What about nuclear power?

Adarsha Shivakumar

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April 5, 2010

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One of the most hotly contested alternatives to fossil fuel based power is nuclear power (primarily fission). The debate over whether nuclear power should be included in a cleaner energy infrastructure has been going on for decades, and is becoming an ever greater topic as the energy needs of our nation grow along with our emissions.

Recently, Obama passed a bill that gave additional funding for nuclear power plants. The bill was highly controversial, and the issues about nuclear power plants once again became prominent. I myself support nuclear power with certain conditions. I believe that it is necessary to not dismiss, and preferably develop nuclear power technology as it can help supplement the clean energy given by various, more conventional renewables such as solar, hydroelectric, geothermal, and wind power.

One of the major problems facing nuclear power plants is cost: it can take upwards of several billion dollars to build or retrofit a reactor that meets all the required safety guidelines. Another problem is the state of current reactors: many are several decades old (in America) and consequently are degrading, which does pose a safety hazard. Yet, both of these problems are fixable.

France is an example country where nuclear power is being successfully used on a large scale. The biggest problem facing nuclear power is the disposal or storage of waste. Spent nuclear fuel remains radioactive for thousands and thousands of years, and must be packaged in special, expensive containers that still leak small amounts of radiation. Storing these containers and the thousands of tons of new waste produced every year has proven to be incredibly difficult. The Yucca Mountain in Nevada, which was going to be the main storage site of spent nuclear fuel in the US, was ruled out due to its proximity to fault lines (among other issues). This inability to safely store spent nuclear fuel for lengthy periods of time is the primary criticism leveled against expanding nuclear power. New breeder reactors are being developed that can turn spent nuclear fuel back into usable fuel that cannot be weaponized. This process kills two birds with one stone by eliminating fuel storage concerns and providing reactors with more fuel. Breeder reactor technology seems to hold great promise for the future of nuclear fission based power, and I believe that more funding for it would help enable its implementation.

There are still BIG hurdles nuclear power faces, such as the admittedly prohibitive costs of building and maintaining reactors, as well as the general condition of the plants. But, considering all sides of the issue, I feel that it is unfair to not even consider nuclear power when it offers so many benefits and its shortcomings can be solved.

The views and opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Alliance for Climate Education

Adarsha Shivakumar

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