Just imagine a world with abundant energy, enabling you to live the good life forever... Isn't that what most of us crave? Nuclear energy is magic isn't it?
Nuclear energy has no greenhouse gas emissions. The latest technology has made it safe and we can bury nuclear waste without worrying about radiation. Business as usual without doing any harm.
Well, is it?
Nuclear energy is magical thing. It's hard to understand how it works and it's easy to get bamboozled by claims made by the nuclear magicians – scientists – as well as by opponents.
Take veteran environmentalist Dr James Lovelock, of GAIA fame who says only nuclear energy can save us from global warming. Or Dr Helen Caldicott who says it's too dangerous and we do not need it.
And governments ... Well, depends on who you talk to.
Your life is full already without figuring out what is valid and what's not. Right?
Easier to just leave it to "Them."
Find out the facts on nuclear energy and nuclear radiation hazards. Then make up your mind – and next time there is an election you vote with some knowledge under your belt. There is plenty of information out there to help you make up your mind and I'll give you a leg-up.
So, here is an easy framework. Imagine experiencing a certain "knowing"about this important issue on your way to the ballot box, or in talking with your friends.
Given that global warming is a real threat, and global energy demand is ballooning, then the nuclear energy debate is essentially about four Big Issues.
1) Can nuclear energy deliver on a low-emission or even non-emission basis?
2) Is nuclear energy for electrical power purposes safe?
3) Can it be delivered at a reasonable cost?
4) How does it compare with other low-emission alternate energy sources?
Here is an overview only of those issues. But don't just take my word for it. Find out more yourself!
Yes, nuclear energy is emission-free if you just measure the exhausts from a reactor's chimney.
- In one study, nuclear energy came close to wind power in low emissions over its lifetime.
- There is no air pollution, with big nuclear energy user France having the cleanest air in Europe.
- No, it is not emission-free and is a greenhouse gas emitter, when measuring mining of uranium and transporting it, building and decommissioning nuclear power plants.
Chernobyl still stands the only disastrous accident with a nuclear power plant, and the antiquated structure and action taken after the "melt-down" bears much blame.
- Any safeguards are only as good as the people that manage them, and any further accident will be one too many.
- Modern nuclear power plant structures are much safer.
- A terrorist attack, using radioactive material in a dirty bomb cannot be excluded.
- A terrorist attack using an airplane could be disastrous, even though deactivating a modern nuclear plant can be done in 5 seconds.
- A higher-than-normal incidence of childhood leukemia has been reported near power plants in the UK, France and Germany.
- So-called Generation IV nuclear reactors, including "fast breeders" are said to be cleaner (low radiation level waste), cheaper and safer but the first will not be ready before 2010, some not until 2030.
Economics of nuclear energy is a wobbly concept, depending on the assumptions about other energy sources and their end costs.
- Nuclear reactors currently have very high start-up and close-down costs compared to other low-emission, and renewable energy sources.
- Costs are more than just counting money.
Comparison to low-emission energy sources
You'll find many studies with different results.
- One must take into account the urgent threat presented by global warming, that of radioactive energy, and appraise the benefits of energy-wise living and currently available renewable energy sources.
The magical attraction of nuclear energy remains: throw enough money at it and all our problems will seem to go away. But the future is most likely one of a diversified use of renewable energy with some nuclear energy. It's a question of where to put the emphasis.
Nuclear energy sources removes people even further from tangible "natural" processes. More of the same kind of thinking that caused our global warming problems in the first place. Why not emphasize responsible energy use, and the use of the Great Big Nuclear Reactor In The Sky to drive wind, tidal and solar energy. And to try and live in harmonious relationship with each other and our environments.
But you just have to make up your own mind. My children's future and yours depend on you. Only your personal attitude – the greatest energy source we know – can help you live with global warming. And we are going to have to live with it for a long, long time.