Nuclear Power – Advantages and Disadvantages

free essayThe discovery of nuclear power has led the humankind fearing for its future, but at the same time, nuclear power is the source of hope for the future because of its immense benefits. There have always been debates on whether countries should pursue nuclear power projects or not, but opinion on this issue has always been divided (Matsumoto 3). For many years, the world had relied on fossil fuels as a source of energy, but the discovery of atomic energy led to a new dawn where dependence on fossil fuels would end (Efraimsson et al. 112). Nuclear power was presented as a safe and clean source of energy that would reduce over-reliance on fossil fuels. However, nuclear power plants are always risky because of their ability to cause devastating nuclear disasters in the case of any accidents. Nuclear power is produced from the radio-active materials that have very dangerous effects when released to the environment; therefore, many governments have been reluctant to adopt the use of nuclear power. Nevertheless, the demand for clean energy has been on the rise in recent years, and nuclear power is viewed as a one of the best alternatives to fossil fuel (Efraimsson et al. 112).

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The Benefits of Nuclear Power

Environmental Protection

The world has always used fossil fuel as a source of energy; thus, nuclear power is an alternative source of energy that is also dependable, clean, and safe (Efraimsson et al. 112). Atmospheric pollution is one of the major shortcomings of the usage of fossil fuels apart from the fact that they are a major source of greenhouse emissions. Various studies have linked global warming to the usage of fossil fuels, which makes nuclear power an example of alternative sources of clean energy (Horvath and Rachlew 38). Thus, Matsumoto believes that the world currently struggles with the negative effects of climate change such as flooding and an increase in temperature (3). Therefore the use of nuclear power instead of power generated from fossil fuels is more likely to reduce the emission of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere (Qvist and Brook 2). Those against nuclear power have always pointed out the adverse effects of nuclear reactor accidents, but such accidents are very are. In fact, only three accidents have occurred in the 50 years of using nuclear energy for the production of energy (Harris et al. 436). At the same time, environmental protection requires a proper way of disposing radioactive wastes. The most suitable sites of waste disposal are made in such a way that there are no emissions of radiation from the radioactive elements into the atmosphere (Budnitz 6). Therefore, nuclear plant operating companies usually address this by making sure that the waste disposal sites are within the required conditions and standards, which would allow preventing those emissions. On the other hand, coal mine accidents lead to extensive radiation, and oil spills are also known for their devastating effects on the environment (Haar). This is a clear indication that nuclear reactor accidents are not something to worry about when it comes to safety when compared to coal mine accidents and oil spills as they are very common in comparison to the former. Dependence on gas, coal, and oil as the only sources of energy can be mitigated by adopting the use of nuclear power (Biello). The fact that no harmful gases are produced by nuclear plants means that this form of energy is less harmful to the environment. Climate change is caused by a high concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that is produced from burning fossil fuels such as gas, oil, and coal (Horvath and Rachlew 38). Therefore, the use of nuclear power is major step towards the reduction of air pollution and global warming.

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It Offers an Economical Means of Energy Supply

The global economy can save billions of dollars through the adoption of power that can be produced economically. The cost of producing electricity from nuclear plants is affordable as a compared to producing electricity using fossil fuels (World Nuclear Association). In the production of nuclear power, maintenance, decommissioning, and operational costs are relatively lower as a compared to other energy sources (World Nuclear Association). For instance, the production of energy from coal is quite expensive since it involves many processes such as the mining of coal, its transportation to energy generation sites, and the coal refining process. In addition to that, nuclear power plants require less land per kilowatt-hour of electricity produced as compared to wind turbines, solar farms, and fossil fuel power plants (Harris et al. 436). The initial capital for building a nuclear power plant may be high, but the cost of operating and maintaining the plant is very reasonable as compared to fossil fuel power plants. In addition to that, Van Kooten observes that nuclear powers stations guarantee globalizing economies reliable and secure source of power and low emissions as well as lowered costs in the long run (26). Each unit of nuclear fuel produces more power as compared to the usual fossil fuels, and this makes nuclear power production quite efficient (Qvist and Brook 2). Furthermore, it is easy and cheaper to transport Uranium because its source is highly concentrated. The ever-fluctuating fossil fuel prices mean that the cost of producing power using fossil fuels will continue to rise. Therefore, countries that have adopted the use of nuclear power have been able to reduce the cost of producing electricity significantly.

