In our world and particularly in the United States of America, we face many environmental issues that put us at risk for years to come. These issues range vastly from pollution, climate change, ozone depletion, and natural resource depletion. In the United States we consume fossil fuels to power our homes, factories, and cars. The rate at which we consume fossil fuels has drastically increased and the question of sustainability has been addressed many times with various responses. These responses are solar power, wind, hydropower, geothermal, and biomass (“Renewable Energy”). Many of these renewable energy resources are in action today but with our growing demand for energy, the United States has looked to Nuclear Energy. The idea of Nuclear energy usually has fear associated with it.
The reason for this is because many terms are associated with it such as radiation, radioactivity, criticality, and meltdown (Ristinen, 2016). These terms have been used throughout history, for instance they were used when the Chernobyl plant in Ukraine exploded and caused radiation to leak from the plant. To this day it is known as the Chernobyl Disaster (Thomson 2016). The people of the United States have great reason to be fearful of Nuclear energy but our need to find a source of energy that can sustain our growth, has led us to Nuclear power. Nuclear energy can produce vast amounts of energy that is greatly needed and on top of this, there are zero carbon emissions. The promise of nuclear energy seems like the answer to our energy and environmental problems. However if we take another look, we can see that nuclear energy also has many negative aspects that can potentially harm our environment even worse then we already are.
The debate over Nuclear energy has been going on for years and will continue on into the future. Generations to come will have to decide for themselves if nuclear energy is a resource that benefits mankind or if it is a resource that hinders the growth of mankind. This paper will address the many positive and negative aspects related to nuclear energy. These aspects include environmental, health, and financial factors. This paper will also address the status of Nuclear energy in the United States. The topic of nuclear energy is important in current times because of the problems the United States is facing. The ever-growing threat of environmental issues, terrorism, and financial uncertainty is on the rise. The promise of Nuclear energy to many seems as our saving grace but to others it is viewed as the beginning of our own demise.
Status In The United States
To understand why Nuclear energy is as prevalent as it is in the United States, one must look back in history and acknowledge its origin. During World War Two, there was great fear that the Nazi Germany could develop a nuclear bomb that had the potential to wipe out entire cities and change the tide of the war. The United States devoted much of their resources in developing a nuclear bomb before the Germans did. As history unfolded the Americans were victorious in this effort. This opened the world to the various ways Nuclear Energy could be utilized.
“ Following the war, efforts were made to utilize nuclear reactors for the generation of commercial electricity.” ( Ristinen 2016). This shift from a weapon of war to the generation of energy signified a major change in how Nuclear energy could benefit the United States. The first reactor that started production of electricity for civilians was at Shippingport, Pennsylvania 1957 (Ristinen 2016). This reactor proved that nuclear energy was a viable option and from then on the number of reactors created increased in the United States.
Today, nuclear energy is a key component to the United States energy infrastructure. “The country’s nuclear reactors produced 805 billion kWh in 2017, 20% of total electrical output.” (“Nuclear Power” 2018). Nuclear Energy almost accounts for a quarter of total electrical output in the United States. This is a big factor to take in when understanding why Nuclear Energy is so prevalent in the United States.
There are 104 power reactors in the United States (Ristinen 2016). Plans for building new ones have been met with challenges due to events that have occurred in the past. “Nuclear developments in USA suffered a major setback after the 1979 Three Mile Island accident” (“Nuclear Power” 2018). On top of this, there have been financial factors that setback the production of nuclear plants. “ The initial capital cost for many of the reactors in the United States was relatively high owing to the customized basis depending on the needs of the individual utility and its particular site requirements” (Ristinen 2016).
However in recent years, license applications for new reactors have been submitted. This is due to the Energy Policy Act of 2005. “ There has been a flurry of activity, with submission of 16 license applications, partly motivated by the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which provide financial incentives for investment in electricity infrastructure.” (Ristinen 2016). In the years to come, the United States will have to decide if the prospects of Nuclear energy are worth the financial costs.
The advantages of nuclear energy to some people outweigh the negative aspects. These advantages can potentially help our current problem with Global Warming. The burning of oil results in vast amounts of CO2 emissions. These emissions have the potential to harm our environment drastically. Nuclear reactors on the other hand emit no Co2 and do not rely on fossil fuels. “Reactors are not affected by the availability of fossil fuels, and they emit no CO2, SO2, CO or particulates into the atmosphere.” (Ristinen 2016). Nuclear energy also has the advantage of creating more energy then fossil fuels.
“Nuclear energy is very high in density. More energy is created through nuclear fission then by burning fossils fuels.” (Ballish 2015). These factors play a key role in lessening the amount of CO2 emissions.
The cost of building a nuclear power plant is immense but the trade off can be beneficial financially. “It actually costs less to generate nuclear energy than it does to generate energy from fossil fuels such as gas, oil, and coal.” (Ballish 2015). This can be further seen when Moore states, “In 2004, the average cost of producing nuclear energy in the United States was less than two cents per kilowatt-hour, comparable with coal and hydroelectric.” (Moore 2006). Existing nuclear reactors have seen an increase in lifetime extensions and power rating. This ultimately leads to more energy being produced without spending additional money to build new reactors. “New investments are ongoing for promotion existing plants, lifetime extensions to 60 years, and for power up rating. The marginal generating costs of such projects are roughly only a third of that for new plants.” (Hejazi 2017). The financial benefits are exceptional when compared to the fossil fuel alternatives.
The advantages of Nuclear energy seem promising when considering the positive effect it has on reducing cost and carbon emissions. This can lead to more sustainable environment and economy but for every story there are two sides.
The disadvantages contain a growing list of problems and uncertainties that pose a serious threat to the wellbeing of humans and our environment. One of the most major problems that Nuclear power plants are faced with is the nuclear waste produced. “ While nuclear power plants emit negligible amounts of pollution into the air, they do produce nuclear waste.” (Ballish 2015). The disposal of this waste is a major issue because no country has found a way of proper way of getting rid of this waste.
“The management and disposal of high-level radioactive spent fuel from the nuclear fuel cycle is one of the most intractable problems facing the nuclear power industry throughout the world. No country has yet successfully implemented a system for disposing of this waste.” (Dawson 2003). Plans to dispose of this waste through depositing it into the ground have not been successful. “Despite 15 years of effort, Yucca Mountain still hasn’t been licensed”(Dawson 2003). Burring nuclear waste, can have severe implications on our environment. “Burial might result in radioactive leakage into groundwater due to unforeseen geological movement.” (Abbot 2016).