Nuclear Energy and Sustainability: Benefits and Concerns

Posted by Dylan Ribb

When you think of “Nuclear Energy”, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Is it the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II? Or perhaps it’s the Chernobyl disaster in 1986? Or do you think of an affordable, efficient, environmentally friendly way to provide large amounts of energy to large amounts of the world’s population with lower costs than fossil-fuel based energy, a smaller “carbon footprint”, and relatively low risks to health? For most people, the first two examples immediately come to mind when someone mentions building a nuclear power plant in favor of a coal-based energy facility. However, few people realize that these major events in our world’s history are episodic, and not epidemic. Aside from Chernobyl, there has only been one other major disaster involving nuclear power (The event I’m speaking of being the Three Mile Island incident). Even so, the public opinion of Nuclear is that it is expensive and dangerous.

Currently, 14% of the world’s power comes from nuclear energy, and these facilities are safe, clean, and efficient. Contrary to popular belief, nuclear power plants are well-maintained and very unlikely to fail. Failsafe measures are installed in modern plants, and building materials have risen in quality greatly since the Chernobyl incident. Measures for reclaiming and disposing of nuclear waste have also become more efficient, with facilities being built and maintained to temporarily contain and reduce radioactive hazards while long-term solutions are being discussed. Presently, only 1% of all toxic waste is nuclear waste, and 95% of that waste can be reclaimed and reused. Nuclear Power plants are also far more cost-effective in the long-term, and have a longer “shelf-life” than coal-based power plants, especially with fossil fuels becoming sparse throughout the rest of the century. Nuclear power is also expected to be far more sustainable than fossil-fuel energy, and have a significantly lesser environmental impact. According to a segment done on 60 Minutes, nuclear power gives France the cleanest air of any industrialized society, and provides the cheapest electricity in all of Europe.

While nuclear technology is growing rapidly and proving to be a good alternative to fossil fuel based sources of energy, there are some concerns. The storage and disposal of toxic waste, for one, is a big issue in the field. However, researchers are in the process of coming up with ways to contain and get rid of nuclear waste. Another concern that many have is connected to the history of nuclear proliferation and the public idea of nuclear energy being connected to atom bombs and warfare. I admit, this is a concern of mine also, but providing nuclear energy for social applications does not necessarily mean that it will lead to nuclear warfare. It all depends on how those who have control of the technology choose to use it.

There are many other alternatives to nuclear power that I haven’t touched on. Solar power, wind power, hydroelectric plants, and hydrogen-based technologies are all viable options. However, I think that these other technologies must be used in conjunction with one another. And due to the potentially large amounts of energy that nuclear power can provide at a low cost and relatively low risk, I think it’s another great alternative to our current energy program.