This article is about the primary issues upon which people differ in their assessments as to the value, role and relative safety of nuclear power. For nuclear energy policies by nation, see Nuclear energy policy. For public protests about nuclear power, see Anti-nuclear movement. For public support for nuclear energy, see Pro-nuclear movement.
The nuclear power debate is a long-running controversy about the risks and benefits of using nuclear reactors to generate electricity for civilian purposes. The debate about nuclear power peaked during the 1970s and 1980s, as more and more reactors were built and came online, and "reached an intensity unprecedented in the history of technology controversies" in some countries. Thereafter, the nuclear industry created jobs, focused on safety and public concerns mostly waned. In the last decade, however, with growing public awareness about climate change and the critical role that carbon dioxide and methane emissions plays in causing the heating of the earth's atmosphere, there's been a resurgence in the intensity nuclear power debate once again. Nuclear power advocates and those who are most concerned about climate change point to nuclear power's reliable, emission-free, high-density energy and a generation of young physicists and engineers working to bring a new generation of nuclear technology into existence to replace fossil fuels. On the other hand, skeptics can point to two frightening nuclear accidents, the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 and subsequently the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, combined with escalating acts of global terrorism, to argue against continuing use of the technology. The debate continues today between those who fear the power of nuclear and those who fear what will happen to the earth if we don't use nuclear power. At the 1963 ground-breaking for what would become the world's largest nuclear power plant, President John F. Kennedy declared that nuclear power was a "step on the long road to peace," and that by using "science and technology to achieve significant breakthroughs" that we could "conserve the resources" to leave the world in better shape. Yet he also acknowledged that the Atomic Age was a "dreadful age" and "when we broke the atom apart, we changed the history of the world."
Proponents of nuclear energy argue that nuclear power is a clean and sustainable energy source which provides huge amounts of uninterrupted energy without polluting the air or emitting the carbon emissions that cause Global warming. Use of nuclear power provides plentiful, well-paying jobs, energy security, reduces a dependence on imported fuels and exposure to price risks associated with resource speculation and Middle East politics. Proponents advance the notion that nuclear power produces virtually no air pollution, in contrast to the massive amount of pollution and carbon emission generated from burning Fossil fuel like coal, oil and natural gas. Modern society demands always-on energy to power communications, computer networks, transportation, industry and residences at all times of day and night. In the absence of nuclear power, utilities need to burn fossil fuels to keep the energy grid reliable, even with access to solar and wind energy, because those sources are intermittent. Proponents also believe that nuclear power is the only viable course for a country to achieve energy independence while also meeting their "ambitious" NDC's (nationally determined contributions) to reduce carbon emissions in accordance with the Paris Agreement signed by 195 nations. They emphasize that the risks of storing waste are small and existing stockpiles can be reduced by using this waste to produce fuels for the latest technology in newer reactors. Finally, even though alarmist media reports of nuclear accidents raised fear levels a lot, in fact the Chernobyl disaster caused 56 direct deaths and Fukushima reactors caused no actual deaths as a result of the nuclear meltdown. The operational safety record of nuclear is excellent when compared to the other major kinds of power plants and by preventing pollution, actually saves lives every year.
Opponents say that nuclear power poses numerous threats to people and the environment and point to studies in the literature that question if it will ever be a sustainable energy source. These threats include health risks, accidents and environmental damage from uranium mining, processing and transport. Along with the fears associated with nuclear weapons proliferation, nuclear power opponents fear sabotage by terrorists of nuclear plants, diversion and misuse of radioactive fuels or fuel waste, as well as naturally-occurring leakage from the unsolved and imperfect long-term storage process of radioactive nuclear waste. They also contend that reactors themselves are enormously complex machines where many things can and do go wrong, and there have been many serious nuclear accidents. Critics do not believe that these risks can be reduced through new technology. They further argue that when all the energy-intensive stages of the nuclear fuel chain are considered, from uranium mining to nuclear decommissioning, nuclear power is not a low-carbon electricity source.
Three of the world’s four largest economies now generate more electricity from non-hydro renewable energy than from nuclear sources. New power generation using solar power was 33% of the global total added in 2015, wind power over 17%, and 1.3% for nuclear power, mostly due to development in China.
