Nuclear Energy: Green or Obscene?

Nuclear energy is the source of a huge debate when it comes to alternative energies. Many people see nuclear energy as a bountiful, affordable, and clean energy source, which can help power large areas with only a few resources. Alternatively, many view nuclear energy negatively due to the extreme risks it proposes or the toxic waste it produces. In this post, I’m going to discuss both a pro and a con argument to using nuclear energy, and through it hopefully, you can find out what you believe.

       An Argument For Using Nuclear Energy

On the pro side of the argument, many cite the energy produced from nuclear reactions is much cleaner than fossil fuels. Through the use of nuclear energy, humans have avoided producing 64 gigatons of greenhouse gas emissions. While nuclear energy does produce waste, there are management options for that waste, with many nuclear plants even moving towards reprocessing to ensure maximum efficiency before any waste is produced.

While nuclear energy is perceived as being the most hazardous and lethal form of energy production due to the publicity of large scale accidents, many experts indicate it is in actuality the safest. While there have been catastrophes involving nuclear energy production, all but 7 of a total of 33 have been contained, and only 4 have ever caused significant radiation damages (Fukushima, Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and  Windscale). Conversely, the next safest form of energy—wind—has had 1,500 accidents in the last 5 years. As the status quo, fossil fuels have caused significantly more damage, with some estimates indicating more than 13,000 deaths can be attributed yearly to the energy source. “Nuclear meltdown” may make headlines, but it’s far from the most dangerous energy source that we are using.

       An Argument Against Using Nuclear Energy

With the above considered, there are many cons to nuclear energy, chief among them is the waste produced. Despite its volatile and toxic nature, nuclear waste can be managed; the predicament is that it needs to be managed for an extremely long time. Plutonium-239, an element commonly used in nuclear fission, is said to have a half-life of 24,000 years. For perspective, it would take the duration of 4 recorded human histories for any plutonium being buried right now to decay past the point of radiation. Notably, Pu-239 is one of the more quickly decaying substances, with materials such as Iodine-129 having a half-life of 15.7 million years.

Aside from the predicament of how long it needs to be managed, the problem also extends to whether or not it will be mismanaged. Between the years of 1946 and 1993, more than a dozen countries used ocean dumping as a measure to get rid of nuclear waste, causing the deaths of millions of sea-based animals in the Arctic alone. If aquatic mismanagement wasn’t enough, Germany has hundreds of cubic kilometers of radioactive waste simply lying around on the surface, as the government has not decided a permanent home for the substance in the more than 40 years the waste has been around. If these administrative blunders weren’t enough, the mismanagement of nuclear technology to create weaponry has devastating effects on any and all life on Earth.

The debate for nuclear energy has been around since its discovery and invention, and opinions on the practice are far-reaching. Hopefully, you can find greater insight on the argument in this post. Furthermore, if you are especially interested in the dispute, you can support the affirmative at nuclearmatters.com, help to refute it by supporting activism at greenpeace.org, or even go the middle route with creating and support better regulation and oversight.

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