Electricity enhances human productivity, maintains comfort and safety, and contributes to development of economy. Every person benefits of electricity everyday. While the majority of people do not think where the electricity comes from, the key source of electricity is nuclear power plant. Nuclear generated electricity is unique because it addresses different short-comings of other means to generate electricity. Nuclear power plants provide solutions to many problems in areas of economics, environment, sustainability, safety, and even waste disposal. Despite of all arguments, nuclear power plants are the cleanest, cheapest and most efficient source of electricity in the United States.
Worldwide, there are 440 nuclear power reactors operating in more than 30 countries and producing combined 16% of the world’s supply of energy (Holton 742). Nuclear generated energy account for 30% of Japan’s electric capacity. France, on the contrary, has the stable population and energy industry is 80% nuclear. UK, for example, gets around 25 percent of its electricity from nuclear power plants (Elliott 24). Currently, the Unites States operates 103 nuclear power plants and relies on nuclear energy for 20% of electricity. The rising population leads to the greater demand for energy, and subsequent greater number of nuclear power plants. The relative costs of nuclear energy vary, but in general, the up-front costs of nuclear energy are high while the cost of operation is very low.
According to the report drafted by Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the United States should resume the development of nuclear power in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (Holton 742). The study revealed four areas of concern: safety, cost, proliferation, and waste. Nuclear raw materials, like fossil fuel, come from the Earth. In particular, Uranium is mined and the environmental impact of mining is well-researched. However, one of the key advantages of nuclear power is that the great amount of power comes from a small amount of Uranium. It means that a very little amount of Uranium has to be mined to generate electricity. Therefore, the environmental impact of Uranium mining is much less compared to fossil fuel drilling.
In addition, nuclear fuel is solid and there is no environmental threat posed by transportation spillage. Unused nuclear fuel is insignificantly more radioactive compared to the natural. From environmental perspective, the environment remains free of nuclear fuel contamination. Notably, “ten years ago, when the board of directors of the Connecticut Yankee Atomic Power Company decided to close its reactor at Haddam Neck, nuclear power was widely considered, if not a dying industry, then one that was seriously and chronically ill” (Charman 26). Today, the situation is opposite and the increasing body of research indicates that the benefits exceed the drawbacks of nuclear power plants.
Advocates, international bureaucrats, government officials, economists, academics, and journalists agree that nuclear power is able to save the global community from devastating climate change (Charman 26). Nuclear reactors do not emit carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases when the atoms are split to create electricity. At the same time, nuclear power is promoted as one of the most economic electricity sources – the production cost of 1.68 cents per kilowatthour compared to 1.9 cents per kilowatthour for coal and 2.48 cents per kilowatthour for solar energy. Moreover, while oil and gas plants must be located close to pipelines, the nuclear power plants are relatively self-sufficient.
The opponents argue that nuclear power plants in the United States produce a small amount of waste. Although the waste is radioactive, all of the kinds of radiation are at low levels, naturally part of our environment. All processes produce waste and the waste from a power plant can be highly radioactive. However, nuclear fuel can be contained, treated, reduced, and recycled. The chemical hazards maintain their nature for indefinite period of time; the nuclear waste can be even preferable. In addition, the nuclear plants are safe. Leaving aside the accidents at Chernobyl in Ukraine and Three Mile Island in the United States, not a single fatality occurred in the result of the operation of nuclear power plant in the Europe Japan, or the United States.
The types of emissions occurring in nuclear power plants are: (1) neutrons leaving a nucleus of the same charge but one unit less in mass; (2) alpha particles leaving a decay product with nucleus with lower atomic and mass numbers; (3) electrons with no significant change in mass; and (4) gamma radiation which is electromagnetic radiation which can be emitted with each type of radiation (Burton 4). Scientists do not oppose nuclear power plants; however, they think that there are better choices. Today, the spent nuclear fuel is stored in the places it is not meant to be. Even though there is no threat, it could be (Holton 742).
