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Do the benefits of using nuclear power outweigh the risks?

Do the benefits of using nuclear power outweigh the risks?

Basic Background

Nuclear energy works by capturing the energy produced by a nuclear reaction to generate heat that then turns turbines that generate electricity. The electricity is then delivered to consumers through the power grid. The nuclear reaction can be produced by nuclear fission, nuclear fusion, or nuclear decay.

The Atomic Archive explains that, “When a nucleus fissions, it splits into several smaller fragments. These fragments, or fission products, are about equal to half the original mass. Two or three neutrons are also emitted. The sum of the masses of these fragments is less than the original mass. This ‘missing’ mass (about 0.1 percent of the original mass) has been converted into energy according to Einstein’s equation.”

Nuclear Connect explains that “fusion energy is produced by smashing together light atoms. It is the opposite reaction of fission, where heavy isotopes are split apart. Fusion is the process by which the sun and other stars generate light and heat.”

Most nuclear energy is produced through fission of uranium and plutonium. Nuclear fusion is still in the research stage.

Despite the fact that nuclear power does currently supply a lot of energy, it’s future is uncertain. The International Atomic Energy Agency wrote in May 2019 that, ”

However, the future of nuclear power is uncertain as ageing plants are beginning to close in advanced economies, partly because of policies to phase them out but also as a result of economic and regulatory factors. Without policy changes, advanced economies could lose 25% of their nuclear capacity by 2025 and as much as two-thirds of it by 2040, according to the new report, Nuclear Power in a Clean Energy System.

General Benefits

Reduced Pollution. Nuclear power does not generate sulfur dioxide (SO2) and carbon dioxide (CO2) when electricity is produced, reducing air pollution, general pollution from mining coal, and climate change that is caused by CO2.

Most electricity is currently produced with coal and, therefore, nuclear energy is most likely to reduce the demand for coal, but electric cars mean that cars could be powered with nuclear power generated electricity rather than oil.

Reduced oil dependence. Less oil consumption in cars would reduce oil dependence on dangerous regions such as the Persian Gulf.

Safety.  Nuclear power arguably produces fewer deaths in the production of electricity than when electricity is produced with coal and oil (mining accidents, oil exploration accidents, oil drilling accidents (oil drilling also causes oil spills that hurt the environment).

General Problems

Nuclear waste.  Spent fuel that is generated after the reaction is referred to as nuclear waste and  is radioactive for up to 100,000s of years. Exposure to the material can produce death ad countries struggle to find storage solutions.

Nuclear accidents.  There is a danger that control of the nuclear reaction cannot be controlled, resulting in an overheating and melting of the reactor core. This could result in the massive spread of radiation into the environment. This happened in Chernobyl (Russia) and Fukishama (Japan).

Terrorism.  Terrorists could target the nuclear plant. Their goal would be blow-up the part of the plant that protects the reaction, resulting in radiation spewing into the environment.

Nuclear proliferation.  Nuclear proliferation is the spread of nuclear weapons. The spread of nuclear technology could contribute to the spread of nuclear weapons because both are produced through the same nuclear reaction.

Review questions — Basic

(1) Identify and explain three reasons why nuclear power should be supported

(2) Identify and explain three reasons why nuclear power should be opposed

(3) What is the difference between nuclear fission and nuclear fusion?

(4) What is the difference between uranium and plutonium?

Review questions — Higher order

(1) What are some reasons the nuclear power is on-balance desirable?

(2) What are some reasons that nuclear power is on-balance undesirable?

Questions to ask of your opponents

Against Nuclear Power Bad

(1) Do you have any evidence that radiation from nuclear power kills more people than the environmental harms of fossil fuel, such as air pollution, and the risks associated with mining coal and drilling for natural gas.
(2) What countries that don’t have nuclear weapons are going to get them if more nuclear power is developed?

