Climate change concerns due to increased emission of carbon and other green house gases into the atmosphere coupled with the ever increasing fuel prices has led to the need for development of other forms of green energy to satisfy the increasing global energy demand.
Over the past two decades, there have been increased efforts by countries and the international community to develop more efficient energy. There has also been increased government involvement through green energy legislation, incentives, funding and commercialization to support the development of green energy.
In 2008 for example, green energy contributed to about 19% of the worlds total energy consumption. The mainstream forms of green energy have included solar energy, wind power, biomass, hydropower, geothermal energy and nuclear energy. However, nuclear energy has been surrounded by many debates about its sustainability and efficiency.
Its exploitation has therefore remained in the developed countries where renewable technologies are more advanced. The paper takes an analysis of the benefits and demerits of the nuclear energy. It discusses the cost of operation of nuclear energy as well as environmental, health, political and proliferation impacts of nuclear energy.
The aim of the research is to provide substantial proof that nuclear energy is not efficient and sustainable. The research aims at providing a deeper understanding of the factors that make nuclear energy production too costly to be considered as one of green energy.
Nuclear power generation is cost-ineffective and therefore is not sustainable. Nuclear energy can not provide for long term solutions that the international community is aiming to achieve and is also bound to cause many negative consequence.
Limited supplies of oil as well as coal has created the need to develop nuclear power plants to help achieve potential efficient energy that would be used to supplement the current energy production and to substitute the non-renewable more inefficient energy.
Nuclear energy has remained the most debated form of energy and its exploitation has been limited. It is often argued that nuclear power could provide more environmentally friendly energy; however, others have argued that nuclear power production releases carbon dioxide which is almost comparable to non-green energy sources.
It is also argued that the whole process and the impacts of nuclear energy production make the cost unsustainable. It is mostly exploited by developed countries like France, Germany, Japan, and the US among other countries with France taking the lead in nuclear energy consumption.
Currently, 53 new nuclear power plants are being built and the number is expected to increase by 500 in 2030(World Nuclear Association 2010). So far, 442 nuclear reactors have been built are in operation worldwide (World Nuclear Association 2010).
Developed countries are considering developing a nuclear-fusion plant which is expected to be less dangerous as compared to the ; however, this is projected to take around 20 years before it is finally completed.
Currently, nuclear power contributes around 6% of the global energy and 50% of this is generated by France, Japan and the US (World Nuclear Association 2010).
Uranium, which is the major raw material, occurs in averagely small quantities and in a few regions across the globe. The worlds uranium supply is estimated to last for about 83.6-100 years and given the annual 2.7% increase in global electricity consumption, the supply is projected to last for only 44-50 years (Sovacool 2010, 374).
The global uranium production is increasing. In 2010 for example, uranium production increased by about 6%. Meanwhile, uranium production in Australia and Canada is on the decline by around -26% and -4% respectively (Diesendorf and Mudd 2007, 3).
However, the Australian Department of energy predicts uranium production to double in the next four years. The US has also had a steady decline in uranium production such that in 2003, it was only able to produce 5% of its uranium requirements (Diesendorf and Mudd 2007, 3).
However, it is good news that uranium production in other regions such as Kazakhstan is increasing. The country has 19% of the global uranium reserves and currently supplies Russia, Japan, China, France, South Korea, India, Canada and the US.
Other countries that have significant uranium deposits include Australia, Russia, Namibia, Brazil, Czech Republic, South Africa and Niger (Diesendorf and Mudd 2007, 3).
Analysis of Nuclear Energy
Nuclear energy is one of the most energy efficient in terms of carbon emission into the atmosphere. Nuclear power plants only emit very little amounts of greenhouse gases through water vapour.
This could greatly help countries and the world as a whole achieve their emission reduction targets. In the UK for example, the Committee on Climate Change reported that nuclear generation is the most cost-effective means of in the country by 2020 (World Nuclear News 2011).
Nuclear power plants consume less fuel as compared to other power plants which burn more fossil fuels to produce electricity. Besides, one tonne of uranium is able to produce more energy which is produced by burning millions of tonnes of coal or barrels of oil.
The US is even considering building nuclear-powered ships to reduce the cost of fuel and to also achieve low carbon emission into the atmosphere.
Nuclear-powered ships in the navy would be more cost-effective considering that the oil prices continue to increase at average rate of 1.7% (Congress of the United States 2011). According to Congress of the United States, in the US navy could save about 19% on fuel costs (Congress of the United States 2011).
Nuclear energy production also reduces the vulnerability to energy supply disruptions that is currently experienced in the oil industry. This implies that it could increase energy security since it reduces dependence on imported fuel (Sovacool 2008, 2950).
Despite such key advantages, nuclear power has several serious demerits that make it less beneficial to countries which adopt the technology.
The available reactors majorly are fed on enriched uranium. 5-7 tonnes of processed uranium are only able to produce one tonne of useable fuel (Diesendorf and Mudd 2007, 6). The depleted uranium is then stored as waste. To generate nuclear power from uranium waste, there has to be reprocessing facilities to help in recycling the actinides.
Extraction of Uranium ore which is the major raw material also leads to the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The extraction processes of the ore produces about 10-50 tonnes of CO2 for each tonne of uranium oxide ((Mackenzie 1977, 469).
An average nuclear power plant which produces 1000MW requires about 200 tonnes of the material annually. This implies that mining uranium oxide could produce about 2,000-10,000 tonnes of CO2 in a year (Mackenzie 1977, 467).
