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Debate: Nuclear energy

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Is nuclear energy worth exploiting?

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Contents

Background and Context of Debate:

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 several issues have been raised as to whether nuclear power is a safe alternative to coal power. Some issues with nuclear energy include whether nuclear waste is safe, nuclear facilities being terrorist prone and the cost of running nuclear facilities.

Some of the good things about nuclear power is that it is more efficient, doesn't rely on as many resources, nuclear power is safe if plants are properly monitored and it creates many jobs.

Nuclear energy can also be used improperly to make nuclear bombs and weapons and having nuclear power poses a really threat to countries at war.

There are reasons to use nuclear power and there are reasons against it. This debate looks at the pros and cons of using nuclear energy. If looked after and managed properly, nuclear power is fairly safe. It is when people don't look after it's use when things go wrong.

For more information, see Wikipedia: Nuclear Power. Some parts of this introduction are extracts from Wikipedia's article on Nuclear Power (see link to the left). Debatepedia is registered to use Wikipedia resources.

Environment: Would new nuclear plants be environmentally beneficial?

Yes

  • Nuclear power plants do not contribute to global warming While it is possible to argue that there are environmental costs associated with the disposal of spent nuclear fuel rods, nuclear power certainly does not contribute to global warming, as it does not emit any greenhouse gases. This is significant from the standpoint of weighing the relative environmental costs of various power options. Given that global warming is the environmental crisis of our time, a power-source that avoids contributing to this crisis has many advantages, even if it contributes to some other, less significant, environmental problems.
  • Nuclear energy is the primary alternative to dirty coal Coal is the primary resource used around the world in the production of electricity. Nuclear energy is the next alternative. Coal is the worst air quality polluter and cause of global-warming in the world, putting millions of lives at risk. Coal resources are also running out rapidly and miners are killed by the thousands every year from mining the substance. Coal also causes lung cancer and diseases and is fairly dangerous. Nuclear is neither an air polluter nor a global warming risk, and could, therefore, act as a highly beneficial substitute for coal.
  • Nuclear energy is highly efficient The efficient use of natural resources is a major criteria in determining the environmental friendliness of a source of energy. Nuclear energy extracts by far more energy from the natural resource Uranium than does the exploitation of oil or any other natural resource. It is the most efficient use of the Earth's resources. In fact a gram of uranium can generate as much electicity as four tonnes of coal.
  • Nuclear energy "waste" can be recycled After the first cycle of nuclear energy use, spent fuel still has 95% of its potential energy. Spent fuel can be recycled many times before it is no longer a viable energy source and can be retired as "waste".


No

  • Nuclear plants only produce electricity and can't replace oil and gas Electricity typically makes up around 1/3 of the energy needs of the economies it supplies. It does not affect the heating of buildings with gas or, generally, driving vehicles, both of which are main causes of pollution and global warming. Therefore, nuclear energy will not replace the main causes of global warming, and therefore should not be seen as a primary global warming solution.


Safety concerns: Are nuclear power plants safe?

Yes

  • A 1986 Chernobyl accident would not occur today: The Chernobyl nuclear reactor was an early model of Soviet reactor. It had no containment vessel, lacked many modern safety features, and was caused largely by human error that no longer has the potential to cause disasters in modern nuclear reactors.
  • Three Mile Island was actually a nuclear safety success Despite the fears generated by the Three Mile Island incident, the safety mechanism there actually acted to effectively prevent a nuclear catastrophe. It should be seen as a demonstration of effective safety measures, not as an example of the safety risks of nuclear energy.
  • The number of deaths from nuclear catastrophes pales in comparison to coal-mine deaths While it is important to consider the risks presented by possible scenarios of nuclear meltdowns and disasters, it is important to note the fact that there have been many more coal-mine deaths in history than nuclear energy related deaths. This would seem to indicate that the fear of nuclear energy disasters is something of a social phobia rather than a sober fear based on relative risks.
  • The risks of a catastrophic nuclear meltdown are very low The Three-mile high nuclear incident, while it frightened many people, is actually a success story. It demonstrated that modern protections can prevent nuclear disasters from occurring. And, yet, the incident created fears that caused no new nuclear reactors to be built since in the United States.
  • Nuclear waste is not very dangerous With proper care and funding, nuclear wasgte is not very dangerous. After being re-used, the final product can safely be stored underground in nuclear facilities. They currently have state-of-the-art technology to do this is Sweden and a few other countries.
  • Fears over nuclear energy are irrational Nuclear energy is completely safe. There is no need for irrational fears and we should not let them jeopardize the future prosperity of our planet. The only thing stopping global use of nuclear power is public concern but this is really not necessary.

