear power". Greenpeace. January 8, 2008

“nuclear plants threaten our ability to solve climate change. The nuclear industry would like us to believe that nuclear power offers a much better option for generating electricity without releasing significant amounts of greenhouse gases or toxic pollution. However, nuclear power plants are not much of an improvement over conventional coal-burning power plants despite claims that nuclear is the ‘clean air energy.’ Uranium mining, milling, leeching, plant construction and decommissioning all produce substantial amounts of GHG. Taking into account the carbon-equivalent emissions associated with the entire nuclear life cycle, nuclear plants contribute significantly to climate change and will contribute even more as stockpiles of highgrade uranium are depleted.”

Nuclear energy undermines renewable solutions to climate change

"The case against nuclear power". Greenpeace. January 8, 2008

“going nuclear would squeeze out renewables. Any investment put in nuclear is investment taken away from renewable energy, the proven climate change solution. Nuclear energy distracts governments from taking the real global action necessary to tackle climate change and meet people’s energy needs.”

Energy needs: Is nuclear needed to meet energy needs after fossil fuels?

Nuclear is only clean energy source that can replace fossil fuels

"The future is green, the future is nuclear." Times Online. October 4, 2009

“Professor David MacKay, the government’s chief scientific adviser on climate change, has said what many people have long believed. You cannot meet Britain’s future energy needs and reduced carbon emissions without a big expansion of nuclear power. […] As we report today, he believes we should aim to be producing four times the amount of electricity from nuclear as now. Alternative energy sources such as wind, solar and wavepower will never provide more than a fraction of the country’s energy needs. Relying on gas, coal and oil, with an increasing proportion imported, does not square with Britain’s international climate commitments.”

Nuclear energy is needed to meet growing electricity demands

"The case for nuclear power". SFGate. February 5, 2006

“Electricity demand is rising — some say by as much as 50 percent during the next 30 to 50 years. Demand might even increase more with the spread of electric cars. Without a crash program to expand nuclear power, America’s new electricity needs will be satisfied chiefly by new coal-burning plants. Coal is a remarkably democratic resource, spread fairly evenly around the globe. Scores of new coal plants are planned for the United States, where they already generate about half of the nation’s electricity. Many hundreds are likely to be constructed around the world before the end of the decade.”

Renewables can meet all future energy needs, nuclear unnecessary

"The case against nuclear power". Greenpeace. January 8, 2008

“There are now dozens of studies, including many by government, engineering consultants, eminent academics and energy industry bodies all showing how this scale of electricity generation could be met through energy efficiency, cleaner use of fossil fuels, renewables and state of the art decentralised power stations like they have in Scandinavia

Energy efficiency is more important than nuclear power

Improved building insulation and super efficient light bulbs and clothes dryers are more cost effective ways of cutting down on energy use and setting back global warming.

Nuclear plants only produce electricity and can't replace oil and gas

"The case against nuclear power". Greenpeace. January 8, 2008

“Most of the gas we use is for heating and hot water and for industrial purposes. Nuclear power cannot replace that energy. And it’s a similar case for oil as it’s virtually all used for transport – nuclear power can’t take its place. […] Indeed, 86% of our oil and gas consumption is for purposes other than producing electricity. So nuclear power, which can only generate electricity, is almost irrelevant.”

"Clean coal" makes nuclear energy an unnecessary "replacement".

“Clean coal” involves burning coal, but sequestering all or most of the subsequently emitted carbon. This makes nuclear energy, as a clean alternative to coal, unnecessary.

Safety/meltdown: Are nuclear plants safe from risk of nuclear meltdown/explosion?

The risks of a catastrophic nuclear meltdown are very low

Modern nuclear safety measures and technologies effectively eliminate the risk of nuclear disasters.

A 1986 Chernobyl accident would not occur today

"The Case for Nuclear Power". Virginia Viewpoint. October, 2001

“The Chernobyl plant explosion released radiation into the surrounding area. Such an explosion would have been contained in a U.S. plant. The Chernobyl plant lacked a fundamental safety structure found in western plants, a steel-reinforced concrete shell that completely encapsulates the nuclear reactor vessel. The Chernobyl tragedy exhibits the failure of government planners, not an inherent danger of nuclear power.”

Three Mile Island was actually a nuclear safety success

"Going Nuclear A Green Makes the Case". Washington Post. April 16th, 2006

“Three Mile Island was in fact a success story: The concrete containment structure did just what it was designed to do — prevent radiation from escaping into the environment. And although the reactor itself was crippled, there was no injury or death among nuclear workers or nearby residents.”