Two opposing camps
Two opposing camps have evolved in society with respect to nuclear power, one supporting and promoting nuclear power and another opposing it. At the heart of this divide sit different views of risk and individual beliefs regarding public involvement in making decisions about large-scale high technology. Questions which emerge include: is nuclear power safe for humans and the environment? Could another Chernobyl disaster or Fukushima disaster happen? Can we dispose of nuclear waste in a safe manner? Can nuclear power help to reduce climate change and air pollution in a timely way?
In the 2010 book Why vs. Why: Nuclear PowerBarry Brook and Ian Lowe discuss and articulate the debate about nuclear power. Brook makes the following seven arguments in favor of nuclear energy:
- Renewable energy and energy efficiency may not solve the energy and climate crises
- Nuclear fuel is virtually unlimited and has extremely high specific energy
- New technology may be able to safely dispose of nuclear waste
- Nuclear power is claimed to be the safest energy option
- Advanced nuclear power may strengthen global security
- Nuclear power's true costs are claimed to be lower than either fossil fuels or renewables
- Nuclear power may lead the "clean energy" revolution
Lowe, in turn, makes the following arguments against nuclear power:
- It may not be a fast enough response to climate change
- It is claimed to be too expensive
- The need for baseload electricity may be exaggerated
- The problem of waste may still remain unresolved
- It may increase the risk of nuclear war
- There are claimed to be major safety concerns
- There are claimed to be better alternatives
The Economist says that nuclear power "looks dangerous, unpopular, expensive and risky", and that "it is replaceable with relative ease and could be forgone with no huge structural shifts in the way the world works". When asking what the world would be like without it The Economist notes that "(w)ithout nuclear power and with other fuels filling in its share pro rata, emissions from generation would have been about 11 billion tonnes. The difference is roughly equal to the total annual emissions of Germany and Japan combined." An article in Scientific American said nuclear plants should be built if both the cost and the risk are low.
Electricity and energy supplied
The World Nuclear Association has reported that nuclear electricity generation in 2012 was at its lowest level since 1999. The WNA has said that “nuclear power generation suffered its biggest ever one-year fall through 2012 as the bulk of the Japanese fleet remained offline for a full calendar year”.
Data from the International Atomic Energy Agency showed that nuclear power plants globally produced 2346 TWh of electricity in 2012 – 7% less than in 2011. The figures illustrate the effects of a full year of 48 Japanese power reactors producing no power during the year. The permanent closure of eight reactor units in Germany was also a factor. Problems at Crystal River, Fort Calhoun and the two San Onofre units in the USA meant they produced no power for the full year, while in Belgium Doel 3 and Tihange 2 were out of action for six months. Compared to 2010, the nuclear industry produced 11% less electricity in 2012.
Brazil, China, Germany, India, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, Spain and the U.K. now all generate more electricity from non-hydro renewable energy than from nuclear sources. In 2015, new power generation using solar power was 33% of the global total, wind power over 17%, and 1.3% for nuclear power, exclusively due to development in China.
Many studies have documented how nuclear power plants generate 16% of global electricity, but provide only 6.3% of energy production and 2.6% of final energy consumption. This mismatch stems mainly from the poor consumption efficiency of electricity compared to other energy carriers, and the transmission losses associated with nuclear plants which are usually situated far away from sources of demand.
See also: Energy security and Uranium mining
For some countries, nuclear power affords energy independence. Nuclear power has been relatively unaffected by embargoes, and uranium is mined in countries willing to export, including Australia and Canada. However, countries now responsible for more than 30% of the world’s uranium production: Kazakhstan, Namibia, Niger, and Uzbekistan, are politically unstable.
One assessment from the IAEA showed that enough high-grade ore exists to supply the needs of the current reactor fleet for 40–50 years. According to Sovacool (2011), reserves from existing uranium mines are being rapidly depleted, and expected shortfalls in available fuel threaten future plants and contribute to volatility of uranium prices at existing plants. Escalation of uranium fuel costs decreased the viability of nuclear projects. Uranium prices rose from 2001 to 2007, before declining.
The International Atomic Energy Agency and the Nuclear Energy Agency of the OCED, in their latest review of world uranium resources and demand, Uranium 2014: Resources, Production, and Demand, concluded that uranium resources would support "significant growth in nuclear capacity," and that: "Identified resources are sufficient for over 120 years, considering 2012 uranium requirements of 61 600 tU."
