An Effective Strategy to Cope with the Harsh Realities of Climate Change: The Pros and Cons of Nuclear Power

Kamal Narayanan

It is often said, “When one looks into the past, one tends to miss the future.” In the status quo, the human race is fixated on the past and tends to miss the present. Even worse, it completely turns a blind eye to the future; this lack of attention is costing the human race enormously with every passing second. For the past couple centuries, human energy consumption has largely been sustained by the presence of clandestine fossil fuels underground. However, most people who suggest that fossil fuels have been successful up till now tend to maintain the erroneous mindset that fossil fuels will remain humanity’s primary modus operandi for generations to come. How long can fossil fuels last, taking into consideration the fact that fossil fuels require approximately 300 million years to materialize? By the time the human race is finished with the current aggregate of fossil fuels and the next load has formed, the human race will be extinct. How long will the human race rely on fossil fuels? The answer is, not for long. Eventually, society will deplete its source of fossil fuels; and every genius who predicted the human race would be able to survive indefinitely on fossil fuels will become the very ones who will be scavenging for new sources of energy. This is the very reason why the human race should open their eyes to the future: to prevent the dilemma of having to desperately look for energy, when there is nothing left to be looked for. The future has dawned upon us: the future of nuclear energy. Nuclear energy is a promising source of energy that has overtaken much of the world already and looks to eradicate fossil fuels completely. As of current, a debate rages on concerning nuclear power; should countries prohibit the production of nuclear power or should countries not prohibit the production of nuclear power? Various motives drive each side’s belief that their course of action is apt to be taken. In this article the pros and cons of such a possibility will be discussed, and ultimately one must adopt the denouement that countries must not prohibit the production of nuclear power.

What fossil fuels are doing to our world is unbearable to watch. Fossil fuels are incinerated to manufacture energy, which subsequently discharges exorbitant capacities of smoke into our environment. This smoke not only debauches rainwater, but it percolates reservoirs, defiling our water supply. Smoke is inhaled by millions of people every single day, which is extremely injurious to human health. If smoke is inhaled, chemicals and foreign particles will clog up respiratory pathways and lungs, ballooning your lungs and stopping oxygen flow to your blood, which is calamitous and even life-threatening (“Smoke Inhalation”).  By turning a blind eye to the future, people are advertently being asphyxiated. Furthermore, smoke penetrates earth’s atmosphere, perforating the ozone layer, which leads to sunlight’s infiltration into the earth and thus global warming. The effects of global warming are various and pernicious: sea levels continue to climb, heat waves continue to suffuse the earth, and droughts continue their onslaught on the populace (“Effects of Global Warming”). These deleterious effects have the wherewithal to extinguish the human race from the face of the earth. By giving in to fossil fuels, essentially what is being done is the gradual expunction of the human race. To forestall this impasse, it is clear what must be arranged for.

The human race must open their eyes and look into the future: nuclear energy. In fact, quite a few countries have already opened their eyes to this future. France, India, Germany, and Hungary have joined the nuclear power movement; in fact, France as of 2017 has fifty-eight nuclear power reactors at its disposal (“Nuclear Power in France”).  If nuclear power is to be stopped now, what will become of these countries’ economies, which are heavily powered by nuclear power? Depressions, recessions, and layoffs will plague these advanced countries. For this reason, it is not an option to slide back on nuclear power right now; instead, one must look to the morrow, embrace nuclear power, and entrench it as the primary energy source of the world. As manifested by the aforementioned countries, the nuclear power movement is slowly taking hold of the world, and other countries are steadily catching on. The benefits of nuclear energy far outweigh the costs, and it demonstrates a promising potential to change energy as we know it. The future is upon us; the question is, are you ready for it?

Nuclear energy encompasses a wide range of benefits, from societal to the more philosophical aspects. From a societal point of view, it has been proven that nuclear energy is the only possible solution to climate change. Climate change is the most prominent issue of our generation, and it threatens to wipe out the entire human race. To avoid the adverse effects of climate change, which constitute the continued rising of the sea level, loss of Arctic sea ice, and disastrous effects on not only natural ecosystems, but also humankind, global decarbonisation is required. It is universally agreed upon that a form of clean energy is necessary for global decarbonisation; nuclear power provides that outlet. Second, in nations that do have nuclear power plants if they shut them down that power will have to be replaced. Because nuclear power plants can run for months, even years without being shut down the only alternative replacements are plants that burn fossil fuels, most often coal or natural gas. This means that prohibiting nuclear power will mean more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. It is the sole technology on this planet that can aid global decarbonisation; studies show that the only way to prevent global warming is not only to take up nuclear power, but to have countries entirely double nuclear power (Magwood). If measures to aid global decarbonisation are not taken immediately, planet earth and the human race will cease to exist.