Nuclear energy has an exceptionally good safety record

"Nuclear Energy is the Most Certain Source." Formal.standard

“[Opposition argument:] Nuclear reactors are likely to have accidents with severe consequences for humanity. [Answer]: Chernobyl was the worst. There are now many hundreds of reactor years of experience, and Chernobyl was the only accident that injured the public. That’s a good record for a source of energy.”

Nuclear energy has caused far fewer deaths than coal

Patrick Moore, a prominent environmentalist and founding member of Greenpeace, "Going Nuclear A Green Makes the Case." Washington Post. April 16, 2006

“The multi-agency U.N. Chernobyl Forum reported last year that 56 deaths could be directly attributed to the accident, most of those from radiation or burns suffered while fighting the fire. Tragic as those deaths were, they pale in comparison to the more than 5,000 coal-mining deaths that occur worldwide every year.”

If nuclear power is so risky, why aren't existing plants shut down?

Many nuclear power plants exist today, and are being upgraded. If building new plants is as dangerous as critiques claim, wouldn’t these existing plants be shut down? They are not shut-down because they have no safety problems to date.

Nuclear-powered ships demonstrate safety of nuclear energy

US Senator Pete Domenici writes in his book “A Brighter Tomorrow: Fulfilling the Promise of Nuclear Energ”: “nuclear power plants roam the world daily without any significant problems. He says, “Nuclear power is safe and sure. Every week, one or two nuclear power plants dock at a major port in America or somewhere else in the world. And these power plants have been doing so for half a century now. … No accidents of any kind have ever marred these dockings, no leaks have cleared blocks of cities; no emergencies have been declared.”[1]

Nuclear plants are made safer and safer by new technologies

While nuclear energy, like almost all energy sources, cannot be made 100% safe, it is constantly being made safer by new technologies and methods.

Nuclear energy always carries risk of a major disaster

"Pros and cons of nuclear power". Time for Retrieved 1.23.08

“High risks: Despite a generally high security standard, accidents can still happen. It is technically impossible to build a plant with 100% security. A small probability of failure will always last. The consequences of an accident would be absolutely devastating both for human being as for the nature (see here , here or here ). The more nuclear power plants (and nuclear waste storage shelters) are built, the higher is the probability of a disastrous failure somewhere in the world.”

Any risk of another Chernobyl or Mile High is intolerable

"The case against nuclear power". Greenpeace. January 8, 2008

“The Three mile Island and Chernobyl accidents should never be downplayed. The Chernobyl disaster is perhaps one of the worst in human history. Serious radioactive contamination spread over 150,000 square kilometers in Byelorussia, Ukraine and Russia. Radioactive clouds deposited radiation thousands of kilometers away. Hundreds of thousands people had to be evacuated, and millions more were left to live in areas that were dangerous to their health and lives. Moreover, scientific studies have shown that the full consequences of the Chernobyl disaster could top a quarter of a million cancer cases and nearly 100,000 fatal cancers. […] Renewable energy, on the other hand, is the cleanest, safest and most reliable form of power generation.”

Taxpayers, not nuclear industry, assume risks of disaster

"6 reasons against nuclear energy". 1 million Europeans against nuclear power

“Although nuclear power is a hazardous business, the nuclear industry hardly has any financial liability. In the case of a nuclear disaster, most of the damages will be paid by society and not the companies’ insurances. None of the various international conventions on nuclear damage currently in force are designed to make operators, or owners, of nuclear facilities liable for damage they cause.”

Nuclear plants are being closed due to safety; this should continue.

Some argue that nuclear energy is fine, or else nuclear plants would be shut down. However, they are being shut down. The following nuclear power plants have been shut down due to being unsafe or past their operating life in the US: Big Rock Point, Bonus, Dresdent-1, Elk Rivers, Enrico Fermi-1, Frt St. Vrain, GE Vallecitos, Haddam Neck, Hallam, Humboldt Bay, Indian Point-1, Lacrosse, Maine Yankee, Millstone-1, Pathfinder, Peach Bottom-1, Piqua, and many others. Some reactors were shut down much sooner than their design lifetime.

A nuclear disaster would be very costly economically

"The Case Against Nuclear Power". Public Citizen. Retrieved 1.24.08

“A serious nuclear accident could cost more than $600 billion in 2004 dollars[2] – taxpayers would be responsible for covering the vast majority of that sum.”

The cost of nuclear power causes cuts in safety measures

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