Saturday, 17 December 2011

Is Nuclear Energy Worth The Risk?

With increasing demand for alternative energy, Nuclear energy is increasingly being looked at. Recent events at the Fukushima Nuclear plant in Japan reveal the high risk associated with this form of energy, however, Nuclear energy does offer many positives that would benefit us and help to drastically reduce our dependance on our natural resources.
In the following article we will discuss the positives and negatives associated with Nuclear energy, whilst trying to remain unbiased. But ultimately only you know what you believe, so is nuclear energy worth the risk?
Nuclear Energy Is Nuclear Energy Worth The Risk?

Is it worth the risk?

The worlds energy demands are increasing at a dramatic rate. Increasing amounts of polution are being pumped out of power plants and we are using up the natural resources of the planet. Something needs to change to help drastically reduce this growing global problem. Alternative energy forms are key to achieving this; Solar, Wind, Tidal, Thermal, etc, are all great choices that offer clean, renewable energy, however the amount needed to replace current fossil fuel plants would be gigantic. There is another option that we could turn to which would give us the required output that we need, but involving major risk…Nuclear energy!
All electricity is generated by rotating large magnets around a length of wire, which creates a magnetic field that electrifies the wire. The moving of the magnets around the wire is key to the whole process and can be achieved in many different ways. Currently we burn fossil fuels to heat water, creating steam. This steam spins a turbine, which rotates the magnets around the wire. Nuclear energy is simply just a different way of generating this movement. Instead of burning fossil fuels to heat water to generate steam, a nuclear power plant splits apart uranium to release heat energy, which we use to heat the water and produce steam.

Advantages of Nuclear Energy

  • + The main advantage of Nuclear power is that it doesn’t produce any greenhouse gasses. In the modern world where the pollution of the Earth’s atmosphere is a major concern, a way to produce a carbon free energy source has a major advantage over current methods of burning fossil fuels which cause so much pollution. The waste that is produced by Nuclear power is very small in quantity and can be removed and stored so that it can’t affect anyone. It is estimated that if an average family of four used nuclear energy, then over their lifetime the waste produced would be as small as a golf ball. This is a massive reduction of the amount of pollution that is released over a lifetime of a similar family of four.
  • + A major benefit of Nuclear energy is that it is much more abundant in the form of Uranium, than the decreasing amounts of fossil fuels. Since there is such a large amount, which will last for centuries to come, Nuclear power would last us for many generations to come. It is also much cheaper than buying large quantities of oil and gas, with rising fossil fuel prices, saving government billions of pounds.
  • + A big fear about Nuclear power is that it is unsafe and dangerous. True, there have been some major incidents including Chernobl and the recent event in Japan at the Fukushima plant, however these are very rare compared to the rate of accidents that occur in the fossil fuel industries. Coal mines are frequently in the news when they collapse (Chilian Miners), Gas pipelines and oil rigs can explode (Gulf of Mexico) causing millions of pounds of damage and casualties.
  • + Nuclear power can be seen to be a very reliable source of power because a nuclear reactor has an estimated life cycle of between 40-60 years. Although these reactors have a high initial cost to build, due to their long life, the overall cost is much lower than a current fossil fuel power plant that needs replacing more frequently.

Disadvantages of Nuclear Energy

  • - Naturally, the main disadvantage of nuclear power is the potential disastrous consequences of a major nuclear disaster. This is clearly the biggest worry that the general public have about this type of energy. Since Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and now Fukushima, pubic concern has grown over the safety of nuclear energy. It was the disaster at Chernobyl that sent shockwaves around the world after a full scale meltdown occurred. A massive release of radiation from the reactor spread across hundreds of square miles and the town had to be quarantined. Chernobyl is still shut off from the general public for safety reasons because of the high levels of radiation in the area.
  • - Nuclear power generates nuclear waste. This waste remains radioactive for hundreds and maybe thousands of years. This waste must be disposed of in a very secure waste disposal facility that will need to last until the waste is no longer a risk.
  • - Nuclear waste can be turned into nuclear weapons. If an increased number of nuclear power plants opened, then more waste would need to be disposed of. It only takes a small amount of this waste to create a very deadly weapon that, if in the wrong hands, could result in hundreds of thousands of people dying!
  • - Radiation has been linked to many forms of cancer, birth defects, other illnesses and even death. If there was a small incident at a nuclear power plant that resulted in a small leak, it could result in a big impact on the surrounding population and native wildlife.

Conclusion

Many people are split over the debate on nuclear energy and it is clear to see why. There are clearly huge advantages of using nuclear power that would be very beneficial to society. Global warming has to be addressed and nuclear power could help solve this. However, there would always be the fear of nuclear disasters. An interesting viewpoint is to compare nuclear power to airplanes, airplanes have a far better safety record than other forms of transport, however in the unfortunate event that something goes wrong the consequences can be disastrous.
We desperately need to do something about our energy crisis, whether that is to start building nuclear plants or invest heavily in renewable energy such as Solar plants, Wind farms etc. The likely outcome will be a mixture of the two, which will help greatly in reducing pollution levels. The key is that we begin to address the problem on a global scale.
Ultimately only you know what you believe is right. So do you think that Nuclear energy is worth the risk?

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