On April 20, 2010, the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig was watched by every nation as barrels of oil leaked into the Gulf of Mexico. This spill in particular was caused by a rush of natural gas that burst through the recently poured concrete which was used to seal off the oil well for later use. This caused the ignition of the rig (Pallardy). Eleven workers were killed and seventeen were injured. An estimation of the amount of oil that leaked into the gulf is four million nine hundred thousand barrels, polluting one thousand miles of shoreline (Pallardy).The Chernobyl accident of April 26, 1986 occurred in a similar fashion. According to Greenfacts, a routine test one of the four nuclear reactor’s electric control systems caused a power surge.
This caused nuclear fuel to overheat which then as a consequence, caused steam explosions, destroying the unit four reactor and building (Chernobyl). These explosions caused fires to spread along the roof of the machine halls as nuclear material came in contact with combustible gases (Chernobyl). Fires burned for ten days and large amounts of nuclear material was released (Chernobyl). It has been estimated that around three hundred and forty thousand people had to be relocated after the accident and one thousand first responders received the greatest amount of radiation (Chernobyl).
In the process of obtaining both nuclear and fossil fueled energy, both present their own unique opportunities for danger. Supporters of power supplied by fossil fuels state that the investment and construction costs of nuclear power facilities are too high. Additionally, that the nuclear material produced by the process of nuclear fission-the splitting of an atom and the collection of the energy released, poses too great of a threat to civilians living near nuclear plants and a threat posed by terrorists who could potentially gain access to the nuclear material.
Those who advocate the use of nuclear power emphasize the negative effects the burning of fossil fuels has on the environment as well as the danger of running out of the nonrenewable resource. Fossil fuel consumption has increased and nuclear power plants are reaching the age of retirement, and as of now, there are no new plans to build new facilities. This is where conflict seems to arise. Should countries continue to use fossil fuels as their main source of energy or resort to nuclear power generation?
Ben Heard, a prominent advocate of nuclear power and an Australian environmentalist offers nuclear power as a “realistic” solution to climate change with todays’ technology (Scientists). The basis of his argument is the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere which started to increase when the industrial revolution began and it is in “proportion” with the burning of fossil fuels (History).
Scientists such as the Columbian professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Dr. James Hansen, has studied the effect climate change has had on the environment and the role power generation has played in the pollution of the Earth. Along with other scientists, he has stated that any power source used in the future needs to be easily expandable as the need for power will inevitably increase, as well as remain low-carbon emitting.
Both scientists have advocated for the use of nuclear power but have acknowledged the idea that the manufacturing of energy cannot be solely reliant on nuclear power or renewable resources by addressing the worldwide problems of the cost and availability of the materials needed to run these power plants. As plutonium is the main material needed to manufacture energy at a nuclear power plant, and it is not accessible in some countries. Although this is a weakness of their argument though they still argue that the positive effects on the environment outweigh the cost of material needed to run nuclear power plants.
According to the World Nuclear Association, nuclear power plants tend to have high investment and construction costs but are relatively cheap to maintain. The operating cost as well as the disposal of waste materials in nuclear power plants is lower than that of almost all fossil fuel competitors (Economics).
Many factors contribute to the cost of a nuclear facility, such as if the project is completed on time and whether or not interest charges are applied during construction. The length of a project varies by country. Asia’s last two reactors that were built in 1992, were completed in four years while the newer South Korean reactors took an average of fifty-one months (Economics). This variation in the time it took to build these reactors suggests that they can be built quicker, which lowers the initial cost of building the facilities.
The disposal of nuclear waste produced by nuclear fission has become a cause of concern after the Chernobyl accident. According to the World Nuclear Association, ninety-seven percent of the waste material produced is categorized as low or intermediate-level waste. In France, where fuel is reprocessed, radioactive material is classified as high-level waste (HLW) in only two-tenths of one percent of the material produced.