The majority of the critics have the same fundamental issue: nuclear power is prone to accident, more so than fossil fuels. They believe that meltdown is inevitable, stating that any small meltdown would lead to nationwide blackouts, thus leaving the country in the midst of riots, protests, and deaths. They call upon the example of Fukushima; if such an event were to occur to the United States, what would become of it? The lack of planning and resources would undoubtedly lead to the destruction of the country. However, these critics fail to realize that technology is always advancing, and the current wave of nuclear reactors make meltdowns literally impossible. The latest trend in nuclear reactors, 4th-Generation reactors, are fundamentally built upon a physics principle that prevents overheating and meltdowns, the MSR principle (Muller).  The next concern brought up is over the issue of waste disposal. Disparagers quite reasonably continue to harp upon the fact that nuclear power produces waste that is deleterious, and the nuclear industry should not continue operating without a proper solution. However, a recent study performed by the World Nuclear Association showed that nuclear waste disposal is completely safe. New methods have surfaced and are currently being implemented; for example, low-level waste and intermediate-level waste, 2 types of nuclear waste that constitute 97% of all nuclear waste, are currently being disposed of in near-surface repositories in a large number of countries so that no long-term or short-term risks may be caused (“Radioactive Wastes”). The current technology that allows for the safe disposal of these wastes is known as interim storage (“Radioactive Wastes”).  The use of interim storage facilities provides a safe environment where this waste can be contained and managed; the facilities allow for not only the radioactivity but also the heat of the waste to dissipate before the waste is geologically deposited. This is scientifically proven, as after 40 years, only 1/1000th of the original radioactivity exists within the waste (Broom). In addition, nuclear waste is no worse than any other industrial waste; why must it be shunned, as opposed to other biohazards? Most industries produce biohazardous wastes; the nuclear industry does as well, but it exhibits a proper clean-up technology that can not be overlooked. In fact, the radioactive waste of nuclear power has a finite lifetime, which is comparatively better to other wastes, like heavy metals, which stay hazardous forever. Several areas currently exist that are more than willing and more than able to store nuclear waste (Tubb).  Another option for nuclear waste disposal is private sector waste disposal, where nuclear wastes are disposed of by specific companies, rather than the government handling all wastes. Studies in Finland have proven this to be effective (Tubb). Another disadvantage that pundits may point out is that of the method of obtaining the materials necessary to carry out nuclear energy production. Mining for uranium may be said to be the worst form of mining, it causes bodily hazards, poverty, and key disagreements across the globe, and it is a source of massive environmental harms; however in reality, uranium mining is strictly regulated (Greeves). Humans are naturally exposed to a small amount of radioactivity; uranium mining does not increase that number, proving it is safe. In the past, uranium mining has proven its worth; radiation records consistently show that mining company employees and humans in the vicinity of the mining site have not been exposed to radiation over the excesses of limits (Greeves). Another argument against would be the concern of transportation. But radioactive materials are shipped in robust containers. They have been carried on sea vessels for 300 kilometers with no leakage whatsoever, which proves the safety of uranium transport and nuclear waste transport (Greeves).  Since 1971, 7000 shipments of fuel have been served (Greeves) . Accidents have tended to occur, but only extremely minor ones, never one where radioactive material has been spilled. Some may go so far as to say not enough uranium exists, but 2 fundamental problems exist with this statement. First, are there enough fossil fuels to sustain the human race for the next millennia? Second, if this much fossil fuel exists, how much greenhouse gases would be produced after all of it has been burned? Again, the presence of uranium is very comforting, because an alternate solution exists to fossil fuels, and the human race can progress. Uranium is more than abundant. No one is running out of nuclear fuel; the current cost of uranium per kilowatt comes to approximately 0.1 cents (Muller). Studies have shown that there is not a lack in uranium and this will remain the case for a long time (Muller). One of the main oppositions to this topic is the issue of terrorism. People fear the usage of nuclear wastes and nuclear power plants for the mass destruction of the human race. This fear may be assuaged, because several studies have shown that the calculated threat of terror is not only low in chance, but also low in magnitude. A report released by the National Academy of Sciences on June 25, 2002 states that if a nuclear attack were to happen, then “[T]he casualty rate would likely be low, and contamination could be detected and removed from the environment, although such cleanup would probably be expensive and time consuming” (“Radioactive Wastes”). This outlines the solution to the problem, allaying any and all fears of the people. However, moreso the failure to provide access to energy will end up increasing the risk of terrorism. The lack of provision of energy will result in widespread poverty within a nation, which will lead to higher terrorism rates. According to a study conducted in 2002, a direct relationship was discovered between poverty and crimes effectuated in Germany (Krueger et al.). Another study conducted in Germany concluded that banning nuclear power makes clean energy less cost-competitive (Krueger et al.). This will ultimately crash the economy and lead it into depression, with a lack of competition within the economy. Several say that a key component of some nuclear reactors, Krypton-85 is driving global warming. This however, is completely a myth. A study conducted states the following: “There is no way power plant emissions of Kr-85 can harm human health or the environment because it cannot do anything except completely dissipate immediately upon leaving the reactor… By the time Krypton-85 reaches the environment outside the gates of a power plant, it is below detection ”(Conca). As proven, Krypton-85 and nuclear power plants contribute absolutely nothing to the global warming of planet earth. They can be ruled out as possible sources of human pollution and death.