Against Nuclear Power Good

(1) Do you have any evidence that says we can build nuclear power plants fast enough to solve climate change?
(2) Do you have any evidence that if we build them quickly they will still be safe?

Vocabulary

Nuclear proliferation. Nuclear proliferation is the spread of nuclear weapons.

Nuclear reaction. The nuclear reaction is the explosion that produces the nuclear energy.

Nuclear waste. Nuclear waste is the remaining uranium and/or plutonium that is left over after the reaction.

Spent fuel. Spent fuel is nuclear waste.

Common Misconceptions

(coming soon)

Major issues in the nuclear power debate/Suggestions for more detailed preparation

Is nuclear power safe?
Is nuclear power the best solution to climate change?
Does nuclear power make nuclear proliferation more likely?
Are small modular reactors safer than standard reactors?
How heavily should governments subsidize the development of nuclear power?
What should be done about nuclear waste?

Keywords

nuclear power, nuclear energy, nuclear accidents, nuclear power and nuclear proliferation, nuclear safety, nuclear power and terrorism, nuclear and fusion, high temperature gas reactors, small modular reactors,

Internet Research

Background

How nuclear power works (2019)

General

Nuclear power pros and cons (2019)

Pro — Websites

World Nuclear Association

Pro — Articles

Nuclear Power in a clean energy system (2019). With nuclear power facing an uncertain future in many countries, the world risks a steep decline in its use in advanced economies that could result in billions of tonnes of additional carbon emissions. Some countries have opted out of nuclear power in light of concerns about safety and other issues. Many others, however, still see a role for nuclear in their energy transitions but are not doing enough to meet their goals. The publication of the IEA’s first report addressing nuclear power in nearly two decades.

Nuclear power can save the world (2019). Expanding the technology is the fastest way to slash greenhouse gas emissions and decarbonize the economy.

is it time we give nuclear power another chance? (2019). Rather than simply dismissing all nuclear power out of hand, it can be instructive to understand why these disasters took place. “The first failure of Chernobyl was the design,” said engineer Katie Mummah. “They designed their reactor so that, if it heats up, the chain reaction increases,” she added, “and as it increases, you produce more heat.” Mummah says this design had the benefit of creating “more plutonium,” for Russia’s weapons ambitions. The second failure was to not build a containment building, a steel and concrete shroud around the reactor to prevent the release of hazardous matter. “If they’d had a containment building,” said Mummah, “then we wouldn’t have Chernobyl as we knew it.”

The climate needs of nuclear power (2019).If governors are serious about global warming, they’ll preserve this vital source of clean energy.

Con — Websites

Greenpeace

NIRS

Con — Articles

Nuclear power is not the solution we need in time of climate change (2019). Yet scientific evidence and recent catastrophes call into question whether nuclear power could function safely in our warming world. Wild weather, fires, rising sea levels, earthquakes and warming water temperatures all increase the risk of nuclear accidents, while the lack of safe, long-term storage for radioactive waste remains a persistent danger.

Nuclear power is not safe (2019). There is another way to look at these figures. If the core damage frequency is one in 10,000, that means that for a reactor with a 40-year life span, the likelihood of the reactor melting down during its lifetime is forty in 10,000, one in 250, or 0.4%. If the reactor is designed to a core damage frequency of one in 20,000, then the likelihood of meltdown over its lifetime is one in 500, or 0.2%. These numbers do not reflect what has happened in the real world. Having gone through 17,000 reactor years at civil reactors, we have experienced three meltdowns in Japan, all at Fukushima Daiichi; at least one meltdown in the Soviet Union, at Chernobyl (though given the Soviet inclination to cover things up, there might have been others); one in Scotland, at Chapelcross; two in France, both at Saint-Laurent, but on different occasions; one in Czechoslovakia, at Jaslovské Bohunice; and three meltdowns in the United States, one each at Three Mile Island (Pennsylvania), Fermi (Michigan), and SRE (California

I oversaw the nuclear power industry. Now I think it should be banned (2019). But fission reactors have a dark side, too: If the energy they produce is not closely controlled, they can fail in catastrophic ways that kill people and render large tracts of land uninhabitable. Nuclear power is also the path to nuclear weapons, themselves an existential threat.