According to a Stanford study, fast breeder reactors have the potential to provide power for humans on earth for billions of years, making this source sustainable. But "because of the link between plutonium and nuclear weapons, the potential application of fast breeders has led to concerns that nuclear power expansion would bring in an era of uncontrolled weapons proliferation".
See also: Intermittent power sources, Energy security and renewable technology, and 100% renewable energy
In 2010, the worldwide average capacity factor was 80.1%. In 2005, the global average capacity factor was 86.8%, the number of SCRAMs per 7,000 hours critical was 0.6, and the unplanned capacity loss factor was 1.6%. Capacity factor is the net power produced divided by the maximum amount possible running at 100% all the time, thus this includes all scheduled maintenance/refueling outages as well as unplanned losses. The 7,000 hours is roughly representative of how long any given reactor will remain critical in a year, meaning that the scram rates translates into a sudden and unplanned shutdown about 0.6 times per year for any given reactor in the world. The unplanned capacity loss factor represents amount of power not produced due to unplanned scrams and postponed restarts.
The World Nuclear Association argues that: "Obviously sun, wind, tides and waves cannot be controlled to provide directly either continuous base-load power, or peak-load power when it is needed,..." "In practical terms non-hydro renewables are therefore able to supply up to some 15–20% of the capacity of an electricity grid, though they cannot directly be applied as economic substitutes for most coal or nuclear power, however significant they become in particular areas with favourable conditions." "If the fundamental opportunity of these renewables is their abundance and relatively widespread occurrence, the fundamental challenge, especially for electricity supply, is applying them to meet demand given their variable and diffuse nature. This means either that there must be reliable duplicate sources of electricity beyond the normal system reserve, or some means of electricity storage." "Relatively few places have scope for pumped storage dams close to where the power is needed, and overall efficiency is less than 80%. Means of storing large amounts of electricity as such in giant batteries or by other means have not been developed."
According to Benjamin K. Sovacool, most studies critiquing solar and wind energy look only at individual generators and not at the system wide effects of solar and wind farms. Correlations between power swings drop substantially as more solar and wind farms are integrated (a process known as geographical smoothing) and a wider geographic area also enables a larger pool of energy efficiency efforts to abate intermittency.
Sovacool says that variable renewable energy sources such as wind power and solar energy can displace nuclear resources. "Nine recent studies have concluded that the variability and intermittency of wind and solar resources becomes easier to manage the more they are deployed and interconnected, not the other way around, as some utilities suggest. This is because wind and solar plants help grid operators handle major outages and contingencies elsewhere in the system, since they generate power in smaller increments that are less damaging than unexpected outages from large plants".
According to a 2011 projection by the International Energy Agency, solar power generators may produce most of the world’s electricity within 50 years, with wind power, hydroelectricity and biomass plants supplying much of the remaining generation. "Photovoltaic and concentrated solar power together can become the major source of electricity". Renewable technologies can enhance energy security in electricity generation, heat supply, and transportation.
As of 2013, the World Nuclear Association has said "There is unprecedented interest in renewable energy, particularly solar and wind energy, which provide electricity without giving rise to any carbon dioxide emission. Harnessing these for electricity depends on the cost and efficiency of the technology, which is constantly improving, thus reducing costs per peak kilowatt".
Renewable electricity supply in the 20-50+% range has already been implemented in several European systems, albeit in the context of an integrated European grid system. In 2012 the share of electricity generated by renewable sources in Germany was 21.9%, compared to 16.0% for nuclear power after Germany shut down 7–8 of its 18 nuclear reactors in 2011. In the United Kingdom, the amount of energy produced from renewable energy is expected to exceed that from nuclear power by 2018, and Scotland plans to obtain all electricity from renewable energy by 2020. The majority of installed renewable energy across the world is in the form of hydro power, which has limited opportunity for expansion.
The IPCC has said that if governments were supportive, and the full complement of renewable energy technologies were deployed, renewable energy supply could account for almost 80% of the world's energy use within forty years.Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the IPCC, said the necessary investment in renewables would cost only about 1% of global GDP annually. This approach could contain greenhouse gas levels to less than 450 parts per million, the safe level beyond which climate change becomes catastrophic and irreversible.
The cost of nuclear power has followed an increasing trend whereas the cost of electricity is declining in wind power. As of 2014, the wind industry in the USA is able to produce more power at lower cost by using taller wind turbines with longer blades, capturing the faster winds at higher elevations. This has opened up new opportunities and in Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio, the price of power from wind turbines built 300 feet to 400 feet above the ground can now compete with conventional fossil fuels like coal. Prices have fallen to about 4 cents per kilowatt-hour in some cases and utilities have been increasing the amount of wind energy in their portfolio, saying it is their cheapest option.