The future is here; several other reactor types are being mass produced as this essay is being written. To start, the thorium plant is the safest and the cheapest of all the current reactors.  Thorium is a great deal more abundant than uranium. It possesses more convenient chemical properties than uranium in every way. It is cheaper than coal, uranium, and natural gas. It solves the main harms of uranium as well, and there exist no major technological hurdles to uranium reactors. The next type is the SMR, known as the Small Modular Reactor. It does not have a significant scalability issue that conventional nuclear plants do (Yesilyurt). SMR’s make renewable energies more viable; they overcome the intermittency barrier. Researchers, with the building nuclear power movement, have now overcome one of the biggest barriers to nuclear fission at last. Scientists are expecting fusion reactors to come online within a generation, they avoid the flaws of current power plants. The next type is the HTGR, or the High Temperature Gas-Cooled Reactor; it is a safe underground helium-cooled nuclear power reactor, and it has a chance of revolutionizing the nuclear world (Yesilyurt).

Countries like the Czech Republic have gone extremely deep into the world of nuclear energy. A phase out for the Czech Republic would be a disaster; the majority of electricity comes from nuclear energy itself. As stated in the World Nuclear News, “ It [The Czech Republic] has six nuclear power reactors… The aim to support the increased use of nuclear power and renewable energy is part of the country’s commitment to a European Union target for cutting carbon emissions” (“Czech Energy Strategy”). The Czech Republic is attempting to do something for the benefit of the world, and stopping its efforts would not only kill it and its economy, but eventually the entire human race as well. Ocean Nuclear Power Plants are the next type; it has frequently been advocated for that countries ought to move conventional nuclear power plants into the ocean. These ONPPs, or Ocean Nuclear Power Plants, are viable, tested, and they are located away from land and away from any hijackable person. This is extremely appealing, and it might as well be the future of the world of energy (Hansen).

The next big concern to address is that of pollution. Nuclear power production does not generate as much pollution. According to the Nuclear Energy Agency Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, “The nuclear electricity generation chain does not release gases or particles that acidify rains, contribute to urban smog or deplete of the ozone layer… A single large nuclear power plant offsets the emission of 1.75 million tons of carbon each year if it displaces coal, about 1. 2 million tons if it displaces oil, and 0.7 million tons if it displaces natural gas ”(“Nuclear Energy and Sustainable Development”). As it can be seen, the effects of using nuclear power are astonishingly expedient, and they must be considered and eventually taken up as the primary source of energy on planet earth. The only reason this has not been realized as of yet is political quagmire; Great Britain has already showcased that the technology is ready. Another country, South Korea, also employs nuclear power heavily. Nuclear power is the cheapest electricity option for South Korea. Nuclear power in South Korea decreases greenhouse-gas emissions (Muller). The next major country is Sweden, which is a country that has considerable nuclear power but is strongly considering phase out (Muller). Phase out in Sweden would have severe economic implications, as it would lose out superlatively on tax revenue, which would lead to tens of thousands of untimely deaths. An analysis conducted by two professors from Uppsala University and the University of Tasmania reveals, “[T]hat a ‘no nuclear’ decision… would be expected to lead to tens thousands of untimely deaths, billions of tons of additional climate-changing greenhouses gases emitted, and over a hundred billion dollars in lost revenue for Sweden… ” (Qvist et al.). An in-depth look at warming leads us to find that greenhouse gases will cause catastrophic climate disasters. This would prevent deaths, and therefore nuclear power is key to reducing global mortality due to fossil fuel use. Nuclear power generation prevents a huge amount of carbon emissions. In addition, it helps to note that nuclear power is not obstructively costly; countries within the European Union have already agreed to safety inspections after Fukushima (Greeves).

The nuclear power movement must spread to the scope of developing countries. Nuclear power, once it has spread to developing countries such as India and China, will greatly spread to the rest of the world and truly allow the world to flourish and thrive on real energy. For once the world will not be put down by carbon emissions and other harmful substances, but the production of clean energy makes the human civilization collectively better suited and better equipped to take on the problems of global warming and greenhouse gases that plague the earth.

An favorable strategy would be to reprocess nuclear energy, as demonstrated by John Upton. Nuclear waste, after it has come out of a nuclear reactor, can easily be turned into electricity again (Upton). John Upton writes, “Nuclear waste can be turned into electricity. A new generation of nuclear reactors, dubbed Gen-IV reactors, could do it with great efficiency. In the process, transuranics would be broken into elements that remain radioactive for a much shorter period of time, thus alleviating both our energy and our waste issues.” This is literally a nuclear gold mine that can fuel the rest of our countries for the rest of time. Nuclear energy could be an unending process, which could last forever and change the world completely.

Ultimately, the benefits of nuclear power far outweigh the disadvantages of nuclear power. What is accomplished by making the switch to nuclear power from traditional fossil fuels is unquantifiable, and there is no recourse but to make the switch. Lives are at stake, society’s advancement is being hindered the longer people do not open their minds to such a convenience. The promises are amaranthine, and nuclear energy must be espoused forthwith.

 

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