Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Can the use of nuclear energy be justified?

Nuclear energy refers to the heat and electricity generated from the exothermic reaction known as the nuclear fission reaction. Its first successful use for energy generation dates back to 1950. However, since then there has been an ongoing debate about whether it is justifiable or not? The supporters of nuclear energy cite it as clean, reliable, renewable and alternative source of energy. However, opponents of nuclear energy generally cite safety issues and long term environmental concern mainly due to the radio-active nature of the elements used for nuclear power generation. The truth lies somewhere in between.

First of all nuclear energy is an alternative source of energy to the fossil fuels, which dominates the current supply of world energy demands, and other types of energy sources. However, the world’s reserves of fossil fuels are finite and non-renewable. Although studies show varying data, the worlds’ supply of fossil fuels will be exhausted in between the period of 50 years to 300 years. The supply of fuels is decreasing, whereas the demand for energy is increasing. Therefore, a dependable alternative source of energy is going to be a necessity in the near future. The potentials of nuclear energy which are not yet explored fully are promising to meet the rising energy demand of the world in future.

Nuclear energy is the cleaner source of electricity. There is no emission of green house gases like carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, methane and so on during its operation. On a life-cycle basis, however, their emission is comparable to that or wind, solar and hydropower. This refers to the emissions which occur during the construction of plant, mining and processing of the fuel, and similar but related activities. Similarly, it does not produce sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, the gases responsible for causing acid rain. Because there is significantly less air pollution from nuclear energy as compared to fossil fuels, it does not contribute to the problems like global warming and acid rain. It is an environmental friendly source of energy.

Nuclear energy is the most reliable source of energy. It is produced in the controlled environment and hence the supply of energy is constant. On the contrary, the solar, wind and hydropower are highly dependent upon the uncontrollable external factors. As a result, the energy generated through these mediums fluctuates from season to season along with the change in the weather and environmental conditions.

Similarly, the production of nuclear energy is concentrated to a smaller geographical place. The production of wind, solar, geothermal and hydro based energies requires large geographical area. That adds up unnecessary costs and difficulties. Moreover, the production has to be located somewhere in the area where the resources like wind, water, etc are available. However, the consumption is necessary elsewhere, especially in cities and industrial areas, which adds up transmission costs. Nuclear energy on the other hand, can be located anywhere it is best suitable. Therefore, nuclear energy is justified from economic point of view.

On the contrary, the safety issues raised by some people and the organizations are not to be overlooked. The plant explosion resulting from the earthquake triggered tsunami in Japan, known as the “Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster” resulted in serious consequences. The failure of the power plant caused unanticipated release of the radioactive materials to the environment drawing the attention of the whole world. The harmful radiations, responsible for cancer development, were feared more than the consequences of the earthquake itself. Therefore, due care and proper safety mechanisms should be used in operating the nuclear power station. Sometimes unexpected events might bring up catastrophic consequences.

In conclusion, nothing is good or bad in itself. If we become able to ethically and legally regulate the use of nuclear power and reduce the possibility of disastrous consequences resulting from misuse or unexpected disasters then the use of nuclear energy will be justified. One major fear, associated with nuclear energy, is about the development of nuclear weapons which poses a serious threat to the security of the mankind in the future. Therefore, the use of nuclear energy can be justified if used with caution and for the justifiable causes, especially in the pretext of anticipated energy crisis in the future.

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