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Nuclear power is generated from uranium, a metal mined in many parts of the world. The first large-scale nuclear energy station was opened in 1956 at Calder Hall in England. Today some military submarines and ships use nuclear power plants for their engines. In the United Kingdom, nuclear power provides 18% of the electricity used in homes and workplaces (DTI 7).
Nuclear power produces a lot of energy using small amounts of fuel. One nuclear plant produces more power than conventional energy sources (Cravens 464). The energy produced by coal and oil is minute when compared with that produced by nuclear plants. In addition, nuclear energy does not contribute to global warming. This is because it does not let out carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Other sources of energy like oil are known for their production of carbon fumes, which are highly detrimental to the welfare of the world. More over, it is relatively cheap to produce nuclear energy. Despite the large amount of energy produced, the cost involved in producing nuclear power is nearly the same as that used in producing coal energy. It is thus cheap to stick with nuclear energy. Another important point is that nuclear power reduces overdependence on costly foreign fuel. A country’s spending can largely be cut down by adopting nuclear power. The money saved may be used to cater for other essential needs like in the health care system.
The main disadvantage of this source of energy is that the technology used to produce it can as well be used to produce nuclear weapons, which are extremely dangerous. Besides, the waste products produced by nuclear plants cannot be easily disposed. These waste products can be particularly dangerous when mishandled (Herbst and Hopley 60).
In recent times, the future of nuclear energy has received a lot of focus, with some favoring a bright future while others prophesying doom. Given the advantages and disadvantages as mentioned above, this is expected. The world should focus on mitigating climate change through the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions, and ensuring the provision of secure, clean and affordable sources of energy, especially in countries that depend on imported oil (DTI 4).
Darling, writing in DTI notes the importance of focusing on nuclear power plants by forwarding three reasons (3). The first reason is that for the next twenty years, a large number of power plants that produce electricity in the United Kingdom will be closed and replaced. These include both nuclear and fossil fuel power plants. The second reason is that there is increased climate change as a result of artificial emissions of carbon dioxide. These carbon emissions come from energy sources that are based on fossil fuels. As a result, such tendencies can no longer be overlooked by the government. The third reason is that the United Kingdom’s supplies of fossil fuels are increasingly running down, especially the North Sea supplies of oil and gas. This has led the country to increasingly depend on imported fossil fuels, whose prices are increasing by the day (DTI 3). These three reasons have led the United Kingdom to explore nuclear power as the future primary source of energy. Such observations can also be said of other countries that share similar concerns of alternative energy sources, like the United States of America.
Deutch et al. report that the world should retain the nuclear option as it is an important source of power that dose not emit carbon. In the production of carbon dioxide, the two authors juxtapose nuclear power against fossil fuel-based electricity. They categorically favor nuclear power. This carbon-free characteristic of nuclear power has given it an edge over most of the other sources of energy. Deutch et al. notes that by 2020, fossil fuel-based electricity will account for about 40% of global carbon emissions. The authors go ahead to note that in the United States of America, there is a discrepancy between the electricity produced (52%) ands the carbon emissions produced from coal-fired electricity generation (90%). Deutch et al. posit that ignoring nuclear power as an important alternative source of power will negatively impact the world from attaining long-term goals of controlling carbon emissions.
Deutch et al. further report that projection of nuclear power as a source of energy is limited by four major problems which are the high costs involved, the perception of undesirable environmental, health, and safety issues, potential security risks arising from proliferation, and the hitherto unresolved challenge of managing nuclear waste. The authors go ahead and suggest some recommendations for making nuclear power option viable. Some of these are increasing stress on the once-through fuel energy cycle as the best way that meets the criteria of minimal costs and proliferation resistance, giving a production tax-credit to investors in private sector who come up with new nuclear plants and other carbon-free electricity technologies, and establishing a department of energy which will handle long-term nuclear waste disposal. Deutch et al. emphasize that nuclear energy should be looked at as a long term option, along side the other carbon-free sources of energy (like using renewable energy sources).
Astyk suggests that there will soon be a clamor for nuclear power plants arising from people outliving the fear associated with nuclear power production. This is given that most modern nuclear plants have adopted safer precautions than it was before (for instance in Fukushima and Macondo). However, Astyk notes that it is unlikely that nuclear power will quickly be accepted as an alternative source of energy given two reasons. The first reason concerns the EnergyReturn on Energy Invested(EROEI) of nuclear power. Astyk notes that the returns of nuclear power, if not calculated on purely thermal terms, always come on the lower side ( -3 -6). As a result, nuclear power risks being an “energy sink", and can not be used as a main source of energy. It is noted that the net energy return of oil at initial production was 100-1, and today it still stands at approximately 20-1. Astyk argues that the replacement of low energy density supplies with high ones will make real structural changes in the type of societies we expect. These changes may prove unfeasible in the long run.
The other reason given by Astyk for delays in the acceptance of nuclear power is “the upfront costs of nuclear, financial and energy that will be nearly impossible for an energy system in overall decline to bear”. The author takes the example of Fukushima to show the huge amounts of money needed to establish good nuclear plants. It is posited that that coming up with plants that are full proof from exceptional and outer parameter because of the increasing climate change today which has made the occurrence of rare events more likely than before. The costs for upfront building of nuclear plants are very high compared to those of any other energy source like coal and natural gas. This is more so given that the cost of coming up with nuclear power plants will directly depend on energy from fossil fuels. Even the economy that will produce the money to build nuclear power plants is driven by energy from fossil fuels. This makes switching to nuclear energy very costly to the already stretched budget of nation. However, in addressing this concern, Dr. Moniz notes that “there is no question that the up-front costs associated with making nuclear power competitive, are higher than those associated with fossil fuels. But…, there are many ways to mitigate these costs and, over time, the societal and environmental price of carbon emissions could dramatically improve the competitiveness of nuclear power” (Deutch et al.)
In conclusion, the world should not blindly shun nuclear power. With the right policies in place, this source of energy can enable the realization of the millennium development goals.