Nuclear Power: Is it a good option for the UK?

The current power stations at Hinkley Point are about to be joined by more.

Nuclear energy; that much debated renewable energy. Is it good? Is it a hazard? What do we honestly know? And most importantly, do we want it? Well, in spite of the new information that has come into the spotlight as of late with the United Kingdom’s plan to build a few new nuclear facilities, I figured it was probably time we open up the floor to fresh debate, or at the very least, all get ourselves back up to speed with nuclear! It’s been a while since we last spoke about it properly, and it’s time to sink our teeth in.
Firstly, as always, it’s probably a good idea to establish ourselves a basic template argument on the good and bad factors surrounding nuclear energy. Here I present to you a very basic list of ‘Pros and Cons’that I have found on the internet.

PROS:

  • Low operating costs.
  • Developed technology; implementable.
  • Large power/generating capacity/can meet demands
  • Existing and future nuclear waste can be reduced through waste recycling and reprocessing.
  • Low greenhouse gas emission.

CONS:

  • Large subsidies needed for construction and operation, as well as loan guarantees.
  • Subsidies and investment could be spent elsewhere. (I discredit this point for it’s applicable to any government expenditure)
  • High-known risks in accidents.
  • Unknown risks. (I discredit this point for unknown risks apply to almost everything)
  • Long construction time.
  • Target for terrorism Waivers are required to limit liability of companies in the event of an accident. (This means that either: no one will be responsible for physical, environmental, or health damages in the case of an accident or leakage over time from waste storage, or that the government will ultimately have to cover any damage costs.)
  • Nuclear is a centralised power source requiring large infrastructure, investment, and coordination where decentralised sources (solar and wind) can be more efficient, less costly, and more resilient.
  • Uranium sources are finite, like coal or natural gas. Uranium is costly to mine, refine, and transport; these processes produces considerable environmental damage.
  • The known spots of minable uranium are under land controlled by indigenous peoples who don’t support it being mined.
  • There have been cases of environmental contamination and health costs for miners and mines.
  • Waste lasts 200 – 500 thousand years.
  • There are no operating long-term waste storage sites in the U.K One is in development, but its capacity is already oversubscribed.
  • There are no operating “next generation” reactors, such as high-temperature breeder reactors and particle-beam activated reactors, that are reported to produce less waste and have reduced safety concerns. If there were, they wouldn’t be deployable commercially for another two decades. (Later, if you read Kirsch’s piece, you will see that he classifies this as a ‘myth’ and shows that technology is ready for use)
  • Shipping nuclear waste internationally poses a potential threat of terrorist interception.
  • High construction costs due to complex radiation containment systems and procedures.

Now please, don’t just go ahead and accept the one with the biggest list. Be cynical of it, don’t let this single ‘Pro/Con’ list convince you that nuclear energy is a terrible idea. Nuclear energy could be tremendously beneficial to everybody in the UK, and even globally, if the technology is utilised and the energy is harnessed properly. For more information, I’d advise reading a particular article by the ‘Huffington Post’ to start you off.

In short, it talks openly about a particular nuclear reactor, the nuclear Integral Fast Reactor (IFR) which the author of the piece (Steve Kirsch) promotes heavily. I’m very keen when researching to appreciate a balanced argument. I try not to get overwhelmed by new information, or take everything I hear from someone who says they’re an ‘expert’ as truth. Though I must admit, Kirsch’s arguments had me on the edge of my seat regardless, and his arguments in favour of nuclear energy are perhaps the best I have read, assuming they are true of course; remember, we’re not all nuclear technicians, we are somewhat reliant on what we get told by ‘experts’ in areas such as this.

On a side note, if you have time, please do watch “Dr. Michio Kaku’s: Visions of the Future” on YouTube (A three-part series) it discusses many interesting possibilities for our future and also covers Nuclear Fusion. Nuclear Fusion is an exciting nuclear power involving fusion rather than fission; It produces large quantities of energy and short lived radioactive waste. It’s an upcoming energy with a prototype in France hoping to be up and running in the next few years. It’s interesting stuff, but, as always, please research these topics yourself, embrace a balanced debate and the possibility of change(s), and reach your own conclusions.
Firstly, I should inform you all that this man Kirsch has established IFR plans for a nuclear powered America with a nuclear ‘expert’; I am certain (and confident he would agree) that his plans could be applied globally with descent results, assuming what we’re being told is truth; I so hope it is. Secondly, the ‘pros and cons list’ I gave earlier is debatably incomplete; I have deliberately not added to it to emphasise the argument in Kirsch’s article which I implore you to read, just because, and to be really cliché for just a second, it really is mouth-gaping, eye-opening stuff.

(I will briefly cover some – not all – of Kirsch’s article before I start my argument)
Kirsch has stated that “there is more than 100 times more radiation from a typical coal plant than a nuclear plant, yet the nuclear plant is perceived by the public to be a radiation hazard.” If this is true, it presents and intriguing insight into the current fossil-fuel infrastructure. Another intriguing point is “Russia, China, India, Japan, and France” are building or planning to build these IFR plants and now, the UK is going nuclear too! Weather these are IFR reactors, I don’t know, and I also haven’t seen anything to tell me otherwise, but I believe that America still refuse to embrace nuclear energy with as open arms as the other countries are, which is a terrible shame.