From a safety stand point, nuclear power, in terms of lives lost per unit of electricity delivered, is comparable to and in some cases, lower than many renewable energy sources. There is however no radioactive spent fuel that needs to be stored or reprocessed with conventional renewable energy sources. A nuclear plant needs to be disassembled and removed. Much of the disassembled nuclear plant needs to be stored as low level nuclear waste.
Since nuclear power plants are fundamentally heat engines, waste heat disposal becomes an issue at high ambient temperature. Droughts and extended periods of high temperature can "cripple nuclear power generation, and it is often during these times when electricity demand is highest because of air-conditioning and refrigeration loads and diminished hydroelectric capacity". In such very hot weather a power reactor may have to operate at a reduced power level or even shut down. In 2009 in Germany, eight nuclear reactors had to be shut down simultaneously on hot summer days for reasons relating to the overheating of equipment or of rivers. Overheated discharge water has resulted in significant fish kills in the past, harming livelihood and raising public concern.
New nuclear plants
Main articles: Economics of new nuclear power plants and Nuclear power in the European Union
The economics of new nuclear power plants is a controversial subject, since there are diverging views on this topic, and multibillion-dollar investments ride on the choice of an energy source. Nuclear power plants typically have high capital costs for building the plant, but low direct fuel costs (with much of the costs of fuel extraction, processing, use and long term storage externalized). Therefore, comparison with other power generation methods is strongly dependent on assumptions about construction timescales and capital financing for nuclear plants. Cost estimates also need to take into account plant decommissioning and nuclear waste storage costs. On the other hand, measures to mitigateglobal warming, such as a carbon tax or carbon emissions trading, may favor the economics of nuclear power.
In recent years there has been a slowdown of electricity demand growth and financing has become more difficult, which impairs large projects such as nuclear reactors, with very large upfront costs and long project cycles which carry a large variety of risks. In Eastern Europe, a number of long-established projects are struggling to find finance, notably Belene in Bulgaria and the additional reactors at Cernavoda in Romania, and some potential backers have pulled out. The reliable availability of cheap gas poses a major economic disincentive for nuclear projects.
Analysis of the economics of nuclear power must take into account who bears the risks of future uncertainties. To date all operating nuclear power plants were developed by state-owned or regulatedutility monopolies where many of the risks associated with construction costs, operating performance, fuel price, and other factors were borne by consumers rather than suppliers. Many countries have now liberalized the electricity market where these risks, and the risk of cheaper competitors emerging before capital costs are recovered, are borne by plant suppliers and operators rather than consumers, which leads to a significantly different evaluation of the economics of new nuclear power plants.
Following the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, costs are likely to go up for currently operating and new nuclear power plants, due to increased requirements for on-site spent fuel management and elevated design basis threats.
Cost of decommissioning nuclear plants
Main article: nuclear decommissioning
The price of energy inputs and the environmental costs of every nuclear power plant continue long after the facility has finished generating its last useful electricity. Both nuclear reactors and uranium enrichment facilities must be decommissioned, returning the facility and its parts to a safe enough level to be entrusted for other uses. After a cooling-off period that may last as long as a century, reactors must be dismantled and cut into small pieces to be packed in containers for final disposal. The process is very expensive, time-consuming, dangerous for workers, hazardous to the natural environment, and presents new opportunities for human error, accidents or sabotage.[third-party source needed]
The total energy required for decommissioning can be as much as 50% more than the energy needed for the original construction. In most cases, the decommissioning process costs between US $300 million to US$5.6 billion. Decommissioning at nuclear sites which have experienced a serious accident are the most expensive and time-consuming. In the U.S. there are 13 reactors that have permanently shut down and are in some phase of decommissioning, and none of them have completed the process.
Current UK plants are expected to exceed £73bn in decommissioning costs."Nuclear decommissioning costs exceed £73bn".
Critics of nuclear power claim that it is the beneficiary of inappropriately large economic subsidies, taking the form of research and development, financing support for building new reactors and decommissioning old reactors and waste, and that these subsidies are often overlooked when comparing the economics of nuclear against other forms of power generation. Nuclear power proponents argue that competing energy sources also receive subsidies. Fossil fuels receive large direct and indirect subsidies, such as tax benefits and not having to pay for the greenhouse gases they emit. Renewables receive proportionately large direct production subsidies and tax breaks in many nations, although in absolute terms they are often less than subsidies received by other sources.
