Why Nuclear Power is Not the Answer

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While nuclear energy promises virtually endless supplies of energy, while producing a fraction of the greenhouse gases compared to coal or oil, it cannot be considered a sustainable energy source until we discover a reasonable way to deal with toxic, nuclear waste. In a growing world, energy demands will continue to increase while fossil fuels dwindle to nothing. If we turn to nuclear energy as our primary energy source, we will have way more nuclear waste than we know what to do with. Inevitably, this waste will have to be stored somewhere, until it is no longer harmfully radioactive (a process that can take generations). Assuming that we are unable to develop technology within the next 50-100 years that can deactivate the radioactive properties of the waste in an efficient manner, we are left with the decision of who gets to bear the burden of toxic waste. However, America has clearly expressed a strong sentiment of NIMBYism (Not In My Back Yard). In this scenario, a Cost-Benefit Analysis could work ONLY if all of the true environmental and health costs are internalized. However, if these costs are internalized, nuclear power would likely be too expensive to be feasible. In the end, until we develop better disposal technologies, nuclear energy is not a sustainable, ethical, or economical answer to our energy demands.

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3 responses »

  1. The problem with nuclear energy is that it really hasn’t improved since all the plants started construction in 1974. The United States does not set a good example of what the potential for nuclear could be. There are a number of deep underground repositories set to be completed in the next several years in Europe and Japan that seem to be very good spots for long-term disposals until a permanent solution is developed.

    Personally I see space disposal of nuclear waste as a viable possibility, with space travel getting cheaper and cheaper. There are so far two operational companies, SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corp., that have already shown that space flight in the private sector is possible.

  2. I completely agree that nuclear energy is not the answer for to our energy demands until a means of proper disposal of radioactive and toxic waste is established. Depositing waste in deep underground repositories is a viable option, but like most dumps, room will run out and it still isn’t clear whether or not it could result in future environmental consequences.Space disposal would effectively move all traces of toxic nuclear waste from the planet but is a severe risk of disaster in that a failure in launch, flight, or orbit could result in radioactive material being spread across the globe. Recycling nuclear waste is presently the most sustainable option although not the most economical. It reduces the amount of waste disposed by reusing the radioactive isotopes in reactors that don’t require highly radioactive material to produce energy. Technological advances in nuclear energy and waste disposal will lead to nuclear energy being sustainable and ethical but today it poses more harm than good.

  3. By immediately determining that nuclear power is not the long-term answer for energy security, one precludes the possibility of ever developing a safe, reliable way to store nuclear waste. Discounting nuclear power eliminates the profit motive for companies to invest in the development of viable solutions, as well as the political will for government funding of nuclear waste research projects. I think that nuclear power is the answer, and that we will be able to harness the potential of nuclear power by heavily investing in research and development to make it as safe as possible. No energy source exists without risk. The goal should be to minimize that risk while using the most clean and powerful energy source available.

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