The use of nuclear power is a controversial topic. Some support nuclear power believing that it offers the solution to our current energy problems. Others, however, believe that nuclear power is a dangerous form of energy as an accident can have severe consequences such as the Chernobyl disaster.
In the following case study I will study and discuss the benefits and dangers of nuclear power, provide evidence through use of sources and finally end with a balanced conclusion summarising both the case study and my own opinions.
This case study will be viewed by other year 11 students so in order to match my target audience I have used various presentational devices including a range of font types, pictures and diagrams.
What is Nuclear Power?
Nuclear fission takes place when radioactive atoms are made so unstable that they split in two releasing large amounts of energy. Nuclear power is the use of sustained nuclear fission to generate heat and electricity.
Nuclear power plants provide about 6% of the world’s energy and 13-14% of the world’s electricity. There are currently over 440 commercial nuclear reactors in the world, operating in 30 different countries.
Nuclear power commonly uses an isotope of uranium, U-235. This is the only isotope of any element that can sustain chain reactions which occurs naturally. Uranium is quite common, it occurs in most rocks in concentrations of 2 to 4 parts per million and is as common in the Earth’s crust as tin.
Uranium-235 can be split by firing a free neutron into the nucleus, causing the nucleus to become so unstable that it splits, forming 2 different elements, barium and krypton, and 3 free neutrons.
These free neutrons then go on to hit more Uranium-235 atoms, setting off a chain reaction, releasing massive amounts of energy.
As well as U-235, other fuels such as plutonium-239 and uranium-233 can also be used. Plutonium-239 does not occur naturally however it can be made from the more common isotope of uranium, U-238.
History of Nuclear Power
* Uranium was discovered in 1789 by German chemist, Martin Klaproth.
* Physicist Enrico Fermi discovered the potential of nuclear fission in 1934.
* On December 2, 1942, Fermi created the first controlled, self-sustaining nuclear reactor.
* The first Nuclear power plants were opened in the 1950s and 1960s and were considered as a safe alternative to current source of energy.
* After several accidents, in particular the Chernobyl disaster and more recently Fukushima, nuclear power has come under much scrutiny, preventing it to be used on a mass scale.
Advantages of Nuclear Power
Source 1: An article from Springer.com
“nuclear power technologies can produce large amounts of energy from small amounts of fuel, while emitting very low amounts of greenhouse gases. They reduce countries’ reliance on fossil fuel for their energy provision.”
This source gives some of the major benefits of nuclear power. This source shows that due to the world rapidly running out of fossil fuels a new source of power is necessary and that nuclear power could fill that role as it produces ‘large amounts of energy from small amounts of fuel’. The source also shows that nuclear power does not contribute to global warming as it emits ‘very low amounts of greenhouse gases.’ This makes nuclear power seem like a very viable option for the future of energy production.
Springer is a global publishing company which publishes books, e-books and peer-reviewed journals in science, technical and medical (STM) publishing. Within STM, Springer is the largest book publisher and second-largest journal publisher worldwide. This suggests that Springer is a well respected publishing company, making the source seem reliable.
Source 2: Quote from energy secretary Chris Huhne
“Offshore wind is assessed at ï¿½130 per megawatt hour, gas with carbon capture at ï¿½95 per megawatt hour, and nuclear at ï¿½66 per megawatt hour. These figures take account of waste and decommissioning costs, so nuclear should still be the cheapest low carbon source of electricity.”
This source compares the cost of three low carbon technologies, offshore wind, gas with carbon capture and nuclear and ranks nuclear as the cheapest option. Low carbon technologies are sought after due to carbon dioxide’s contribution to global warming and since this source shows that nuclear power is so cost efficient in comparison to other alternatives the source makes nuclear power seem very beneficial.
Ed Huhne is a British politician and was the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change when this quote was taken. As Huhne had control of energy policies within in Britain his knowledge of the cost of different forms of energy should be accurate making this source seem reliable.
Source 3: Article from BenefitsOfNuclearpower.com
“Nuclear power is safe and even though there have been two serious accidents in Pennsylvania and Chernobyl, these are but sporadic incidents when compared to the rate of accidents which occur in fossil fuel industries, coal mines and gas pipelines which have a history of eruption.”
This source addresses the main concern with nuclear power, the possibility of an accident. It claims that nuclear power is safe and that major accidents are very rare, especially when compared to fossil fuel industries. The fact that the currently most popular form of energy production may be more dangerous than nuclear power makes nuclear power build a strong case for nuclear power being the potential solution to our energy problems.