In Europe, the FP7 research program has more subsidies for nuclear than for renewable and energy efficiency together; over 70% of this is directed at the ITER fusion project. In the US, public research money for nuclear fission declined from 2,179 to 35 million dollars between 1980 and 2000.
A 2010 report by Global Subsidies Initiative compared relative subsidies of most common energy sources. It found that nuclear energy receives 1.7 US cents per kWh of energy it produces, compared to fossil fuels receiving 0.8 US cents per kWh, renewable energy receiving 5.0 US cents per kWh and biofuels receiving 5.1 US cents per kWh.
Indirect nuclear insurance subsidy
Kristin Shrader-Frechette has said "if reactors were safe, nuclear industries would not demand government-guaranteed, accident-liability protection, as a condition for their generating electricity".[third-party source needed] No private insurance company or even consortium of insurance companies "would shoulder the fearsome liabilities arising from severe nuclear accidents".[third-party source needed]
The potential costs resulting from a nuclear accident (including one caused by a terrorist attack or a natural disaster) are great. The liability of owners of nuclear power plants in the U.S. is currently limited under the Price-Anderson Act (PAA). The Price-Anderson Act, introduced in 1957, was "an implicit admission that nuclear power provided risks that producers were unwilling to assume without federal backing". The Price-Anderson Act "shields nuclear utilities, vendors and suppliers against liability claims in the event of a catastrophic accident by imposing an upper limit on private sector liability". Without such protection, private companies were unwilling to be involved. No other technology in the history of American industry has enjoyed such continuing blanket protection.[third-party source needed]
The PAA was due to expire in 2002, and the former U.S. vice-president Dick Cheney said in 2001 that "nobody's going to invest in nuclear power plants" if the PAA is not renewed. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (USNRC) concluded that the liability limits placed on nuclear insurance were significant enough to constitute a subsidy, but a quantification of the amount was not attempted at that time. Shortly after this in 1990, Dubin and Rothwell were the first to estimate the value to the U.S. nuclear industry of the limitation on liability for nuclear power plants under the Price Anderson Act. Their underlying method was to extrapolate the premiums operators currently pay versus the full liability they would have to pay for full insurance in the absence of the PAA limits. The size of the estimated subsidy per reactor per year was $60 million prior to the 1982 amendments, and up to $22 million following the 1988 amendments. In a separate article in 2003, Anthony Heyes updates the 1988 estimate of $22 million per year to $33 million (2001 dollars).
In case of a nuclear accident, should claims exceed this primary liability, the PAA requires all licensees to additionally provide a maximum of $95.8 million into the accident pool – totaling roughly $10 billion if all reactors were required to pay the maximum. This is still not sufficient in the case of a serious accident, as the cost of damages could exceed $10 billion. According to the PAA, should the costs of accident damages exceed the $10 billion pool, the process for covering the remainder of the costs would be defined by Congress. In 1982, a Sandia National Laboratories study concluded that depending on the reactor size and 'unfavorable conditions' a serious nuclear accident could lead to property damages as high as $314 billion while fatalities could reach 50,000.
Main article: Environmental effects of nuclear power
See also: Uranium mining debate and Lists of nuclear disasters and radioactive incidents
The primary environmental effects of nuclear power come from uranium mining, radioactive effluent emissions, and waste heat. Nuclear generation does not directly produce sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, mercury or other pollutants associated with the combustion of fossil fuels.
Nuclear plants require slightly more cooling water than fossil-fuel power plants due to their slightly lower generation efficiencies. Uranium mining can use large amounts of water — for example, the Roxby Downs mine in South Australia uses 35 million litres of water each day and plans to increase this to 150 million litres per day.
Effect on greenhouse gas emissions
Main article: Life-cycle greenhouse-gas emissions of energy sources
While nuclear power does not directly emit greenhouse gases, emissions occur, as with every source of energy, over a facility's life cycle: mining and fabrication of construction materials, plant construction, operation, uranium mining and milling, and plant decommissioning. A literature survey by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change of 32 greenhouse gas emissions studies, found a median value of 16 g equivalent lifecycle carbon dioxide emissions per kWh for nuclear power.