Nuclear Power Plants Have a Long Operational Life

Recent technological advancements have seen a reduction in downtimes and the time needed for refueling nuclear power plants, which has helped greatly enhance their reliability (Sovacool 23). This means that the plant is always available for power production for a large part of its lifetime. The normal operational period of a nuclear reactor is 40 years, but this period can be extended by up to 20 years with the recent technological advancements. Longer operational life of nuclear power is important since one plant can produce a great amount of energy as compared to other methods of its production, thus decreasing the cost that could have been used by other methods (Sovacool 23). The Earth’s crust contains large amounts of Uranium, which is the most notable raw material for producing nuclear power, and therefore, there is no need to worry about raw materials. According to Kim et al. close to 4 billion tons of dissolved uranium can be found in sea water, which also alleviates any fears of inadequate supply of raw materials (586). In addition to that, this technology ensures that there is a continuous supply of raw materials since it is possible to continue recycling the spent fuel for more than 3,000 years. In general, the longer operational life of a nuclear power plant makes it economical and sustainable as compared to other forms of energy production.

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Nuclear Power Production Produces Less Waste

According to estimates, a ton of coal or oil produces less power as compared to a gram of nuclear waste. This means that fossil fuels generate more waste than a nuclear plant does. More to say, nuclear waste is confined because it is normally generated in small amounts (Schneider et al. 273). Ojovan and Lee state that the spent fuel rods in a nuclear plant can be recycled and used for producing more power but used coal or oil cannot be recycled (57). Furthermore, humankind is confronted by many existential risks, which makes nuclear power risks quite negligible (Schneider et al. 273). It will be impossible for the world to meet its goals of reducing climate change and combatting global warming with the increasing calls for countries to cut nuclear power consumption. The plan will be further complicated with the sustained reliance on fossil fuels that are the biggest contributors to global warming. At the same time, Riahi et al. observe that countries such as Germany and Japan are in the process of closing nuclear power plants, which will derail the efforts made to deal with climate change and global warming (84). The process of adopting renewal energy sources has been slow in many countries; therefore, they will continue to rely on fossil fuels that have devastating effects on the environment (Riahi et al. 84). The fact that nuclear power plants produce less waste means that the environment will remain clean.

High-Safety Standards

In order to avoid nuclear accidents, the issue of safety is always a priority in the operation of any nuclear power plant. The negative feedback loop concept is normally applied when designing modern nuclear reactors that would prevent any explosions (Snedden 35). The concept makes it hard to squeeze nuclear power, thus eliminating the likelihood of a potentially explosive nuclear chain reaction. Therefore, the safety issue that has always been associated with nuclear plants has been resolved mostly. Nuclear reactors have a wide range of safety features that are meant to protect human beings and immediate environment from harm. Firstly, the latter is normally protected by three barriers that separate it from the fuel rods in the nuclear power plant (Ming et al. 152). The first barrier is made of a solid ceramic pellet that contains fissionable fuel, while the second barrier is a closed zirconium tube that houses ceramic pellets. The third barrier is s steel pressure vessel that is used to contain fuel rods (Ming et al. 152). It is difficult for radiation to escape because the wall of the steel pressure vessel are a thickness of up to 30cm. The tough safety measures put in place in all nuclear power plants guarantees the safety of employees and those in the immediate environment.

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The Drawbacks of Nuclear Energy

Dangerous Radioactive Waste

When compared to coal and oil waste, radioactive waste is extremely dangerous, and any release of such material to the environment can cause massive damage to both the environment and the human population of the area (Charpak and Garwin 105). According to the standards provided by the United Sates Environmental Protection Agency, nuclear waste remains harmful for up to 10,000 years. In fact, the major shortcoming of nuclear power energy has been the nuclear waste. Although there are some special disposal sites for nuclear waste, the main challenge is that plutonium remains radioactive for thousands of years; therefore, the environment may be at risk when these sites become full and nuclear waste overflows to the environment (Charpak and Garwin 152). Moreover, there is always a high probability of storage failures when dealing with nuclear waste as compared to other types of waste. The release of radioactive materials to the environment can damage agricultural land, pollute water bodies, and cause serious health conditions such as cancer, blindness, and genetic complications (Ming et al. 147). The radioactive waste from nuclear plants remains a threat to humans, animals and the entire environment.

