Nuclear power is the foundation that most of modern society is built upon. In the United States, for example, more than 800 TW of energy are produced by using nuclear power plants. This is about 20% of the entire grid and it comes from just 100 different plants. It is clear that the installation of nuclear power has been beneficial, but there are some disadvantages that come with a nuclear power plant as well that must be considered.
What Are the Pros of Nuclear Power Plants?
1. The costs are fairly low.
There is a large cost associated with the building of a new nuclear power plant. After these first costs are absorbed, however, the rest of the energy creation process is relatively affordable. Once it gets going, it is cheaper to create energy from nuclear power than from fossil fuels, which ultimately helps the environment.
2. The energy that is created is stable.
Nuclear power that is added to the grid is stable enough that it can work with virtually any other created source of power. This includes renewable sources of power, including solar, wind, and geothermal. Because of this stability, the demands of the nuclear power plant can be adjusted accordingly to the power that is supplied from other sources.
3. There is relatively little pollution.
The actual pollution into the atmosphere that is generated from a nuclear power plant is relatively low. Of course the nuclear waste that is generated is harmful to humans and the environment, but these risks can be mitigated when the waste is processed and stored properly.
4. It is an adaptable power source.
Recent studies show that there is enough uranium around to create nuclear power until 2100. A different power source, called thorium, has already been successfully used in the APAC region and could be coming soon to a nuclear power plant near you.
5. The energy density levels are quite high.
Nuclear energy created 10 million times the amount of energy when compared to gas or oil energy. This means fewer fuel resources are required to create the energy, even if nuclear power isn’t currently considered a renewable resource for power.
What Are the Cons of Nuclear Power Plants?
1. When it goes wrong, it goes very wrong.
Although nuclear power plants have been relatively safe, a look at what happened in Chernobyl should give everyone pause for thought. Up to 30,000 people were killed in the aftermath and as many as 3 million people are dealing with long-term health issues. Despite all planning, 100% protection guarantees just don’t exist.
2. It becomes an automatic target.
Nuclear power plants are a natural target within a country for those with ill intent. This means the plant must be properly guarded at all times. All power plants are targets, of course, but other power plants don’t have the threat of having a nuclear fallout when successfully attacked.
3. Many operators have legal waivers in place.
Nuclear power plants typically have a series of legal documents in place that limit the liabilities of the companies that operate them. This can include not needing to take responsibility for environmental damage, health issues, or even nuclear waste leakage into the local water supply.
4. It is completely centralized.
Some sources of power generation can be located throughout an entire grid, such as wind generators. This provides a more consistent energy product system where power comes from several different locations. Nuclear power, on the other hand, is extremely centralized and requires an extensive distribution network to deliver the power that is produced.
5. Nuclear waste can last a long time.
Some nuclear waste can revert to inert materials in just 30 years. Plutonium-239, however, has a half life that is estimated to be 24,000 years. Although nuclear waste can be reprocessed, there is no commercial system in place in the United States to provide this service. After 10 years, just one spent rod from a nuclear power plant will deliver 10,000 rems per hour. The fatal dose to humans? 500 rems.
6. There are many unknown risks.
There has never been a full nuclear meltdown, so knowing what would happen can only be estimated. Nuclear power plants have several unknown risks like this that could put the planet in severe danger every day and we’d never really know this until it was too late.
Nuclear power plants may provide a low cost, stable source of power, but they also create waste that has to go somewhere. Not only are the plants a target, but so are the nuclear wastes that are transported to storage locations. With proper management and recycling technologies in place, nuclear power could become safer, but there will always be certain risks taken to create the power modern society demands.
Crystal Lombardo is a contributing editor for Vision Launch. Crystal is a seasoned writer and researcher with over 10 years of experience. She has been an editor of three popular blogs that each have had over 500,000 monthly readers.