Nuclear Energy is currently forcing a major rethink amongst the world governments as the Japanese Nuclear Accident sharply brings into focus the massive radioactive and poisoning risks from accidental damage to a nuclear reactors.Note this is not the first such incident nor is it going to be the last.The advantages of Nuclear Energy is being sharply reexamined by the policymakers vs the huge risks of a nuclear plant meltdown.Most countries have started reviewing their nuclear plants for safety with a number shutting down old nuclear reactors.The drawing plans of new nuclear plants is also on hold as safety regulations are strengthened.Nuclear Energy accounts for around 15% of the world’s production of electricity and for some countries like France there is no alternative in the short term with 80% of the electricity coming from nuclear reactors.China has a huge target for nuclear energy of 80 GW by 2020 but that too is coming under attack with a NDRC official talking about lowering it by substituting it with other renewable energy sources like solar energy.Here are the Nuclear Energy Advantages vs Disadvantages.
- Reliability - Nuclear Power is a highly reliable form of energy almost as good as other fossil fuel energy forms like coal,gas etc.Nuclear Power Plants except in drastic situations continue to run reliably for the whole day without any changes.
- Low Fuel Cost - Large amounts of Nuclear Energy can be produced from the fission on radioactive elements like uranium.The costs of nuclear fuel is relatively very low compared to other energy sources like coal and gas.Also uranium prices currently are quite low making the nuclear electricity price even lower
- Low Electricity Cost – The Electricity produced from Nuclear Power is quite low at around 3-5c/Kwh making it very attractive to construct hydro plants.Nuclear Plants also have long lives of between 40-60 years which means that they are extremely profitable once constructed within reasonable costs
- No Greenhouse Gas Emissions/Air Pollution – Nuclear electricity does not produce any GHG emissions or cause air pollution from the combustion of fossil fuels unlike coal,oil or gas.This makes them very attractive as a source of cheap,non carbon dioxide producing electricity.
- High Load Factor - Nuclear Power Plants have very high load factors in excess of 80%.They can generate power almost 24/7 and only require shutdown for periodic maintanance
- Huge Potential –Nuclear Energy Potential is almost infinite compared to the limited and peak features of other forms of energy like Wind,Geothermal,Oil,Gas and others.Only Solar Energy can be said to have more potential.Note new technologies and fuels like fast breeder and thorium are still in the works which can increase the potential of Nuclear Power more
- 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.