Besides, carbon is also released into the atmosphere during the transportation of uranium oxide to nuclear power plants (Diesendorf and Mudd 2007, 7). This means that whole process is not energy efficient as is perceived by most people.
Leaky pipes in the enrichment facilities of reactors contribute to the emission of chlorofluorocarbon which causes ozone depletion in the stratosphere. In my opinion, nuclear power should not be classified under green energy since it is definitely not clean.
Taking a clear analysis of nuclear fuel cycle of nuclear power production, we realize that nuclear energy production processes utilises large amounts of fossil energy throughout its stages. These stages include the mining process, uranium milling and the building of nuclear reactors as well as cooling towers.
There is also the robotic decommissioning which comes at the end of the operation lifetime of the plants usually after 20-40 years as a result of the intense radioactive reactor (Center for Energy Researches 2011).
Transportation as well as the long-term storage of the large amounts of radioactive waste also contributes to the large quantities of fossil fuel consumption.
Building a nuclear power plant is usually very expensive although there has always been a misconception that construction of a nuclear power plant is cheap. In building a nuclear plant, there are usually the capital costs, the management as well as the operation costs.
In addition, there is the high safety cost. A nuclear reactor currently costs around $4-$10 billion and the Generation IV reactors which are more energy efficient, safer and less water intensive are expected to cost more (Congress of the United States 2011).
In addition, the technology will only be commercially viable by 2030. The construction of one plant could take up to 20 years meaning that it would only operate for about 25 years before uranium is depleted.
Nuclear power remains a very expensive energy resource considering the compensation fee in case of a disaster. The compensation fee could amount to trillions of dollars. Japans Fukushima disaster which occurred in March this year is a key example of the safety risks expected from nuclear energy production.
Many people lost their lives while some people were evacuated from their homes to escape prospective deaths. The total cost of damage from the Fukushima disaster was estimated to be about $300 billion (Bing, Fahey, Heintz, Rusticci and Yuasa, 2011).
Over two months down the line, engineers are still trying to bring the plant under control. This has raised more questions on the future risks of atomic power generations. Nuclear explosions can be very destructive thus making the full cost of insurance to be extremely high.
This means that nuclear energy production will be more expensive as compared to fossil fuel. For example, a worst-case accident that is expected to occur in a German nuclear plant has been approximated that could cost around $11 trillion.
On the contrary, the mandatory insurance for nuclear reactors is $3.65 billion (Bing, Fahey, Heintz, Rusticci and Yuasa, 2011).
One common thing in the nuclear reactors despite their variations in generations as well as design is that all of them use water as a coolant. Water is also very important as it helps produce the steam used to spin turbines to produce electricity.
Reactors reliance on water to generate electricity is making the nuclear power plants vulnerable to the impacts of climate change (Diesendorf and Mudd 2007, 3). Drought as well as the increasing water scarcity is creating new constraints on nuclear energy production.
Nuclear reactors continuously release millions of radioactive isotopes into the atmosphere annually and they are normally not regulated since they are considered to be biologically inconsequential.
The gases include argon, xenon as well as krypton. These noble gases can be easily inhaled by those living around the nuclear reactors and move to the fatty tissues.
Considering that noble gases are normally fat-insoluble and that they discharge high-energy gamma radiation, they can possibly cause mutation of genes particularly in the sperm as well as eggs therefore resulting into genetic disease. Sustainable storage of radioactive waste from the existing 442 nuclear power plants is already a major challenge.
The Yucca Mountain that had been chosen as a possible site for as a repository for high-level radioactive waste in the US in 2004 was subsequently disqualified due to potential earthquake in the mountain meaning that most radioactive waste will remain in the cooling pools and the reactor cores (Caldecott 2005).
Radioactive materials contained in the cooling pools are more exposed to catastrophic attacks by terrorist groups. This could certainly unleash an inferno which would in turn release large amounts of deadly radiations. The results may be significantly worse than that experienced in the Chernobyl disaster.
Those who inhale nuclear waste that is in the cooling pools are likely to suffer from various cancers which include thyroid, bone, breast as well as testicular and liver cancer; sarcoma and a variety of genetic diseases in the human body.
The Chernobyl disaster which occurred in Ukraine in 1986 has caused over 2000 children in their neighbouring Belarus to have their thyroids removed as a result of thyroid cancer (Caldecott 2005). Besides, the cost of storage as well as monitoring the radioactive waste for several years is very high.
Nuclear energy power production puts the global community at a risk since the technologies as well as the materials used in the development of nuclear power can also be used to make nuclear weapons if a country decides to do so.
This has always been seen as a major promoter of bomb production which may be done secretly in preparation for war or terrorist activities. The expansion of nuclear energy could certainly lead to nuclear proliferation risks.
The nuclear future therefore seems dangerous since containing such risks have proved a great challenge even now that the reactors are still fewer than the expected number of future power plants.
Nuclear disasters could cause an increase on the taxes charged on citizens especially during construction of nuclear power plants and disasters so as to help the government finance reconstruction.
Such events could also lead to the government opting for spending cuts on other important projects or using the pension reserves. This is bound to increase inflation rates of a country or region.
Uranium deposits are can only last for about 50 years given the increasing rate of consumption. This means that investing in nuclear energy which takes about 20 years to be constructed is not sustainable. Nuclear energy production also has toxic consequences to both the current and future generations.
The Chernobyl disaster which occurred in 1986 has caused the deaths of through the different types of cancer and genetic diseases in Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and Switzerland which are in the surrounding region. It is still expected that cancer rates will increase in the affected areas.