Kirsch has also stated that “an IFR would be the last place you’d go to get material for building a weapon because you’d have to invent [new] technology… to purify the material to make it suitable for a weapon.” If nuclear facilities convert to IFR’s then the supply of the raw material people require to make nuclear weaponry diminishes. In addition, the current nuclear waste and stored nuclear weaponry could be used in a IFR to extract more energy with the end product being, from what I gather, a less extensive issue. Kirsch suggests that waste would take sixty years to degrade as opposed to 10,000 years; others have speculated it would take longer for the material to degrade, and the debate around nuclear waste, as ever, is one of paramount concern.
Kirsch also postulates that “with [IFR] reprocessing, if a [Person] used nuclear power their entire life, they would produce enough nuclear waste to fill a soda can.” This is where I now find my main concerns, because accounting for all the ‘soda cans’ of a populous, and too, the ‘soda cans’ of large businesses, results in a lot of waste when tallied up; Nuclear energy’s issue will always be the nuclear waste, and nuclear waste manageability, but as we modernise and technology comes with us, I feel confident we’ll be able to solve the problem; we just need to fund this energy.

Human-made Climate change is still in debate, but we know that Nuclear IFRs produce substantial quantities of energy without producing as many greenhouse gases as current non-renewable energies. Thus, even if human-made climate change is not true, isn’t it better to build as if it we are impacting the environment? Otherwise if we ignore it we could dramatically affect the earth with disastrous consequences which could be avoided; it just seems sensible to imply this method of thinking logically, we should implement a safeguard. Those who disbelieve humanity’s impact on the climate tend to use scaremongering tactics in their arguments to discredit nuclear energy: Fears of radiation, Nuclear meltdowns, Nuclear terrorism and the problem of nuclear waste; people should ignore this blatantly biased propaganda and only appreciate the facts. It’s not untrue that there have been issue in the past, but no system is faultless, and again, expertise in the area means we can control nuclear facilities far better than we once could, with the potential for our expertise to keep on evolving.

Nuclear energy produces substantial output for a low input, and thus, we would not need as many facilities to power large industrialised areas. Considering nuclear scares in the past: Chernobyl and (recently) Fukushima, people’s anxiety over nuclear energy is high. However, with fewer future facilities needed: costs decrease, nuclear energy plants can be built in safe-areas (not on the edge of tectonic plates with risks of Earthquakes), and too, with more money pumped into the venture nuclear expert will become plentiful. Furthermore, as nuclear knowledge advances so do

the methods of responding to any thing; nuclear energy, with funding, could be an efficient, relatively clean, world changing, energy.
As aforementioned, nuclear waste is a handicap preventing the nuclear push, even though nuclear energy can be more efficient than coal or oil. As Kirsch has said, from the uranium reserves it has, America could satisfy its energy demands for a good 700 years; fossil fuels are estimated to drain reserves in a few decades (unless more are found). Another issue when promoting a nuclear future is the mining of uranium, because it affects tribal lands. Then again, stored nuclear weapons could be used as a power source for many years without need to mine elsewhere. Even if we did eventually need to mine for uranium, if speculation about human induced climate change is true, It seems only right that a treaty/agreement would be discussed with these tribal leader, though I do dislike the idea of desecrating lands.

However, considering the window for technological advance, that suggested 700 year of achieving nuclear energy without mining elsewhere, other renewable energies may advance prior to the need to harvesting any more uranium. However, nuclear energy, currently, is far more dependable than other renewable energies which are reliant on specific conditions to work effectively. Nonetheless, I predict one day, with financial backing, other renewable technologies could surpass nuclear energy, and satisfy energy demands with practically no waste product. Nuclear energy should be viewed more as a measure to pull us out of the archaic oil/coal-energy paradigm, we do not want to fall in the habit of relying on this nuclear energy too, for it isn’t perfect, but it is better. Energy is a must for our lifestyle, but our way of getting it should be in constant, progressive motion. We should always be seeking the efficient energies that also give off limited to no harmful side effects in the entire process of energy extraction; that is how the energy industry should work.

Finally, addressing the argument that terrorists will manufacture nuclear weapons. If nuclear facilities convert to Kirsch’s IFR plants, terrorists have fewer motives to attack nuclear plants as the material (apparently) can’t be used to craft WMDs. Equally, the idea of terrorists having the equipment and the knowledge to handle, and craft nuclear weapons I think is a conjecture for debate. It should also be said that crime exists, and the conflicts in humanity are inescapable; terrorism will remain regardless of how far we advance collectively (Good and bad coexist). Yet, if human climate change is real, and too, reduced by a global switch to nuclear plants replacing oil or coal plants, then the international community can focus on solving other global issues, like poverty and famine. Terrorists preys on recruiting people who are destitute, and whilst you should research this yourself as always, there is a very informative TedTalks video which is good starting point, and again, the online version of this article will have the correct Web-link to it. But, if the problems nuclear energy solves then enables people to re-direct global attention toward other problems, like poverty or famine, it could result in reduced terrorism, and thus, it makes the idea of nuclear energy proliferation even more viable and wonderful.

I’m very much for nuclear power. The nuclear IFR, to me, seems ingenious. It isn’t faultless because there are still unresolved issues surrounding it, but no method of energy collection is perfect. The problems identified with nuclear power can be addressed, they should be refined and corrected with the help of proper funding given out by governments; Of the people, by the people, for the people eh? Well, for the world too!

Frankly, If you asked me if I’d go nuclear, I’d say yes. If you asked me: is the U.K going nuclear a good Idea? I’d certainly be saying yes! Should the world unify in concerns about energy and the planet? Yes. Is nuclear a promising step in the right direct? Well reader, I think it is, I really think it is!