Recently, all my family were gathered around the table at my grandma’s house in Maesteg, Wales and were talking about the abundance of renewable energy resources visible in the valley’s - as you do when you’re a family like ours who can’t help but bring some excessive intellect to the dinner table. My brother is currently studying physics GCSE which involves learning about energy resources including nuclear energy which he seems to have been persuaded is the best alternative to non-renewables like coal and gas.
I was shocked that the school had taught him this and so was my dad. We tried explaining exactly why nuclear energy isn’t the answer to helping the world’s energy resources and how using renewable alternatives like wind, solar, tidal, hydroelectric and geothermal were a much better investment for the planet.
When a nuclear power plant has lived its fullest life, which was planned at about 40 years, the nuclear reactors in the middle which have been powering it need to be disposed of. The only option for this is to store the nuclear waste like landfill as it is radioactive and can give humans and animals radioactive poisoning. So far, we haven’t actually figured out the ‘best’ way to store this waste safely to prevent any radioactive waste from entering into our air or water so there isn’t any long-term solution. We then have to continually find new, safe places to store this waste and are running out of places to do so. This ruining our landscape and potentially can poison our flora and fauna, killing it off.
Over the years, there have been many accidents in nuclear power plants resulting in radiation leaks, deaths and costing us money. Chernobyl power plant in the Soviet Union exploded when a poorly designed experiment failed and blew the lid off the reactor in 1986 releasing 100x more radiation than the atoms bombs that landed on Nagasaki and Hiroshima and still a cover is being built over it to protect and seal it off. Another example is the Fukushima Daiichi power plant in Japan which got hit by a tsunami caused by a magnitude 9 earthquake in 2011; it caused fires within the plant but the cooling system failed to work and they spread. This accident caused deaths through explosions, acute radiation sickness, cancers caused by radiation poisoning, a large cost, a relocation of local residents, the workers and the plant and usually a very large contaminated area.
Another reason accidents occur is in the mining of uranium which is the element that power the nuclear power plant. Mining is an extremely dangerous job, especially when working with radioactive substances like uranium.
Nuclear Accidents: BBC News Timeline Nuclear Plant Accidents
Nuclear proliferation is the spread of “nuclear weapons, fissionable material, and weapons-applicable nuclear technology and information to nations not recognised as "Nuclear Weapon States"”, but I would argue this should be all states. It means that nuclear technology can be more easily researched and invested in which inevitably involves the research of nuclear weapons. We should condone the use and research of nuclear technology to prevent unstable and corrupt countries from investing but also all nations from creating and improving their nuclear weapons as this poses a risk to us all if any nation has nuclear capabilities.
Radiation can increase the risk of getting cancer including childhood cancers like leukaemia. This means that all nuclear power plant workers, uranium miners and the people living nearby to either workplace can have increased risk of cancer. Personally, I would say this risk is not worth what nuclear power gives us and would rather reduce the risk and find alternatives ways to create energy.
The effort to Mine and Decommission
The energy and money it takes to mine and process the uranium ore to power the plants and build and decommission the power plant after its lifespan of roughly 40 years outweighs the energy production of the power plants. There are 444 plants in the world now which make only 11% of the energy internationally. The deposits of uranium which are mined are becoming harder to find. This means that it hasn’t become valuable to invest in nuclear power as it takes more effort and money than the energy it produces to power our homes, businesses and factories.
There are generally rising costs in the world due to a variety of factors which added to the initial capital of the plant, the fuel, maintenance, construction delays of building and decommissioning makes nuclear power incredibly expensive. There is also a dramatic cost if accidents occur to the NHS (health services), clean up process of the plant, evacuation of the plant and surrounding areas for miles and compensation. Britain subsidies the use of nuclear power to the companies that run the plants which means that these costs aren’t even as big as they could be if these subsidies were removed to help subsidise renewable energy sources. Renewable prices are now falling continuously so it is now better to spend and invest in renewable energy research and power instead. This includes wind, solar, tidal, hydroelectric and geothermal, which doesn’t cost the plant or our lives very much at all in comparison.
Poorer countries cannot afford to pay for nuclear power plants and therefore become reliant on the richer countries to pay for the plants or provide a source of energy. Alternatively, they build their own plants which have less research, safety, regulations and oversight than in richer countries who should lead by example and invest in renewable energy.
In my opinion nuclear is never an option and should immediately be stopped internationally as an energy source and weapon. I don’t believe it is worth the risk to ourselves, the other fauna or our planet itself to continue supplying the nuclear industry with money especially when its government money which could be invested in renewables, health, education or any number of better causes.
Interested to read up more on nuclear? Check out these campaigns below.
10 Reasons to Oppose Nuclear Energy | Green America
No to Nuclear Power - Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
Arguments for and against nuclear power - Debating Europe
The problem with nuclear power | Greenpeace UK