To Nuke or Not to Nuke: The Real Cost of Nuclear Energy
With the advent of climate change and global warming, we are now forced to look into alternative sources of power that are both clean and efficient. Solar, wind, geothermal, are some of the words scientists throw around today. In some circles, however, nuclear energy is once again coming into vogue. France, for example, continues to be the champion of the nuclear age, with over 59 nuclear power plants in operation, making up over 85% of the country’s electrical needs. If countries such as France can make it work, should everyone follow suit ?
Nuclear energy is supposedly clean, safe and efficient – it could be the solution to climate change – true, nuclear reactions create no carbon emissions, but is that really all we need to know?
We’ve all heard the horror stories, and the worst of that is Chernobyl. Even now, twenty years after the accident, the effects can still be felt. Dubbed the “Worst Nuclear Accident in the World”, a study son the aftermath of the disaster, conducted by the World Health Organization found that many people in the area (or who were in the area) have not only been diagnosed with many diseases (particularly thyroid cancer and leukemia), but many fetuses exposed to the radiation experienced developmental problems. To this day, measurements of the radioactivity levels in the air in affected areas remain the same as it did 20 years ago. Many nuclear proponents are saying that nuclear technology is safer today then it was when reactors were first built, when in fact, there is no such thing as “safe” nuclear technology. The process still remains more or less the same; only the technology to keep them contained differs. Sure, there are many safeguards in case something goes wrong, but what about human error?
Then, there is the countless waste generated by the nuclear process, from mining of the uranium all the way up to the waste from the power plant itself. If you thought that since our governments spent billions of dollars creating these plants, they’d have some sort of waste management strategy in place, right? Well, the truth is disposal options are quite limited, mostly involving burying the tons (about 220,000 in 2000) of nuclear waste underground. Yes, you read that right – we dig holes in the ground and cross our fingers. Such a plan is reckless and in the long run unfeasible. Other waste disposal facilities in France and the UK have already shown signs of leakage, showing that such a plan is not viable. Even now, in the US, plans to create a nuclear dumpsite called Yucca Mountain have been on going for 20 years. Billions of dollars spent on the project have resulted in…well nothing.
Finally, remember what nuclear technology was originally used for? Weapons. Nations stockpile nuclear materials for many reasons, mostly for “civilian” purposes but that hasn’t stopped countries such as Japan and North Korea from developing weapons capabilities. Russia and the United States, who have supposedly ended the cold war decades ago, are neck-in-neck in the race of “Who Has the Most Nuclear Materials?” The current political situation all over the world is on thin ice as it is, having nuclear weapons just makes it worse.
So, does nuclear energy still seem “safe”, “clean” and “efficient?” If you’re still not convinced, then chew on this: Global Chance, an independent think tank whose members include France’s own nuclear experts, recently published a report detailing how the French nuclear program is all an illusion – the program is expensive, riddled with inefficiencies, unsafe and generally has no positive impact on climate change. According to the report, “The French nuclear programs’ image is first and foremost that of a highly successful industry, but this is a sham. The development of nuclear power in France has been marked by a succession of technological blind alleys, planning errors and all kinds of difficulties, which are generally noted and corrected without any public discussion.”
By Maria Belgado