Climate and energy scientists James Hansen, Ken Caldeira, Kerry Emanuel and Tom Wigley have released an open letter stating, in part, that
Renewables like wind and solar and biomass will certainly play roles in a future energy economy, but those energy sources cannot scale up fast enough to deliver cheap and reliable power at the scale the global economy requires. While it may be theoretically possible to stabilize the climate without nuclear power, in the real world there is no credible path to climate stabilization that does not include a substantial role for nuclear power.
In a published rebuttal to Hansen's analyses, eight energy and climate scholars say that "nuclear power reactors are less effective at displacing greenhouse gas emissions than energy efficiency initiatives and renewable energy technologies". They go on to argue "that (a) its near-term potential is significantly limited compared to energy efficiency and renewable energy; (b) it displaces emissions and saves lives only at high cost and at the enhanced risk of nuclear weapons proliferation; (c) it is unsuitable for expanding access to modern energy services in developing countries; and (d) Hansen's estimates of cancer risks from exposure to radiation are flawed".[third-party source needed] James Hansen and a colleague subsequently wrote a rebuttal.
Mark Diesendorf and B.K. Sovacool review the "little-known research which shows that the life-cycle CO2 emissions of nuclear power may become comparable with those of fossil power as the 5.4 million tonnes of high-grade uranium ore is used up over the next several decades and low-grade uranium is mined and milled using fossil fuels".
As the nuclear power debate continues, greenhouse gas emissions are not decreasing, they are increasing. Predictions estimate that even with draconian emission reductions within the ten years, the world will still pass 650ppm of carbon dioxide and a catastrophic 4C average rise in temperature. Public perception is that renewable energies such as wind, solar, biomass and geothermal are significantly affecting global warming. All of these sources combined only supplied 1.3% of global energy in 2013 as 8 billion tonnes of coal was burned annually. This too little, too late may be a mass form of climate change denial, or an idealistic pursuit of green energy.
Another argument is based on a rebound effect - specific to nuclear power energy - on growth and greenhouse gas : it's not the direct effect that would matter but the effect on consumption due to changes in prices and incomes. More research in this field is needed.
High-level radioactive waste
Main article: High-level radioactive waste management
The world's nuclear fleet creates about 10,000 metric tons of high-level spent nuclear fuel each year. High-level radioactive waste management concerns management and disposal of highly radioactive materials created during production of nuclear power. The technical issues in accomplishing this are daunting, due to the extremely long periods radioactive wastes remain deadly to living organisms. Of particular concern are two long-lived fission products, technetium-99 (half-life 220,000 years) and iodine-129 (half-life 15.7 million years), which dominate spent nuclear fuel radioactivity after a few thousand years. The most troublesome transuranic elements in spent fuel are neptunium-237 (half-life two million years) and plutonium-239 (half-life 24,000 years). Consequently, high-level radioactive waste requires sophisticated treatment and management to successfully isolate it from the biosphere. This usually necessitates treatment, followed by a long-term management strategy involving permanent storage, disposal or transformation of the waste into a non-toxic form.
Governments around the world are considering a range of waste management and disposal options, usually involving deep-geologic placement, although there has been limited progress toward implementing long-term waste management solutions. This is partly because the timeframes in question when dealing with radioactive waste range from 10,000 to millions of years, according to studies based on the effect of estimated radiation doses.
Since the fraction of a radioisotope's atoms decaying per unit of time is inversely proportional to its half-life, the relative radioactivity of a quantity of buried human radioactive waste would diminish over time compared to natural radioisotopes (such as the decay chain of 120 trillion tons of thorium and 40 trillion tons of uranium which are at relatively trace concentrations of parts per million each over the crust's 3×1019 ton mass). For instance, over a timeframe of thousands of years, after the most active short half-life radioisotopes decayed, burying U.S. nuclear waste would increase the radioactivity in the top 2000 feet of rock and soil in the United States (10 million km2) by ≈ 1 part in 10 million over the cumulative amount of natural radioisotopes in such a volume, although the vicinity of the site would have a far higher concentration of artificial radioisotopes underground than such an average.