No

  • Nuclear energy disasters are a major risk "Pros and cons of nuclear power". Time for Change.org. 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."
  • Transporting nuclear waste is a public safety concern - Since the storage of nuclear waste often takes place in designated areas within a large territory, it becomes necessary to transport nuclear waste long distances to these locations. This presents risks to the populations that exist on the route to these waste areas.
  • The cost of nuclear power causes cuts in safety measures Whenever it costs a substantial amount of money to build a facility, it is common that some safety features are sacrificed to cut costs. This has commonly been the case with nuclear facilities, which has lead to facility closures mid-stream due to the realization of dangers to workers and surrounding communities.


Terrorist threat: Is the terrorist threat to nuclear facilities non-existent/manageable?

Yes

  • Nuclear facilities are designed to withstand terrorists attacks Containment vessels for nuclear reactors are protected by six feet of re-enforced concrete, capable of protecting against an airplane collision. But, even if such a collision were to occur, it's important to recognize that a nuclear explosion would not occur.
  • Nuclear facilities are less vulnerable to terrorists than other targets There are many vulnerabilities to terrorist targets. Chemical plants, water supplies, natural gas supertankers are all highly vulnerable terrorist targets. It is not appropriate to assign an arbitrarily high importance to the vulnerabilities of nuclear reactors, when other vulnerabilities exist to the extent that they do.


No

  • A terrorist strike on a nuclear facility could be devastating The 9/11 Commission said in June 2004 that al Qaeda’s original plan for September 11 was to hijack 10 airplanes and crash two of them into nuclear power plants. They said that a successful attack would release "large quantities of radioactive materials to the environment."[1]


Proliferation: Are weapons proliferation risks non-existent/manageable?

Yes

No

Economics: Is nuclear energy relatively inexpensive?

Yes

  • Nuclear power is relatively inexpensive Long-term costs of nuclear power are comparable with that of hydro-electric or coal. It is also presumable that advances in nuclear technologies and in nuclear plant construction methods will reduce costs over time.
  • Nuclear energy costs are unfairly increased by regulations and politics The regulatory, legal, and political environment surrounding nuclear energy is a major cost for the industry. Many contracts have been canceled half-way through due to these issues, elevating the risk for investors, and subsequently elevating interests rates offered to those planning to invest in nuclear projects.
  • Nuclear energy can help supply the poor world with needed electricity The massive increase in demand for electricity expected in the 21st century can only be met by an energy resource capable of supply a massive amount of electricity. Coal is an option, but it is highly destructive to air quality and the global environment. Nuclear energy is really the only other massively abundant, massively productive source of electricity capable of meeting these rising demands.


No

  • Nuclear waste disposal is costly Digging massive holes in mountains, transporting nuclear waste to these designated waste areas, and monitoring the waste area for radiation leakages are all costly.
  • Nuclear energy is not globally applicable. Nuclear energy can only be adopted where there is uranium, where the technology and capital exists to create the plants, and where there are sufficient international security and safety regulations in place. There are many barriers to adoption, whereas other energy alternatives have fewer such barriers, and can be more universally adopted.
  • This distance between nuclear plants and end-use causes electricity losses. Whenever electricity is transferred across wires, some of its electrical current is lost. The longer the distance, the more electricity loss occurs. Because there are few nuclear power plants, the average distance that the produced electricity has to travel is quite long. The result is an inefficient loss of electrical energy.



Lights on: Is nuclear energy necessary to "keep the lights on"?

Yes

  • Nuclear energy is necessary to "keeping the lights on" in the 21st century. Electricity demand is growing rapidly around the world as massive populations enter modernity, and begin to seek electricity, as they should. The only way to meet this spiking demand for electricity is with nuclear power. It is the only way to "keep the lights on".

No

  • Nuclear reactors won't keep the lights on; they take too long to build The only way that global demand for electricity could be met by nuclear power is if new plants could be built in-step with the increase in demand. But, it takes decades to plan and build nuclear plants; 20 to 30 years by some estimates. Because the demand for electricity around the globe is rapidly accelerating now, nuclear energy is out of step with these increases in demand, and will not be able to "keep the lights on".


Public opinion: Where does public opinion stand on this issue?

Yes


No

Pro/con resources

Yes


No



References:

External links

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