NUCLEAR GAMBLE

Environmentalists argue that given the risks and financial costs involved, investing in renewables is the more sensible option. They may just have a point.
Richard Anderson, BBC, 27 Feb. 2015
D

ue to poor public perception, nuclear energy’s share of global electricity generation has fallen from 17 percent to 11 percent over the past 20 years. Italy has abandoned all plans to activate their nuclear industry, Germany is in the process of phasing out their nuclear reactors by 2022, and even France has announced a reduction to their atomic energy programs. With these cutbacks it would seem the industry is in decline, but as Dr. Jonathan Cobb from the World Nuclear Association points out, “70 nuclear reactors are under construction, the highest number in 25 years.” Furthermore, there are 500 proposed plants which outnumber the ones operating today. China is leading the way in its development, building 27 new reactors and having plans for nearly 200 more. “China’s banks are ready to finance [nuclear power plants]”, says Cecilia Tam at the International Energy Agency. China’s demand for energy is expected to triple by 2050 and they need all the clean energy they can get, especially with their faltering carbon industry. Many Central European, Eastern European, and Middle Eastern countries are looking to go nuclear as well, finding nuclear to be a cost-effective answer to a number of energy problems such as a growing demand and CO2 emissions. In the mind of environmentalists, the costs seem to outweigh the benefits.

For starters, high-level waste generated over the 60-year lifespan of a plant can fit in an Olympic-sized swimming pool and there is currently no facility to store this waste. While the facilities are relatively cheap to run once they have been built, the overall cost including construction is a tough investment to contract. In many countries it is more expensive than wind and solar, and with the price of these renewables dropping quickly nuclear is taking a back seat. Aside from the waste and costs, a darker risk looms over the industry. Fukushima and Chernobyl are examples of inherent dangers from harnessing nuclear power, and with the recent Iran deal a new concern has been added where a bomb could secretly be constructed in a facility. Given the risks and costs, it’s hard to see nuclear becoming the future energy source for the Earth.

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NUCLEAR GAMBLE

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