Nuclear Energy is one of the most important sources of Energy for Humans accounting for almost 15% of the world’s electricity capacity. Most of the Developed Countries have installed gigawatts of nuclear power during the heydays of 1960-1980s before the Chernobyl and Three Mile Nuclear Reactor Failures. Nuclear Energy has come into renewed focus after the drastic nuclear accident at the Fukushima Dai-ichi Plant of TEPCO in north Japan. The 6 nuclear reactors have to be decommissioned after most of the safety processes failed at the plant following a massive earthquake. However Nuclear Energy will continue to play a big role as the installed base of nuclear power is too huge and the growing demands of developing countries too large.
China and India have massive growth targets for Nuclear Power given its low costs and non-GHG emitting properties. Like Hydroelectricity, Nuclear Electricity is the only large scale base load source of energy which does not contribute to Global Warming. There are many advantages of nuclear power but the massive tail risks of catastrophic radioactive poisoning is too enormous. This has resulted in a global backlash as people across the world (Germany, India) are protesting to stop Nuclear Power. NIMBY concerns are growing by the day as the fallout from radiation can permanently make a large area inhospitable to human/animal life for many years.
Cons of Nuclear Energy
- Nuclear and Radiation Accidents – This is the biggest con for Nuclear Energy and has been repeated 3 times in the last 30 years in Japan,Russia and USA. The fear of a repeat is so great that despite all the safety arrangements touted by the nuclear equipment operators and suppliers, Nuclear Energy faces an uncertain future.
- Nuclear Waste Disposal – Again a massive problem as the spent Nuclear Rods of Nuclear Reactors are prohibitively costly and difficult to dispose of. Spent nuclear fuel is initially very highly radioactive and so must be handled with great care and forethought. There is no foolproof way to dispose nuclear waste fuel after it is used in the Nuclear Reactors. The area around Nuclear Waste Sites can be dangerous to humans for hundreds of year as complex nuclear elements have half lives running into many years. The United States had accumulated more than 50,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel from nuclear reactors. Permanent storage underground in U.S. had been proposed at the Yucca but that project has now been effectively cancelled. Presently, waste is mainly stored at individual reactor sites and there are over 430 locations around the world where radioactive material continues to accumulate.
- Low level of Radioactivity from Normal Operations – The nuclear industry also produces a large volume of low-level radioactive waste in the form of contaminated items like clothing, hand tools, water purifier resins, and (upon decommissioning) the materials of which the reactor itself is built.
- Nuclear proliferation – Many countries have used the ruse of nuclear energy programs to generate fuel for developing nuclear weapons. Currently there is a major international controversy with regards to the Iranian Nuclear Energy Program. Nuclear Reactors are targets for rogue state actors who can steal the fuel for creating radiation weapons.
- High Capital Investment, Cost Overruns and Long Gestation Time – The time to construct a large Nuclear power project can take between 5-10 years which leads to time and cost overruns. The Nuclear Plant being built in Finland has been one of the biggest failures in Project Finance. The reactor has been delayed by many year and has led to a massive cost overrun. Areva the main nuclear equipment supplier has endured huge losses. In fact the safety regulations and the long time of construction has brought the Nuclear Energy in the Developed World to almost a halt.
- Regulations – The Regulations for Nuclear Energy Power Plants are many and cumbersome due to the massive risks of a failure of a nuclear reactor. This greatly increases the costs of generating nuclear power. It also leads to a long time in the actual start to the completion of a Nuclear Plant.
- Fuel Danger – Uranium which is the main fuel used in Nuclear Fission Power Plants is limited to a few countries and suppliers. Its use and transport is regulated by international treaties and groups. India which came under sanctions because of testing of nuclear weapons had to shut many of its nuclear plants because of embargoes.
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