Is Nuclear Power Making a Comeback?

Around 60 years ago, people thought nuclear energy would be the future but somewhere along the line that just didn't happen. Nuclear energy quickly lost favour with the public after events like Chernobyl and the more recent meltdown following the Japanese tsunami, and many nuclear plants now sit abandoned and decaying. However this may be about to change.

In the UK, the first new nuclear power plant in a generation has been given the go-ahead. Though the project still requires further clearance and final investment from EDF energy, this marks a big step in changing attitudes towards nuclear energy.

The move also highlights the need to find alternate sources of power to those such as oil and natural gas which are damaging the planet and fast running out. The move toward nuclear power is also being echoed in the US, with plans to build 4-6 new units after a 30-year period where virtually no new reactors were built. So what could this mean for the way we get our energy in the future? And what benefits and costs does nuclear power bring with it?

Positives

·         Like renewable energy, it emits no greenhouse gas.

·         It does not have the price volatility of many resources such as coal and oil.

·         It has a better safety record than the coal industry

·         For the power it produces it is low-cost and reliable

Negatives

·         The issue of disposal of radioactive waste, which is extremely dangerous and non-biodegradable.

·         High cost of building new plants and storing waste.

·         Issues of safety – the recent disaster in Fukushima caused widespread destruction.

·         Dependent on uranium, which is non-renewable.

There are many more issues but these are some of the main ones to consider. One of the things that is holding nuclear power back at the moment is the abundance and low cost of other resources such as natural gas: few are willing to invest millions of dollars or pounds in new plants when there are far more cost-efficient means. Of course, those other sources of power will  very quickly run out, and another system must be in place before that happens.

The other main challenge to nuclear power is the fear that the public has of it. Even though its record shows it is safer than many other resources, disasters such as Chernobyl and Fukushima will always be in the back of people’s minds. The public perception of risk is far greater due to the added danger of radioactivity. However, steps have been made to make reactors much safer than in the past: flood protection and cooling systems now run on gravity, not pumps. In a system such as this the disaster at Fukushima would not have occurred.

Evidently there are still issues with nuclear power, but as other resources run out and developing countries are already turning to nuclear power, the decision may have to be made soon whether or not the US and UK should to commit to it as well. The proposed new plants suggest that this is the way the US is heading, but it is still very possible that they might be met with resistance. What is clear is that something new must be done as the resources currently being used will not last. Whether nuclear power will be the solution is up for debate.

Image Credits: wikipedia.org