Should we use nuclear energy?

Subject classification: this is a science resource.

Peaceful nuclear power is the use of nuclear reactions that release nuclear energy to generate heat, which most frequently is then used in steam turbines to produce electricity in a nuclear power plant. The prospect of using small quantities of highly radioactive material to power our cities has been a dream for decades and, since the 1950´, a reality in some places. The prospect of a long-term solution to our energy needs comes with the specter of nuclear disasters such as in Chernobyl and Fukushima. Is nuclear energy better than fossil fuels? Should we pursue other strategies like geothermal and solar instead?

We should use nuclear energy edit

Pro edit

  •   Argument for Renewables like wind and solar only produce energy when there's wind or sun. Their energy needs to be stored for when there's no wind or sun, but an adequate storage system doesn't yet exist. Existing storage systems are either location dependent (hydro-pumped storage), expensive (lithium batteries), inefficient and polluting (lead acid batteries), or experimental and small-scale (liquid metal batteries, etc). Already places like California are producing more energy than they can sell or store and they are forced to waste it. Until an adequate storage system develops, we need nuclear energy to avoid relying on fossil fuels.
  •   Argument for Even with all nuclear accidents considered, nuclear power is by far the safest, compared to the number of lives lost on other forms of energy production like coal and gas[1]. Nuclear accidents are much more mediatic because of their instant nature, high death toll and sometimes long lasting effects, but all considered, they are much less of a threat.
    •   Objection Nuclear energy is dangerous because both the nuclear waste and the elements used to make nuclear energy are radioactive, being able to kill plants, animals and humans.
      •   Objection Methods for storage of waste have not to date been compromised despite nuclear plants existing for 80 years. Furthermore, a relatively new process, vitrification, turns the liquid into a solid glass like substance, which reduces the mass of the waste by 90%. 
        •   Objection All nuclear storage is temporary as the lifespan of radioactive materials is extremely long
    •   Objection Nuclear energy is safer than coal and gas, but far more dangerous than wind and solar.
      •   Objection Nuclear energy has a comparable death rate per unit of electricity to wind and solar.
  •   Argument for Nuclear energy saves huge amounts of carbon going into the atmosphere. Every nuclear power plant built is many coal power plants not built.
    •   Objection Other energy sources such as wind or solar don't produce carbon (or nuclear waste) and have fewer risks.
      •   Objection Wind and solar can't replace fossil fuels on a grid scale yet, due to the lack of an adequate storage technology.
  •   Argument for Not all nuclear reactors are the same: Thorium-based nuclear reactors are much more efficient than current water-based reactors, produce much less waste, and are very hard to turn into nuclear weapons.
    •   Objection Not commercially viable: 'Without exception, [thorium reactors] have never been commercially viable, nor do any of the intended new designs even remotely seem to be viable. Like all nuclear power production they rely on extensive taxpayer subsidies; the only difference is that with thorium and other breeder reactors these are of an order of magnitude greater, which is why no government has ever continued their funding.'[2]
    •   Objection Significant nuclear weapon proliferation risk: "A 2012 study funded by the National Nuclear Security Administration found that the byproducts of a thorium fuel cycle, in particular uranium 233, can potentially be attractive material for making nuclear weapons. A 2012 study published in Nature from the University of Cambridge also concluded that thorium fuel cycles pose significant proliferation risks."[3]
  •   Argument for Nuclear energy, unlike wind, solar, geothermal and many other kinds of energy, doesn't depend on geography. I.e, it is not needed wind, constant sun, etc. in places that there is not.
    •   Objection Fukushima and other accidents have taught us that we can't put a nuclear plant anywhere. Many safety and strategic conditions must be met.
    •   Objection It's always possible to transport energy from the places that have the necessary geography to the places that don't have it, for example transporting solar energy from deserts to cities.
      •   Objection A lot of energy is lost in transportation, making more efficient to build a plant near the place of consumption.

