Many people around the globe are convinced that one of the best solutions on how to free ourselves from being dependent on fossil fuels is using more nuclear power. Nuclear power is by many presented as the clean, reliable energy source, completely on par with renewable energy solutions like wind power, and solar power. Is nuclear energy really clean energy sources, and what about safety risks, are they really as minimal as nuclear plant owners say they are?
The safety of nuclear power is usually referred to some possible events that could lead to unwanted radioactive materials release like that unfortunate event that happened in Chernobyl more than 20 years ago, back in 1986, when one nuclear reactor exploded which resulted in a severe release of radioactivity. When people talk about the nuclear power safety they usually want to know what are the chances of nuclear reactor exploding. From current point of view chances for this are really minimal 8almost negligible), and accidents like Three Mile Island and Chernobyl really look very unlikely, especially given today’s maximum safety measures that are required in all nuclear power plants around the globe.
Nuclear power is therefore almost completely safe regarding the possible explosion of nuclear reactor(s) but there is one issue that is much more important in the nuclear power story, namely the radioactive waste. Radioactive waste is really the biggest disadvantage that nuclear power has. Radioactive waste has a lifespan of 5000-10000 years, and current methods of storing this waste still do not provide total guarantee, since 5000 years time of potential danger is very long time to worry about. The thing you should also know that on average, a nuclear power plant annually generates around 20 metric tons of high-level radioactive waste. When you take into account every nuclear plant on Earth, the combined total number climbs to roughly 2,000 metric tons each year. This is whole lot of waste that needs to be safely stored each year.
With nuclear power plants there is also the risk of possible terrorist attack that could even wipe out an entire region in one foul swoop. So nuclear safety issue despite introduction of many new safety measures still remains major hurdle to nuclear power because although risks are extremely low, the consequences of possible nuclear accident could be fatal. Basically, what I’m trying to say here is that stakes are simply too high, even with such small safety risks.
Safety therefore still remains the biggest disadvantage of nuclear power plants, though this is not the only disadvantage of nuclear power. The other disadvantage of nuclear power are high operational costs, especially since lot of money has to be spent on safety. Building nuclear power plant also doesn’t come cheap.
Nuclear power also has some advantages that need to be mention here. Nuclear power doesn’t depend on fossil fuels to produce electricity, and therefore the biggest advantage of nuclear power are minimal CO2 emissions; in case of nuclear power these emissions are mostly associated with the life cycle of uranium, namely with the emission of gases during mining and transporting uranium.
Also, when it comes down to reliability very few other energy sources are as reliable as nuclear power is. All what it takes for constant generation of electricity is uranium, and there is still plenty of uranium left on our planet. Nuclear power plants also have very high efficiency, even comparable with coal power plants, meaning they can produce lot of electricity.
These two factors, reliability and efficiency, are the two main reasons why in 2007 a respectable 14% of the world’s electricity came from nuclear power. The United States produces the most nuclear energy, with nuclear power supplying around 19% of consumed electricity. France, for instance, produces more than three quarters (78%) of its electricity from nuclear power plants.