Nuclear waste disposal is one of the most controversial facets of the nuclear power debate. Presently, waste is mainly stored at individual reactor sites and there are over 430 locations around the world where radioactive material continues to accumulate. Experts agree that centralized underground repositories which are well-managed, guarded, and monitored, would be a vast improvement. There is an international consensus on the advisability of storing nuclear waste in deep underground repositories, but no country in the world has yet opened such a site. There are dedicated waste storage sites at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico and two in German salt mines, the Morsleben Repository and the Schacht Asse II.
In March 2013, climate scientists Pushker Kharecha and James Hansen published a paper in Environmental Science & Technology, entitled Prevented mortality and greenhouse gas emissions from historical and projected nuclear power. It estimated an average of 1.8 million lives saved worldwide by the use of nuclear power instead of fossil fuels between 1971 and 2009. The paper examined mortality levels per unit of electrical energy produced from fossil fuels (coal and natural gas) as well as nuclear power. Kharecha and Hansen assert that their results are probably conservative, as they analyze only deaths and do not include a range of serious but non-fatal respiratory illnesses, cancers, hereditary effects and heart problems, nor do they include the fact that fossil fuel combustion in developing countries tends to have a higher carbon and air pollution footprint than in developed countries. The authors also conclude that the emission of some 64 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent have been avoided by nuclear power between 1971 and 2009, and that between 2010 and 2050, nuclear could additionally avoid up to 80 to 240 billion tonnes.
Accidents and safety
See also: Nuclear safety, Nuclear and radiation accidents, and Lists of nuclear disasters and radioactive incidents
Benjamin K. Sovacool has reported that worldwide there have been 99 accidents at nuclear power plants. Fifty-seven accidents have occurred since the Chernobyl disaster, and 57% (56 out of 99) of all nuclear-related accidents have occurred in the USA. Serious nuclear power plant accidents include the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster (2011), Chernobyl disaster (1986), Three Mile Island accident (1979), and the SL-1 accident (1961).Nuclear-powered submarine mishaps include the K-19 reactor accident (1961), the K-27 reactor accident (1968), and the K-431 reactor accident (1985).
The effect of nuclear accidents has been a topic of debate practically since the first nuclear reactors were constructed. It has also been a key factor in public concern about nuclear facilities. Some technical measures to reduce the risk of accidents or to minimize the amount of radioactivity released to the environment have been adopted. Despite the use of such measures, "there have been many accidents with varying effects as well near misses and incidents".
Nuclear power plants are a complex energy system and opponents of nuclear power have criticized the sophistication and complexity of the technology. Helen Caldicott has said: "... in essence, a nuclear reactor is just a very sophisticated and dangerous way to boil water – analogous to cutting a pound of butter with a chain saw." The 1979 Three Mile Island accident inspired Charles Perrow's book Normal Accidents, where a nuclear accident occurs, resulting from an unanticipated interaction of multiple failures in a complex system. TMI was an example of a normal accident because it was "unexpected, incomprehensible, uncontrollable and unavoidable".
Perrow concluded that the failure at Three Mile Island was a consequence of the system's immense complexity. Such modern high-risk systems, he realized, were prone to failures however well they were managed. It was inevitable that they would eventually suffer what he termed a 'normal accident'. Therefore, he suggested, we might do better to contemplate a radical redesign, or if that was not possible, to abandon such technology entirely.
Catastrophic scenarios involving terrorist attacks are also conceivable. An interdisciplinary team from MIT have estimated that given a three-fold increase in nuclear power from 2005 to 2055, and an unchanged accident frequency, four core damage accidents would be expected in that period 
Proponents of nuclear power argue that in comparison to any other form of power, nuclear power is the safest form of energy, accounting for all the risks from mining to production to storage, including the risks of spectacular nuclear accidents. Accidents in the nuclear industry have been less damaging than accidents in the hydro industry, and less damaging than the constant, incessant damage from air pollutants from fossil fuels. For instance, by running a 1000-MWe nuclear power plant including uranium mining, reactor operation and waste disposal, the radiation dose is 136 person-rem/year, the dose is 490 person-rem/year for an equivalent coal-fired power plant. The World Nuclear Association provides a comparison of deaths from accidents in course of different forms of energy production. In their comparison, deaths per TW-yr of electricity produced from 1970 to 1992 are quoted as 885 for hydropower, 342 for coal, 85 for natural gas, and 8 for nuclear. Nuclear power plant accidents rank first in terms of their economic cost, accounting for 41 percent of all property damage attributed to energy accidents.
