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Nuclear Energy: Pros and Cons

is nuclear energy a good idea

Yesterday was the one-year anniversary of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan.  As such, it seemed a good idea to consider this source of energy and its possible impact on us.

Next week, I’ll try to cover some of the ways you can protect yourself from the harmful effects radiation in case of a nuclear reactor accident or bomb.

The Pros

There are many who feel that nuclear energy is the absolute best, wisest plan for providing power at a reasonable cost to the user.  Here are a few of their arguments.

1.  Less pollution than many other types–  coal, oil, and gas burning plants are said by some to be responsible for about half the air pollution in the U.S.

2.  Fossil fuels are running out–  though there is not an endless supply of elements needed to create the fuel rods for a nuclear reactor, they will probably outlast fossil fuel supplies by a good bit.

3.  Less affected by shortages, strikes, etc.-  since reactors require infrequent additions of new fuel, they are not as vulnerable to oil embargoes, worker strikes, etc.  For this reason, many consider it a more reliable source of energy.

4.  American reactors have an very good safety record–  estimates run as high as 50,000 people per year die from respiratory diseases related to coal.  An average of 300 are killed each year in other mining related accidents.   There are several safety mechanisms and layers of protection around nuclear reactors.

The Cons

There may be just as many opponents of nuclear energy who say the risk just can’t be justified.  Here are some of their points.

1.  Meltdowns can occur–  the incident in Fukushima has reminded us that even with our very best scientists trying to anticipate all the possible problems and protect the public, it’s still possible for them to malfunction.

2.  The damage can be horrific–  unlike with a cave-in in a mine where only a certain number of people may be injured, there can be an almost unlimited number of people who can be impacted or killed if fuel cells melt or a reactor explodes.  Radiation can travel long distances, and being invisible, can be hard for the lay person to detect.

3.  The damage can be very long lasting–  radiation effects nearly everything it touches- water is unsafe to drink, soil is contaminated, food is toxic, and so on.  And it doesn’t just blow or wash away with the next storm.  It is absorbed by our bodies and the effects can take years to fully manifest.

4.  The effects aren’t necessarily localized–  a cloud of toxic radiation can travel long distances and effect places and people far away from the source.  If it gets into the water (ocean, rivers, …) or food supply in a country where our meals are trucked hundreds of miles, the effects could be felt across the country or maybe in other countries.  I remember the concern about the possibility that Fukushima’s radiation would be dumped in the northwest and whether milk would be safe to drink, veggies irradiated, etc.

5.  Transportation and disposal of waste is dangerous–  if I knew “spent” fuel cells were rolling down the interstate, I assure you, I would stay home.

I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether the benefits outweigh the risks or not.  Or maybe, in some circumstances with particular safeguards, you think they are the best alternative.  In third world countries where electricity is a novelty or unreliable, the benefits to society may be worth the risk.  If thousands or millions die each year from lack of clean water, etc. that could be positively impacted by the presence of electricity to pump and purify water, power hospitals, and so on, then maybe those are places where nuclear reactors make sense.

So, what are your thoughts?  Please share them in the comments section below.

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5 Comments on “Nuclear Energy: Pros and Cons”

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