High Set-up Cost

The initial cost of building a nuclear power plant is very high as compared to other types of power plants (Smith 53). Apart from the raw materials that are available in large quantities and at a lower price, the technologies, used in nuclear power plants, are very expensive (Smith 53). Thus, expensive nuclear technologies are widely used in the construction of power plants and installation of safety devices and systems. In addition to that, such plants attract high insurance premiums because of their potential to cause massive destruction as a result of an attack or a nuclear accident (Budnitz 6). Furthermore, it is also very expensive to dispose nuclear waste. Large space is required to build a nuclear power station as a compared to other types of power stations, and this contributes to high set-up costs (Smith 53). It is estimated that a nuclear power plant can occupy the size of a football stadium. Most developing countries find it hard to complete nuclear power projects because of the associated costs; thus, most of the countries with nuclear power plants have stable economies. Thus, despite the low maintenance and operational cost, the initial cost of building such a plant is very high (Smith 53). This poses a challenge to many countries that aspire to develop this type of energy production because their economies cannot accommodate the costs of building those power plants. Therefore, high set-up costs make nuclear power an impossible venture for most countries.

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Nuclear Proliferation

There have always been fears that nuclear power plants can be used to produce weapons of mass destruction since uranium is normally used in nuclear technology. According to Charpak and Garwin, nuclear proliferation is a risk that over 40 countries across the world have to face as a result of adopting the use of nuclear power (152). Nuclear reactor accidents have devastating effects on the environment, and this is one of the major hazards associated with nuclear power. Furthermore, terrorists target nuclear plants for attacks because they are aware of the massive damage that such an attack can cause to the target area (Smith 156). Plutonium is normally used to produce nuclear weapons, and its toxic nature is very dangerous to both human beings and the environment (Ming et al. 148). Nuclear weapons are used by most terrorists around the world to cause destruction, which has been one of the major drawbacks of nuclear projects. Moreover, it is quite unfortunate that most nuclear plants do not have adequate plans to protect themselves from potential terrorist attacks. Moreover, nuclear bombs are the commonly used nuclear weapons and their impact is devastating (Ming et al. 148). Some countries, such as Iran and North Korea, are currently under sanctions because of being involved in the production of nuclear weapons. Thus, nuclear proliferation is a major threat to global security.

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Establishment Takes Much Time

Unlike other plants that can be established within a few years, it can take up to 30 years to construct a fully functioning nuclear power station. The process of designing and building a nuclear power station requires much time, cost, and manpower; therefore, such a project cannot be beneficial in the short-term perspective (Snedden 153). Moreover, meltdown accidents are more likely to occur during the time when the station is not fully operational because the chances of errors are very high. Therefore, countries that want to meet their energy needs quickly cannot rely on nuclear power.

Over-Reliance on Uranium

The major raw material for producing nuclear power is uranium. Consequently, those countries that do not have uranium ore deposits may find it difficult to produce nuclear power at all. Thus, scientists are yet to find alternative ways of generating nuclear power in the absence of uranium (Snedden 28). The ever-increasing demand for Uranium as a raw material for producing nuclear power means that it will be depleted within 30 years because the uranium ore is currently scarce. The only reason why nuclear power production will be sustainable for some time is the fact that raw material can be recycled (Sovacool 23). Generally, countries that do not have Uranium ore deposits could face difficulties in operating nuclear power plants.

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Conclusion

It is clear from this research that nuclear power has a critical role in meeting the energy needs of the future. This paper has been able to discuss some of the benefits of nuclear power as well as the its drawbacks. According to various studies, nuclear power has a wide range of benefits when compared to power produced from fossil fuels. This power is beneficial because it helps in protecting the environment and provides an economical means of power production. Nuclear power plants have a long operation life, and the process produces less waste. Furthermore, high standards of safety are maintained when building new nuclear power plants. However, nuclear power has quite a number of shortcomings that include dangerous radioactive waste, high set-up cost, the threat of nuclear proliferation, over-reliance on Uranium as well the long period required to establish a nuclear power station. Globally, opinion is still divided on whether nuclear production should be banned or not, but is quite evident that nuclear power is a safe and clean source of energy when produced and used in the right way. It is important for countries that produce nuclear power to invest in the storage and disposal of nuclear waste and to educate the public on how to handle nuclear materials. Scientists should find more safety measures for nuclear plants to reduce the likelihood of nuclear accidents.

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