The topic around the use of nuclear power as an alternative to producing electricity has been controversial since the biggest nuclear meltdown in 1986, Ukraine. However, the development of handling nuclear reactors has significantly improved over time and there has been increasing support favouring the use of nuclear energy. The 2011 Fukushima disaster, however may have unfortunately caused a change in opinion. Can nuclear energy be the future, or a mistake we should learn from?
For Nuclear Energy
Nuclear energy is powerful and efficient
According to the International Energy Association (IEA), an increase of 30% in global energy consumption has been forecasted by 2040. Predominantly resulting from the rapid worldwide population growth and enhancement of the standards of living that have shifted towards a more greener economy. It is necessary to find alternatives to replace and reduce the reliance on fossil fuels due to their limited quantity and thus nuclear power is believed to be a potential substitute since it has been one of the most efficient sources of energy so far.
Nuclear power plants utilise low-cost Uranium 235 as fuels for producing electricity and only a small amount of uranium is required to generate sufficient amounts of energy. At least 17,000 ft3 of natural gas, 1780 pounds of coal or 149 gallons of oil are needed to produce the same amount of energy as one pellet of uranium. Moreover, apart from producing electricity, high-quality heat is generated during reaction processes which can be used in many other industrial practices including the desalination of saltwater and production of hydrogen for fuel cells. From the pragmatic point of view – emphasising an ideology or proposition is true if it works satisfactorily, in order to continue the path of human progress, a high-efficient energy producing method is required and nuclear power is exactly the solution.
Nuclear energy is clean and safe
Currently, there are 450 nuclear reactors operating in 30 countries globally and 60 reactors are currently under construction. Concerns about global warming and clean air are the reason for the increasing number of nuclear reactors. Nuclear energy can provide a large amount of electricity and is done so without polluting the air. In a life cycle of a facility (construction to operation), nuclear reactors produce energy comparable to that of renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power in terms of carbon dioxide emission. This shows that nuclear energy can provide clean-air electricity as opposed to the conventional methods that use coal, oil and natural gas.
It is understandable that people may disagree as there is a possible risk of a reactor meltdown as proven in the past. It can be debated that since these risks have been carefully mitigated that nuclear energy is now a much safer alternative. The Chernobyl disaster in 1986 initiated the establishment of the World Association of Nuclear Operator that overseer the safety regulations and ensure that qualified workers are in the power plant. Causes of several nuclear meltdown disasters in the past were due to the unprofessional work ethics of workers and not from the operation of a nuclear power plant.
From the Consequentialism point of view- the consequences of one’s conduct are the ultimate basis for any judgment, in order to reduce carbon emission while meeting global electricity demand, nuclear energy plays a substantial role in achieving it.
Against Nuclear Energy
Nuclear power facilities account for approximately 200,000 m3 of low and intermediate-level radioactive waste, and about 10,000 m3 – 12,000 tonnes of high-level waste every year including the waste emanated from the used fuel.
The high-level waste (HLW) imposes a high class of danger that accounts for 95% of the total radioactivity produced during the generation of electricity. During reactor operations, highly radioactive fission products and transuranic elements from uranium and plutonium are produced. Although the volumes of waste are relatively low, the direct disposal of long lived radioactive materials take about 300,000 years to reach its original state of radioactivity, and when aqueously reprocessed from uranium and plutonium, the material still takes about 9,000 years. HLW is initially stored at surface level for 40-50 years to ensure the nuclear decay and lowering of heat before further handling.
The management of nuclear waste falls under the responsibility of the IAEA and NED that aim to prevent the misuse of radioactive material and proliferation of nuclear weapons. The plan for nuclear waste storage is based on utilitarianism: where they have minimized the adverse effects through sealing the waste, solely reducing it to its technical aspects and therefore portraying the positives as a major contribution towards the common good of society. However, from an ‘intragenerational equity’ standpoint it is not justifiable to risk the well-being of others as well as the environment at the expense of the operation and construction of such facilities.
Future generation justice regarding nuclear energy development
As mentioned above, radioactive waste poses potential threats that may bear significant implications on our environment. In fact, nuclear waste disposal has always been a top priority concern for government agencies. Ironically, policy makers are utilitarian that take standpoints of this generation into account but not the future generation. It is conceivable that nuclear power stations have expanded excessively. Even worse, radiation scientists haven’t figured out the solution to eliminate the adverse effects of radiation. Even if nuclear waste was put into a geological repository, they might emerge and threaten future generations. This clearly poses a huge threat to our future generation in the long term.
Considering the worst possible case scenario, natural disasters such as crustal deformation, tsunami, and earthquakes could demolish nuclear power stations and nuclear waste depositories as well as cause radiation leaks which will have significant repercussions on our future generation. Now, it’s time to face the facts: Mother Nature rules. There has been no way we can accurately predict natural disasters and provide safety precautions to avoid them, especially over the span of thousands of years. From an intergenerational ethical principle standpoint it is not morally justifiable to risk the human rights of our present and future generations. Accordingly, phasing out nuclear power is the safe answer.
Will the debate on nuclear energy ever come to an end?
Group 11: Yu-Shan Wu, Basi Ng Jian, Yasmin Absel Mutalib, Tin-Hsun Hu