Should We Rely On Nuclear Power?: Con

Katrina Kovalik, News Editor

Nuclear power has long been considered a potential source for energy on our planet. With non-renewable energy sources like coal and oil running out quickly with humans’ rapid consumption of power, scientists strive to discover the next alternative or renewable energy source that can fuel our world for decades. One of these energies is nuclear power, but it comes with multiple risks, as seen in the past in Chernobyl and most recently, in Japan.

The world needs to start relying on greener energy sources, but nuclear power is not one of these sources.

In theory, nuclear power plants, which are cleaner and cheaper than coal-fired power plants—our primary source of energy in the United States next to petroleum—are the solution to the world’s pollution and energy problems. But in reality, nuclear power comes with so much baggage, most of it radioactive, and there are only so many places that human ingenuity can stow it.

No one can agree upon a safe place to store nuclear waste. Most recently, Congress talked about using Yucca Mountain in Nevada as a dumping site. Needless to say, this plan didn’t get the vote of many native Nevadans.

As of 2007, the United States had accumulated over 50,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel from its 104 running plants. Left as it is, it is estimated that these nuclear materials will remain radioactive for thousands of years. Even if the money and resources are used to treat the waste (through the removal of antinids), it will remain substantially radioactive for at least 300 years.

France has the cleanest air of any industrialized country and the cheapest energy of any European country due to their reliance on nuclear power. However, their nuclear plants are building up huge reserves of waste because they have absolutely no idea how to safely dispose of it. Here’s the devastating truth: nuclear waste is the Achilles heel of the nuclear industry. Not a single scientist in the entire world knows how to reduce or eliminate the toxicity of the waste.

Claude Mandil, the General Director for Energy and Raw Materials for France told a Frontline reporter that if France is unable to solve the waste issue, “I do not see how we can continue our nuclear program.”

Scientists predict that they will have a waste solution within the next 100 years. But if we blindly copy France’s example for the next couple of decades with the mere assurance of a possible solution, we could be making a losing bet.

Even if we did build a safe repository for our nuclear waste, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission cannot account for natural disasters (Japan is a perfectly tragic example), freak accidents, or terrorism. There would be no room for human error in such an undertaking. Transporting nuclear waste to repository sites would mean putting ourselves in an extremely vulnerable position. If we choose nuclear power for our main energy source, and miraculously find a place to dispose of the waste, we would continually have to be moving the spent radioactive material from point A to point B.

Large-scale terrorism is a much more prevalent aspect of our world than it used to be. Despite our war on terror, covert terrorist networks still have loyal members, some residing in the United States, who would jump at the chance to ignite one of the radioactive trucks we’ll have to send to repository sites across the country.

Even small-scale radioactive leakage from a plant due to anything from a miscalculation to a worker falling asleep on the job can present devastating health consequences to not just us, but to all biological life on this planet.

In conclusion, nuclear power is just too good to be true. If the scientific community miraculously comes up with a safe and clean way to dispose of waste in the next century, nuclear power could be a valuable energy resource. But for the time being, in light of its bi-products, nuclear power is just not worth it.