The economic viability of nuclear power is only going down (2019).

Recent studies from New York and California show that it is cheaper to invest in renewables, energy efficiency and energy storage in order to replace aging nuclear plants than it is to keep the existing plants running. Savings range from hundreds of millions to billions of dollars – achieved without any impact on electric system reliability.

Related

Why the green new deal may include nuclear power (2019)

Sample Supporting Quotes — Pro

Expanded use of nuclear power needed to meet climate targets

Jessica Mendoza, June 28, 2016, Christian Science Monitor, Does California shutdown mean the end of nuclear power? Not so fast. http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/2016/0628/Does-California-shutdown-mean-the-end-of-nuclear-power-Not-so-fast DOA: 8-10-16

Nuclear energy provides 20 percent of the nation’s power, while renewables – wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, and hydroelectricity – produce 13 percent combined. Cutting nuclear from the equation could leave the US with a bigger challenge in terms of achieving its climate goals, says Kerry Emanuel, a climate scientist and meteorologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology “The numbers just don’t add up,” he says. “In the last two years we have shut down prematurely more nuclear energy than we have added solar and wind.” At the same time, the need for carbon-free energy is growing. To prevent dangerous levels of global warming, the world’s nations must achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions between 2060 and 2075, the United Nations reports. As the world’s second-largest energy consumer, the US plays a key role in implementing practices toward that goal. And so some advocate the need to consider the use of multiple sources of clean energy – including the nation’s existing fleet of nuclear power – at least until the necessary climate targets are achieved. “The way I view it, the best way of success is by thinking about deploying all those things,” says Armond Cohen, co-founder and executive director of the Clean Air Task Force, a Boston-based research and public advocacy nonprofit. “That’s the future we want to create. We want to have those options.”

Nuclear power needed to generate electricity for water desalinzation

Sameh Aboul-Enein (et al), Adjunct Professor, American University in Cairo, Egypt, January 2016 Valdai Discussion Club, January 2016, Prospects for Nuclear Power in the Middle East: Russia’s Interests, http://valdaiclub.com/files/9577/ DOA: 8-10-16

As a result, the Middle Eastern governments are looking for ways to meet the growing energy demand of their economies and populations. Building nuclear power plants is seen as one of the available options Diversification of energy sources In the Middle East, reliable access to electricity is crucial not only to keep homes lit and electric appliances working. It also means access air conditioning and to fresh water since many countries rely on energy-hungry desalination plants for their water supply. In Saudi Arabia, half of all electricity generated in the country is used to run air conditioners; in the scorching summer months, when temperatures reach 50 °C, that proportion is even higher. The region is home to about 4% of the planet’s population, but it has only 1% of the global supply of fresh water As a result, about 50% of the global water desalination capacity is situa-ted in the Middle East. Electricity blackouts can there fore wreak havoc not only to the region’s industry but to its life support systems as well. This has obvious implications for the public perceptions of the energy security problem and its possible solutions in the Middle East.

Sample Supporting Quotes — Con

Nuclear power leads to the development of nuclear weapons

Sameh Aboul-Enein (et al), Adjunct Professor, American University in Cairo, Egypt, January 2016 Valdai Discussion Club, January 2016, Prospects for Nuclear Power in the Middle East: Russia’s Interests, http://valdaiclub.com/files/9577/ DOA: 8-10-16

Yet another incentive for nuclear energy development that may well feature promiently in Middle Eastern countries’ domestic  debate is the desire to acquire a scientific, technological, and then industrial nuclearcapability that could later be used for weapons purposes, if a political decision is made to that effect.

Sample Nuclear Power Good Speech Outline that Fits on A Notecard