Human activities depend upon the supply of electricity. The supply of fossil fuels is limited and may not last for more than 100 years. Wind and solar energy sources can be the solutions to sustain the world with power; however, the potential for power generation from the very small amount of Uranium is much greater. The breeder reactors, for example are constructed in the way that new fuel is created as the byproduct of the fuel usage. Uranium available in world oceans and the earth crust is enough to last for unlimited number of years.
The nuclear electric power industry has achieved the major improvements in its reliability (Apt et al 51). At the time of Three Mile Island accident, the U.S. nuclear plants were online only 58% of the time, while today they are producing electricity 91% of the time. In addition, the regular evaluations of nuclear electric generators are based on comparing the performance of the plant to the metrics emphasizing reliability and safety. These metrics include unplanned automatic interruptions, online time percentage, safety system performance, industry safety, chemistry and fuel defects, and plant emissions. The performance goals are set for each type of the plant and are strictly controlled by the World Association of Nuclear Operators.
Despite all controversies, the U.S. nuclear power increases its contribution to electricity supply. The problems of nuclear power are well-researched; however, many Americans remain concerned about the questions of safety and the disposal of nuclear waste, nuclear proliferation and economic viability (Lorenzini 31). The real advantage of the nuclear energy is its potency meaning that nuclear energy potential is vast and sustainable as long-term resource. Producing nuclear fuel requires minor exploration, mining, collection, and transportation. Nuclear plant requires only one refueling per year, while the coal plant requires 80 rail cars of coal per day (Lorenzini 31).
The human health advantages of nuclear power over coal are well-researched as well. The studies by the American Medical Association, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Norwegian Ministry of Oil and Energy, the Stanford Research Institute, an the National Academic of Sciences point out that coal is more hazardous, both to human health and the environment, than nuclear power (Lorenzini 31). The opposition to nuclear power is blind and not based on real facts. Moreover, the coal burning is the largest source of environmental contamination from electricity production, while the emissions of nuclear power plants are insignificant.
In addition, nuclear power plants contribute to reduction of the dependence on oil as the source of energy. Nuclear energy displaces the millions of barrels each year and reduces the trade deficits – it leads to the increased gross domestic product. Combined with the fact that nuclear plants produce electricity through the fission, not burning, nuclear power plants do not pollute air and water with dust or greenhouse gases. Nuclear wastes are isolated from the environment, while the burning of the coal remains dangerous for thousands of years.
Undoubtedly, the nuclear power plant operations cannot be free of risk; however, the Chernobyl tragedy had one positive result: the increased awareness and commitment of international community to ensuring safety. In conclusion, the long-term nature of nuclear power, the economic benefits, zero-emissions nature, opportunity to combat global warming and pollution, contribute to increasing number of nuclear power plants in the United States and worldwide. The fear of radiological emissions is caused by the misunderstanding of nuclear power and the operating process. Nuclear power plants are safer, cleaner, and more viable economically compared to other sources of energy.
Apt, Jay, Lave, Lester, and Granger Morgan. “Power Play: A More Reliable U.S. Electric System; U.S. Utilities Have a Lot to Learn about Avoiding Power Outages. They Can Benefit from the Experience of Foreign Utilities, Other U.S. Industries, and Even Their Own Nuclear Power Plants.” Issues in Science and Technology 22.4 (2006): 51.
Burton, Bob. Nuclear Power, Pollution and Politics. London: Routledge, 2003.
Charman, Karen. “Brave Nuclear World? the Planet Is Warming, and Proponents of Nuclear Power Say They’ve Got the Answer. Are Nuclear Plants the Climate Cavalry?” World Watch 19.3 (2006): 26.
Elliott, David. Energy, Society & Environment. New York, Routledge, 2003.
Holton, Conard. “Power Surge: Renewed Interest in Nuclear Energy.” Environmental Health Perspectives 113.11 (2005): 742.
Lorenzini, Paul. “A Second Look at Nuclear Power: By Overlooking Nuclear Power in the Quest for Clean Energy, We Are Condemning Ourselves to a Future of Increased Fossil Fuel Use.” Issues in Science and Technology 21.3 (2005): 31.