In the early morning of April 26, 1986, in what was then part of the USSR, a catastrophic accident took place in what is now known as the worst nuclear meltdown in history. Since that day, the viability and safety of nuclear power has been put into question. This article aims to provide an unbiased review on the pros and cons of nuclear energy with a focus on whether the benefits of nuclear energy outweigh the potential danger it possesses.
Pro Nuclear Energy
Currently, we release over 2.4 million pounds of CO2 per second using non-renewable energy sources. This combined with the depletion of oil at a rate of 19.4 million barrel per day, it is essential that a cleaner alternative energy source is found. Source 1 Nuclear energy is a strong candidate for a clean alternative energy source. Unfortunately, the technology has garnered some speculations regarding its safety due to a few nuclear meltdowns that have gained international media coverage. It must be stated that in over 16000 years of cumulative nuclear power generation, there have only been 3 major incidents; 3 Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima. Source 2 Although the occurrence of a nuclear meltdown is statistically less likely to transpire than a car accident, nevertheless the occurrence of these three disasters have given nuclear energy a bad name.
Even though these disasters were fatal and resulted in significant environmental decline, it must be stated that the occurrence of a disaster leads to better understanding of nuclear power and thus improve the safety of next-generation nuclear power plants. Therefore, we can look at nuclear energy at a consequentialist stand point. Further development of nuclear energy will not only provide a cleaner energy source alternative, but it can also provide a safer workplace environment as workers are not subjected to dangerous conditions such as those found in coal mines and oil drilling plant which causes thousands of work-related deaths per year. Source 3
Although the scientific community regards nuclear power as a safe way of obtaining energy, there are certain aspects about the technology that have been made safer because of careful analysis of the three previous infamous meltdowns. Aspects such as the power plant location, is one aspect that have improved over the years. Placing the power plant away from densely populated areas reduces the amount of people affected should a meltdown occur. Source 4 Furthermore, we can take Kant’s theory to justify nuclear energy. Nuclear energy offers immense potential for the development of humanity as in theory, it can offer almost limitless energy which therefore agrees with Kant’s theory that it is humanities moral duty to further itself in its endeavour for greater understanding.
A Utilitarian “the greatest happiness of the greatest number” perspective can be applied to nuclear power; the approach aims to minimise the potential for harm while maximising the good that society can benefit from. The slight risk taken in using nuclear power is easily justified by the immense potential for energy output which benefits millions across the world.
To conclude, nuclear power holds immense potential as a cleaner alternative source of energy. Although many issues hold significant concerns over the technology, taking a utilitarian and consequentialist approach in analysing the situations puts our opinions for the development and use of nuclear power.
Hope for the best, prepare for the worst!
On the other hand, should nuclear power be used as an energy source given its history of putting people’s lives at stake, especially when there are other means of renewable energy? There have been approximately 99 incidents involving nuclear power across history and there are various problems still continuing today. Source 5 The largest and most catastrophic incident at Chernobyl caused multiple fatalities, costing billions of dollars’ worth of damage to surrounding areas. Source 6 The clear lack of respect for the danger of nuclear energy was shown by the Ukrainian government, still operating the 3 remaining reactors at the plant due to energy shortages. Source 7 In the event of any disaster, shutdown reactors completely!
Moreover, at Sellafield, there have been numerous leaks of radioactive material into the ground and thus potentially leaching into the sea and drinking water. Source 8 Surely something as dangerous as nuclear waste should be stored in the safest and most secure environment? There is debate on whether nuclear energy is even renewable. To be considered as renewable, the source of energy must be maintainable indefinitely. Uranium deposits on earth are limited in comparison to solar and wind. Source 9
Furthermore, it would be much more beneficial to the environment and the safety of others to focus on developing solar and wind means of energy. Such innovative examples include the helium-filled floating wind turbines recently launched in Alaska, which is situated higher in the sky where wind is much faster. Vortex bladeless wind energy generators are thin structures that harness energy from vortices in moving air, making it a lot safer for birds and takes up less space. Source 10 Both options coincide with the Utilitarianism ethical framework, where actions should be governed by the amount of pain/pleasure imposed. Apprehensive conservationists and the mourning of fatalities is surely enough to oppose nuclear energy?
In addition, other alternatives to uranium that could be further developed include solar power through solar panels, electrolysing water to form hydrogen for fuel cells Source 11 or even geothermal energy from converting heat underground into electricity, with the advantage of being available 24 hours a day. Source 12 The virtue ethics framework is relevant to these actions as they are dependent on the engagements of research institutions and engineers through innovating new advances in generating renewable energy. Professionalism with every aspect is mandatory! Following this virtue ethics framework, consequentialism is also applicable. Poor regulation, improper funding for maintenance and disposal of waste, and focus on the energy requirements instead of considering the consequences of actions could and have resulted in catastrophic events transpiring.
In conclusion, Nuclear power is outdated, dangerous and serves only to alleviate energy demands. Taking virtue ethics into account, is nuclear power a necessity? Even if so, greater steps need to be taken to ensure safety with regard to precautionary measures and regulations.
Group 77: Napoleon Escasinas, Alex Goodier, Lloyd Hans, Narinderjit Sangha