Updated: May 6
This is the second and final part of my set of blogs about nuclear energy. If you haven’t yet, go read part 1 to learn about how nuclear energy works. This blog will focus on the controversy around nuclear.
The main controversies over nuclear energy are that it can lead to the development of nuclear weapons, we do not have a way to dispose of nuclear waste, and nuclear reactor meltdowns can be catastrophic to the surrounding area.
Firstly, five countries (India, Pakistan, South Africa, Israel, and North Korea) used nuclear reactor technology to develop nuclear weapons. One of the main goals of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons is to ensure nuclear weapons are not created as nuclear energy spreads, but this treaty has had very limited success. Nations with easy access to nuclear reactors can find ways to make nuclear weapons. While there are some new nuclear energy technologies being explored that would make it hard for weapons to be created because of them, they are a long way off.
Nuclear waste is another one of the main problems with nuclear energy. Light water fission reactors, which I talked about in the last blog, create a lot of radioactive nuclear waste. This waste also takes tens of thousands of years to decay, meaning it has to be stored in a secure location for that long. That being said, the problem here is not with nuclear energy as a whole, but with the main types of reactors that we are currently using. There are many different groups pursuing other technologies that create a lot less nuclear waste, and while none are fully successful or operational at large scales, they could be fairly soon.
The final controversial point over nuclear energy is that reactors can have meltdowns. There have been seven reactor meltdowns since nuclear energy was invented, the most famous of which being the Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania, USA, the Chernobyl disaster in the Soviet Union (modern-day Ukraine), and the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. While not all seven meltdowns were extremely harmful, those that were harmful caused catastrophic damage in large areas around the reactors. This is terrible, but new technologies will always be dangerous. Cars used to be much more dangerous than they are now, but over time technological improvements were made and rules were set in place for safety. We cannot abandon nuclear technology in its infancy because of its current danger because if we had applied that logic to everything, we would never have become as technologically advanced. Additionally, fossil fuels kill many more people annually than nuclear energy because of the huge amounts of pollution they create, and they will kill many more if we cannot stop climate change.
So what is the answer? I encourage you to do more research and make your own decision, but I believe nuclear energy is worth considering. We need to invest in new technologies and focus on finding safer ways to create nuclear energy, and I think the benefits from these investments can far outweigh the costs. We need to do everything we can to stop climate change, and we cannot abandon a potential lifesaving and climate change-preventing technology because we have not found a way to make it safer yet. We absolutely should not take existing nuclear reactors offline, and we should not stop searching for safer and cheaper ways to obtain nuclear energy, but we also should not prioritize it over wind and solar energy. Wind and solar are proven technologies that are cheap, effective, and can go online much quicker than a nuclear plant. While they have issues of their own, these can be resolved with increased investment. So we should not give up entirely on nuclear, but we must realize that we have better options for the here and now.