Con edit

  •   Argument against The road to nuclear weapons is always paved with "peaceful" nuclear reactors. See also Does nuclear power lead to nuclear weapons?
    •   Objection This is just a "slippery slope", or appeal to probability—the road to nuclear weapons is also paved with knives and actual roads. Just because one technology is developed for one purpose, that doesn't mean that a somewhat similar technology is inevitable.
      •   Objection Put differently, nuclear power eases the acquisition of nuclear weapons, while not making it inevitable. And nuclear weapons are a tremendous threat. Taking a significant step that lies specifically on the path toward acquisition of tremendous threat is a bad idea even if the step has some benefits. Roads and knifes are nothing of the sort. The idea that technology is value neutral is wrong: in particular, nuclear weapons are technology that is not value neutral.
    •   Objection Britannica's expert analysis suggests there is not much connection between nuclear power acquisition and nuclear weapon proliferation.[4]
      •   Objection But should we trust it? After all, "the UK’s first nuclear power stations were built primarily to provide fissile material for nuclear weapons during the Cold War."[5]
  •   Argument against Nuclear reactors produce nuclear waste which is difficult to dispose of.
    •   Objection Nuclear waste is being safely disposed of and the risk managed.[citation needed]
    •   Objection All forms of energy conversion and storage create waste. Nuclear waste has not caused anywhere near the environmental harm that conventional forms of energy generation have.
      •   Objection Solar and wind energy production create no waste, or negligible waste.
        •   Objection Wind and solar farms require the destruction of ecosystems across large swathes of land. Whereas nuclear requires significantly smaller acreage. If the entirety of the US was powered by nuclear energy, we could fit every plant in a land area the size of Rhode Island. If the entirety of the US was powered by wind, it would require the land area of Texas. If by solar, it would require the land area of Alaska. 
        •   Objection Wind energy does produce huge amounts of waste[6].
    •   Objection The amount of nuclear waste produced in the history of US nuclear power usage can fit into a football field. Humans are producing reliable methods to dispose of nuclear waste. Waste has brought little to no harm to both people and the environment.
      •   Objection About the football field: specific empirical claims require referencing.
        •   Objection I tried to reference it for you, but wiki doesn’t allow links, so look up 5 fast facts about spent nuclear fuel
      •   Objection "Reliable methods to dispose"? Such as what specifically? What is the source of the claim?
  •   Argument against In over 60 years of nuclear usage, there have been 7 major accidents: Chalk River, Sellafield, Kyshtym, Lucens, Chernobyl, Fukushima. See also W:Nuclear and radiation accidents and incidents.
    •   Objection Accidents have become rarer and rarer. Fukushima is quite near but before that came Chernobyl, already 30 years away. Accidents are likely to stop as we become more proficient in the construction and management of nuclear power plants.
      •   Objection Statements using "likely" with no quantification and no tracing to sources are not a basis for sound safety deliberations and analysis. Then, how likely? How many major accidents from 2020 to 2050 are to be expected? Furthermore, if "likely" means, say "with probability greater than 80%", then the chance that major accidents will continue is 20%, quite a lot.
  •   Argument against Cooling nuclear reactors causes major harm to wildlife by increasing the temperature of the river used to coin it off.
  •   Argument against Nuclear power is expensive.
    •   Objection While it is true that there is a huge upfront cost to nuclear, if a plant is allowed to continue operation beyond the 18 year mark, and assuming the first 6 years of ‘operation’ are spent building, then profits from a nuclear plant exceed profits from a natural gas plant. Beyond that, nuclear plant profits take off like a rocket, because fuel costs are very low compared to other plant types. Look up on YouTube ‘economics of nuclear reactors’ by Illinois EnergyProf. 
  •   Argument against Nuclear power creates a terrorism risk, including attack on nuclear facilities.[7] The attacks could be via commando-like ground-based attacks, an aircraft crash or a cyber attacks. See also W:Vulnerability of nuclear plants to attack and W:Nuclear safety and security#Vulnerability of nuclear plants to attack.
  •   Argument against A nuclear powerplant can be subject to a military attack (such as in war), or fighting may erupt around it that may endanger it. This is strictly speaking a risk separate from terrorism. We would hope industrial nations would no longer wage wars in 21st century, but mere hopes are no sound safety policy, and events in Ukraine in 2022 show otherwise. See W:Vulnerability of nuclear plants to attack#Military attacks.

We should not construct new nuclear reactors, but keep using already existing ones edit

  •   Argument for Nuclear is safe and works well, but the upfront costs of constructing nuclear power plants is stark, and renewable sources of energy are becoming cheaper at a rapid pace. We should focus our efforts on these sources of energy instead.

Notes and references edit

See also edit

Further reading edit