After forty years, according to the World Nuclear Association, the radioactivity of HLW is about one thousandth of what is was before the process of nuclear fission. This information implies that the majority of the radioactive material produced by the power plants does not require shielding as the radioactivity of the material is low (Classifications). Countries such as Sweden, France, Finland and the USA all have well advanced projects to store HLW. This includes appropriate protection protocols to ensure that nuclear material stays in the hands of trained professionals.
The World Nuclear Association was used to provide the information on the disposal of nuclear material as well as the information on the types and amounts of radioactive material released by nuclear power generation. The information provided by the source strengthens the argument because a majority of radioactive material produced by nuclear power plants is classified as low and intermediate level radioactive material. The dangers of radioactive waste classified as high-level is argued by fossil fuel advocates as a main reason why nuclear power generation is not a viable option for power generation.
This strengthens the argument because low an intermediate level radioactive material does not require shielding during normal handling (Classifications). Because a majority of the waste produced by nuclear power plants is not classified as HLW, the validity of the argument is minimized. While some bias is present, the information is well researched and displays a wide range of knowledge.
An argument in support of using fossil fuels is their availability. According to the Institute of Energy Research, fossil fuels supply Japan with eighty-four percent and the United States of America with eighty-one percent of their national energy demand (History). The majority of fossil fuels burned today are natural gas, oil and coal (Fossil). Fossil fuels can be found in practically every part of the world, something that cannot be said about plutonium, which is used to power nuclear power plants (Gemma).
Globally, an argument made is the economic benefits of fossil fuels. According to the U.S Department of Energy, six million four hundred thousand Americans are employed in the exploration, extraction and transportation of fossil fuels (Fossil). The world has relied on fossil fuels as a main source of energy since the eighteenth century during the industrial revolution (History). This prolonged amount of time has allowed the fossil fuel industry to become efficient. New facilities can be built with minimal innovation and processes of extraction and transportation have been perfected. Coal can be transported by trucks over short distances and by trains and barges over longer distances (Coal). International trading companies ensure that trading between countries is efficient (Coal).
Another argument in favor of using fossil fuels as a country’s main source of energy is improvements that have resulted in the reduction of environmental effects the operations have. In 2014, the World Coal Association released a document outlining their plans to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by two to three percent with the implementation of more effective plants (Platform). The average plant runs at a thirty-five percent efficiency and with the improvements that could be made, plants could run at forty-five percent efficiency.
The Energy Policy Act (EPA) was passed in 2005 in the United States. The EPA guaranteed that companies who developed and used “innovative” technologies that aided in the emissions of greenhouse gases would receive loans for their efforts to try and lessen the effect energy production has on the environment (Summary). This law strengthens the argument that the fossil fuel industry has made efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
The World Coal Association was used to find information about international trade and transportation of coal as well as the information regarding the document released in 2014. The source strengthened the argument that the transportation of fossil fuels is efficient and that the industry has made great strides in trying to diminish their carbon footprint by mentioning the Energy Policy Act and the document released in 2014. Some bias was present in the article as it was written by the World Coal Association detailing the coal industry’s plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
After thorough research and evaluation of both sides of the argument for the question, “Should nuclear power generation be a country’s main source of energy,” I have decided that nuclear power generation is a viable source of energy and should be a country’s main source of energy. The argument that the nuclear power facilities cost too much to build is nullified by the argument that they are relatively cheap to maintain and maintenance. In addition to this, the positive environmental effect nuclear power facilities could have on countries with poor air quality is convincing. The argument about the possible dangers of nuclear material is also minimized in importance as ninety-seven percent of nuclear waste is classified as low-level waste (Radioactive).
Nonetheless, it must be acknowledged that the topic if nuclear power generation encompasses many different aspects that were not discussed in this paper. Further research regarding the air quality of the areas surrounding fossil fuel and nuclear power plants would be beneficial in the continuation of this paper. An addition of case studies regarding the air quality as well as the environmental status of the areas around fossil and nuclear plants would also be beneficial in further understanding the differences nuclear and fossil fuel plants impose on the air quality of the surrounding area.