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Nuclear Energy: A burden or a blessing? Essay

The dangers posed by the use of nuclear energy have led many to advocate banning the use of nuclear power altogether. However, is nuclear energy really that devastating, or could it actually prove to be a valuable energy source in the years to come? The argument will be discussed below. The most gargantuan problem cited by advocates of the anti-nuclear stance is that nuclear power reactors are extremely unsafe, and have disastrous consequences for the environment.

The estimated 4000 deaths in Chernobyl due to extremely unsafe power reactors, incidents at Harrisburg, and the horrors of nuclear bombs used to reduce Hiroshima and Nagasaki to rubbles during WWII are only a few of the examples they cite. However, it is essential to point out that nuclear plants are not any more unsafe than coal-burning or oil plants used to obtain energy.

Nuclear power plants are getting increasingly safer due to careful and intelligent innovations in design [1]. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and World Watch Magazine [2], at least 300 people are the death estimate from the coal-burning plant in Monroe, Michigan, USA. For every 29 million tons of coal produced, 203 people die in coal mining incidents in Ukraine.

Oil rig operations are also extremely dangerous and tantamount to brutality and notoriety. Nuclear power will prove to be an extremely reliable energy source in the future, as it is a well-known fact that the world’s energy sources, particularly fossil fuels, are fast heading towards depletion, as the International Energy Agency forecasts that, ‘if policies remain unchanged, world energy demand is projected to increase by over 50% between now and 2030’ [3].

While critics argue that carbon-emissions are not always due to electricity generation, it may be argued that a move towards harnessing energy from nuclear power sources could bring about a major change, as pointed by writers Herbst and Hopley [4]. The ‘Bathtub Curve’ above, developed by National Space and Aeronautical Administration (NASA) shows how the main kinks associated with the use of a nuclear power plant are mainly noticed during the initial ‘break-in’ phase, leaving ample time to focus and work on the discrepancies by the time the plant reaches its peak.

‘The most notorious nuclear power station failures, from Fermi Unit 1 in 1966 to Three Mile Island Unit 2 in 1979 to Chernobyl Unit 4 in 1986, have occurred during the “Break-in Phase” on the above chart, generally within the first thirty months of operation’, states the World Nuclear Association on its official website [Karn,5]. The climate changes that are occurring worldwide due to green house gas/carbon emissions will also be relieved if nuclear energy is used.

The incident at Chernobyl, Ukraine, serves as a reminder of the damaging effects of nuclear fission, so, there is now a move towards more use of nuclear fusion, as it leaves no waste. Recently, in November 2008, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) held a conference in India, where countries new to nuclear power were briefed about safety and regulatory standards. Such efforts on a global scale are ensuring a positive use of nuclear power, contrary to what most people think.

Nuclear programs now usually generate a lot less carbon emissions, and exploiting nuclear energy is a lot more cost-effective than going for renewable energy sources. Critics, however, point to the Scandinavian countries which use renewable energy sources as a major source for energy, and that nuclear plants are not all that cost-effective due to the risk involved with investing in them. However, fluctuating oil prices in a global oil crisis, and oil ‘wars’ go to show that nuclear energy is not the only energy source to be ‘politicized’.

There are now financial instruments and engineering developments that have made nuclear power stations with better infrastructure and enhanced investment opportunities. [Kaku, 6] Double-walled pressure containment walls and multiple core-cooling systems to prevent over-hating in reactors are just a few examples of innovated infrastructure systems. This definitely lends weightage to the argument that if nuclear power was made the primary energy source all over the world, safety measures would be ensured and incorporated as much and as far as possible.

As renewable energy resources diminish fast, and oil production and exploitation heads towards its peak, nuclear energy may be the only option. Britain’s nuclear reactors can generate at least a fifth of its electricity requirements. Radiation levels can be reduced even further through fusion. In July 2007, IAEA Director General Mohamed El Baradei addressed the 6th Congress on Science and Technology for Development, focusing on the valuable, constant energy stream that nuclear power was.

It can give us ‘diversity’ of energy sources, and it is important to note that nuclear power prices have remained, on the whole, a lot more steady than prices of fossil fuels. The figure below, from the nuclear Energy Institute [8] shows this clearly: Nuclear energy also has the best safety record, as compared to the others. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty is proof enough; it restricts countries from using uranium to the point where they are enabled to make nuclear bombs. It may only be used as an energy source and nothing else.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is just one of a plethora of leaders and politicians who are now propagating this view. Nuclear power can supply energy to a centralized system, and radioactive waste decays, overtime, to safe levels. [7] Transportation costs can be greatly reduced, and nuclear power can produced a million ties more energy than coal (using Uranium-235, the isotope used in reactors). Plutonium may also be used, for it does a lot more than just produce bombs! Countries like the UK and India have adequate facilities for civilian reprocessing.

[8] Plutonium-239 can thus be used as a source of energy too, since it can itself be split by neutrons. Nuclear energy, thus, is the America’s second best source of energy provision after coal, and America has about 110 nuclear power plants. Fast-paced industrialization means CO2 emissions will have been raised by 60% by 2030, since global energy demands are also growing. Should we not fear the consequences of climate change, global energy wars and global warming a lot more, than the dangers of nuclear power reactors which may, just may, be hazardous?

Changing agricultural production levels, increased hurricanes, and billions of dollars going down in business losses are just some of the adverse effects already visible. Mass migration patterns would be another phenomena, due to melting ice caps and glacial retreats-and there is still more to learn about this threatening scenario. The other phenomenon could have, or rather are already having, more far-reaching economic, social and even political repercussions and ,thus, in the dire need for safer and effective energy sources, nuclear power may be our only solace. Works Cited:

[1] Jackson, Bob: “Nuclear Power: an option for Australia? ” Engineers Australia: vol. 78, no 1, p. 23, January 2006. [2] World Watch Institute. ’ Matters of Scale: Coal Facts’. World Watch Magazine, January/February 2004, Volume 17, No. 1 <http://www. worldwatch. org/epublish/1/97> 30th November 2008. [3] IAEA. org. International Atomic agency. <http://www. iaea. org> . 30th November 2008. [4] M. Herbst, Alan and George W. Hopley . Nuclear Energy Now: Why the Time Has Come for the World’s Most Misunderstood Energy Source. New Jersey: John Wiley and Sons ltd. , 2007. [5] Karn, Richard. (2006) Nuclear Tide.

World Nuclear Association. Retrieved: 30th November 2008. < http://db. world-nuclear. org/reference/nucleartide. html> [6] Kaku, Michio and Jennifer Trainer . Nuclear Power: Both Sides. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1989. [7] Smith, M. , Hargroves, K. , Palousis, P. , and Paten, C. (2006) Pros and Cons of the Nuclear Energy Debate. The Natural edge Project . Retrieved: 30th November 2008. <http://www. naturaledgeproject. net/TheGreatSustainabilityDebates-NuclearPower. aspx> [8] ‘Why Use Nuclear Power? ’ Virtual nuclear Tourist. December 2008. Retrieved: 30th November 2008. <http://www. nucleartourist. com/basics/reasons1. htm>


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