Chernobyl steam explosion
Main article: Chernobyl explosion
The Chernobyl steam explosion was a nuclear accident that occurred on 26 April 1986 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine. A steam explosion and graphite fire released large quantities of radioactive contamination into the atmosphere, which spread over much of Western USSR and Europe. It is considered the worst nuclear power plant accident in history, and is one of only two classified as a level 7 event on the International Nuclear Event Scale (the other being the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster). The battle to contain the contamination and avert a greater catastrophe ultimately involved over 500,000 workers and cost an estimated 18 billion rubles, crippling the Soviet economy. The accident raised concerns about the safety of the nuclear power industry, slowing its expansion for a number of years.
UNSCEAR has conducted 20 years of detailed scientific and epidemiological research on the effects of the Chernobyl accident. Apart from the 57 direct deaths in the accident itself, UNSCEAR predicted in 2005 that up to 4,000 additional cancer deaths related to the accident would appear "among the 600 000 persons receiving more significant exposures (liquidators working in 1986–87, evacuees, and residents of the most contaminated areas)". Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus have been burdened with the continuing and substantial decontamination and health care costs of the Chernobyl disaster.[third-party source needed]
Main article: Fukushima nuclear disaster
Following an earthquake, tsunami, and failure of cooling systems at Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant and issues concerning other nuclear facilities in Japan on March 11, 2011, a nuclear emergency was declared. This was the first time a nuclear emergency had been declared in Japan, and 140,000 residents within 20 km (12 mi) of the plant were evacuated. Explosions and a fire resulted in dangerous levels of radiation, sparking a stock market collapse and panic-buying in supermarkets. The UK, France and some other countries advised their nationals to consider leaving Tokyo, in response to fears of spreading nuclear contamination. The accidents drew attention to ongoing concerns over Japanese nuclear seismic design standards and caused other governments to re-evaluate their nuclear programs. John Price, a former member of the Safety Policy Unit at the UK's National Nuclear Corporation, said that it "might be 100 years before melting fuel rods can be safely removed from Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant".[third-party source needed]
Three Mile Island accident
Main article: Three Mile Island accident
The Three Mile Island accident was a coremeltdown in Unit 2 (a pressurized water reactor manufactured by Babcock & Wilcox) of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania near Harrisburg, United States in 1979. It was the most significant accident in the history of the USA commercial nuclear power generating industry, resulting in the release of approximately 2.5 million curies of radioactivenoble gases, and approximately 15 curies of iodine-131. Cleanup started in August 1979 and officially ended in December 1993, with a total cleanup cost of about $1 billion.
Essay on Power of Nuclear Energy
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The use of nuclear energy is a big topic for debate. Many countries have fully embraced it while others, such as the U. S., haven’t. Nuclear energy is feared for its danger and scorned because of its wastes. On the other hand, nuclear energy does have some pros like cheaper cost of energy and environmentally safe. Reactor breeders show great promise in nuclear waste, but are it enough to convince the nation?
Nuclear knowledge has existed for a long time. Nuclear Engineering U.S. Department of Energy relates, ―By 1900, the physicists knew the atom contains large quantities of energy‖ (par 11). Many others formed good theories, such as Ernest Rutherford and Einstein’s contribution with his equation E=mc^2. In 1934…show more content…
Nuclear Engineering U.S. Department of Energy explains that, ― It [self-sustaining chain] would happen if enough uranium could be brought together under proper conditions‖ (par 19).
The result of all this talk was that in 1942 Fermi gathered scientists at the University of Chicago to discuss their theories and possibly create a self-sustaining chain reaction. By November of that year they had constructed plans and were prepared to build this new model known as Chicago Pile-1. Nuclear Engineering U.S. Department of Energy describes the model as, ―In addition to uranium and graphite, it contained control rods made of cadmium. Cadmium is a metallic element that absorbs neutrons. When the rods were in the pile, there were fewer neutrons to fission uranium atoms. This slowed the chain reaction. When the rods were pulled out, more neutrons were available to split atoms. The chain reaction sped up‖(par 21). In December of 1942 the scientists were ready to demonstrate their hard work. This was a huge break through in the nuclear world.
Most of the early research done on nuclear energy consisted of trying to make nuclear weapons. The experiments were performed in New Mexico under the name of the Manhattan Project. Their efforts were a success with the creation of the first atom bomb. After World War II though, the use of nuclear energy was turned more peaceful uses. In 1946 Congress created the Atomic Energy