Nuclear energy is a hot topic in the world of energy production, with many feeling that the risks clearly outweigh the energy potential of fission. Nuclear plants have been met with protestors during construction in many instances, with those protesting angry that such a project could go ahead, knowing the dangers. To counteract the negatives, there are ample positives that make nuclear energy a viable means of production.
In this article we will remain unbiased as we present the pros and cons of nuclear energy. Starting with the pros, we look at six reasons why nuclear energy might be supported.
1. Low emissions.
Nuclear technology has become so advanced now that it is seen by some as a clean energy source, with the emission of greenhouse gases being minimal. In fact, no carbon dioxide or methane is emitted during the production of nuclear energy, nor is there any effect on water, land or animal ecosystems.
2. High power, high efficiency.
Again, improved technology, time and research have allowed nuclear energy to become far more efficient than some of its rival energy types. Countries all around the globe are investing in nuclear energy as a way to faze out fossil fuels, as they are able to replace coal plants with nuclear ones and reduce environmental damages, like air pollution.
3. Cheaper electricity
Uranium is a comparably affordable fuel for the plants to buy, and running costs are lower than coal plants too. However, set up costs are massive. Over the course of a nuclear generator’s life, which can be over 50 years, the price of nuclear energy is expected to drop even further.
4. Strong reserves
It’s estimated that nuclear materials like uranium will outlive conventional fossil fuels like oil, coal and natural gas, meaning that it’s a long term energy solution. This has also seen many nations set up nuclear plants as a method of closing down fossil fuel operations.
5. Huge bursts of energy
Each nuclear reaction is thousands, even millions of times more powerful than burning fossil fuels. This means just a small piece of uranium can generate huge amounts of energy for homes and businesses. To put this into perspective, one ounce of uranium creates as much energy as 100 metric tonnes of coal. In terms of the usage of natural resources, this makes nuclear far more resource efficient. Of all of the pros and cons of nuclear energy, this may be the most powerful argument in favour of nuclear energy production.
6. 24/7 energy
Whether nuclear power can be described as ‘clean’ or not, it does boast 24/7 energy production, which is often cited as a reason for investment over solar or wind power, which do not work without the right conditions.
Following on from these six advantages of nuclear energy, we take a look at six disadvantages, some of which are very controversial and have even been fatal in the past.
1. Nuclear accidents
We’ve all heard of Chernobyl, and even Fukushima, the two largest nuclear accidents of our time. Disasters like these should prove preventable with the technologies now available, but there are still associated risks with nuclear energy. People who work at nuclear plants are always at a much higher risk of contracting radiation poisoning, which can be fatal in extreme cases.
2. Plutonium production
Some power reactors produce plutonium, a by-product of the reaction with uranium. This material is far more dangerous and radioactive than uranium and is most commonly used in the production of nuclear weapons.
3. Small mistake, big damage
Nuclear reactors, in a way, are quite sensitive, in that a small accident can have drastic consequences. Because of this, nuclear plants are targets for terrorist organisations, who know they can cause huge damage with an attack. Security is paramount, and can be expensive to run 24/7.
4. Long term damages
More than 70 years after the US dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, children are still born with birth defects that can dominate their entire lives. This has proved a good enough reason to not drop any more nuclear weapons, but for how much longer we cannot be sure.
5. It’s not renewable
This list of the pros and cons of nuclear energy has yet to address the fact that uranium is non-renewable. So, why, if it’s non renewable, and scarce (around 100 years of reserves) are we investing a great deal into nuclear energy when we could spend that same money on renewables? It’s hard to say, especially when you consider that once the uranium runs out, we will be left with these monolithic and useless structures.
6. Radioactive waste
Disposing of uranium waste is a tough process, since the waste is incredibly hazardous and requires a stringent guideline for proper handling. Radioactive waste is usually buried under sand, but this doesn’t stop the sand from being affected, and the significance of this is that people may still be vulnerable to the damages of nuclear waste after disposal.
Six good and six bad, that wraps up our pros and cons of nuclear energy topic. If you feel there’s more to be said, please get in touch.