The source was taken from a site in favour of nuclear power which is evidenced from the site name. This bias hurts the reliability in the source as the author would want to make nuclear power seem beneficial. This source was also made before the Fukushima nuclear disaster which is evidenced as it was not included among the list of serious accidents. This disaster may have influenced the author’s opinion on nuclear power. This leads me to believe that this source is unreliable.
Disadvantages of Nuclear Power
Source 4: Article taken from Independant.co.uk
“Nuclear power produces radioactive waste that remains dangerous for tens of thousands of years. The Government still does not know what to do with the waste that has accumulated from more than 50 years of nuclear power. Costs of disposal are estimated at about ï¿½56bn.”
This source shows that nuclear waste remains dangerous for tens of thousands of years; countering the argument that nuclear power is cleaner than fossil fuels. The disposal of this waste is estimated at about ï¿½56bn, which also counters the argument that nuclear power is cost-efficient. This source serves as a strong counter-argument for some of the pro-nuclear power arguments.
This source was taken from the Independent which is a well respected newspaper which prides itself in being “free from party political bias, free from proprietorial influence” suggesting that the newspaper is reliable. The article gave arguments for and against nuclear power, suggesting that it was unbiased, further suggesting that the source is reliable.
Source 5: Article from the Guardian about the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster
“The 2011 earthquake and tsunami set off the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl, sending three reactor cores into meltdown and causing massive radiation leaks.”
The source shows the impact of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. The nuclear disaster caused such major destruction, ‘sending three cores into meltdown and causing massive radiation leaks’, suggesting that nuclear power is still not safe. As the disaster occurred in 2011 it disproves the argument that incidents such as Chernobyl won’t happen again with more modern technology.
The source published in the Guardian one of the most respected newspapers in the UK meaning that the source is likely reliable. The newspaper would likely give an accurate account of the events at Fukushima as false information could jeopardise the newspapers’ credibility.
Source 6: Article from eHow.co.uk
“A serious danger associated with nuclear power plants is the threat of terrorism. Although a full-scale nuclear explosion is not possible, the radioactive elements can be dispersed around the general vicinity with an act of terror. If a bombing occurred within the power plant, specifically the reactor, the radioactive output could impact every living thing within a 2- to 8-mile radius even with a small explosion.”
This source explains that nuclear power plants could serve as a target for terrorist attacks. This means that even if the greatest care was taken in ensuring that nuclear power plants were safe a single act of terror could still impact ‘every living thing within a 2- to 8-mile radius even with a small explosion.’ This suggests that nuclear power plants may never be safe enough to solve our energy problems.
The source was taken from eHow an online how-to guide whose articles and videos are created by freelancer journalists. eHow as often been criticised for producing low quality content designed specifically to rank highly in Google searches meaning that this source is unreliable.
In conclusion I believe that nuclear power should be used as long as proper safety precautions are taken and that it can potentially solve our energy problems. As fossil fuels are rapidly running out we are in desperate need of a new form of energy production, preferably one that does not emit greenhouse gasses, and nuclear power currently looks like the most practical replacement. Source 1 illustrates this as it says that nuclear power can “produce large amounts of energy from small amounts of fuel, while emitting very low amounts of greenhouse gases.”
While events such as Fukushima and Chernobyl can act as a huge deterrence from nuclear power I believe that these events are too sporadic to be considered a big enough risk to completely dismiss nuclear power. I also don’t believe that the Fukushima took proper safety precautions as the risks of the cooling used in the plant were known but no one responded with any measures. I believe that nuclear power should be used on a grand scale only if more care is taken in ensuring that all nuclear power plants meet an acceptable degree of safety.
However some may believe that the consequences of a nuclear disaster are so great that it does not matter how unlikely one is as a nuclear accident could affect “every living thing within a 2- to 8-mile radius.”
As shown in source 6 even if safety precautions were met nuclear power plants are still at risk of being targeted by terrorist however all nuclear power plants are protected by a series of physical barriers and a trained security force to prevent such acts of terror. This makes terrorist attacks difficult but still possible.
Nuclear waste is also a problem as shown in source 4, “nuclear power produces radioactive waste that remains dangerous for tens of thousands of years.” However new technologies such as breeder reactors and thorium reactors could make nuclear waste less of a problem, and use less uranium fuel.
Overall after extensive research into the nuclear power, I have concluded that cloning could be a convenient solution to our energy problems as long as safety precautions are set. I believe that the best option is to use other forms of renewable energy as well nuclear so that we don’t completely rely on nuclear power but use nuclear as our primary source of energy.