Introduction and History of Nuclear Power
Nuclear energy is a form of energy that atoms release by fission and fusion mechanisms that occur in an atomic reaction. Nuclear energy is economical because an atomic amount of uranium can generate as much amount of energy that the tons of coals can generate. According to Schurr, the amount of energy emitted by a radioactive element is 2.5 million times that of the same amount of coal (117). Comparatively, production of high amount of energy makes nuclear energy to be an economical form of energy in the world. Despite its high energy, nuclear energy has elicited great debate concerning its safety and uses. The debate has been raging as to whether nuclear energy is a solution or not to energy crisis the world is currently facing. If one seeks public opinion about nuclear energy, people would provide divergent views regarding its importance. Many nations regard nuclear energy as the answer to energy crisis because it is important in generating electricity for industrial uses (Totty 1). However, a significant number of people do not understand what constitutes nuclear energy and its uses in modern society because they associated nuclear energy with accidents and atomic bombs. Therefore, to enhance understanding of nuclear energy and enable people to embrace it as a good source of energy, a brief history is essential.
Among other prominent nuclear scientists, Pierre and Marie Curie are considered as the first scientists who discovered nuclear energy and developed the term radiation. To the above scientists, radiation referred to the emissions of the radioactive elements. During their time, radiations were applicable in treatment of cancer. Since then, the discovery of radiations has led to the development of nuclear energy, which is a critical source of industrial energy. In Europe, nuclear energy was first used in performing scientific research in studying behaviors of atoms. Later, the United States and the United Kingdom performed further research on nuclear energy and formulated legislations that guide its use in technological development. After series of nuclear accidents, environmentalists started to agitate for safer ways of producing energy, which led many nations to prohibit construction of nuclear plants. However, when safer ways of using nuclear energy emerged, countries in East Asia took the opportunity to construct nuclear plants. Today, nuclear energy is produced in almost all continents in the world. Therefore, since nuclear energy is the answer to the energy crisis that the world is grappling with, what are its impacts on the environment, population, and the economy?
Effects on the Environment
Nuclear energy has a positive effect on the environment because it does not emit greenhouse gases that cause global warming. The use of fossil fuels causes production of carbon dioxide, which is a major greenhouse gas that contributes to the occurrence of global warming. Since environmentalists are advocating for the use of clean energy sources that do not cause global warming, nuclear energy is the best form of clean energy that is favorable to the environment. “Nuclear energy has certain clear advantages in that it produces heat and electricity without emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at the power plant level” (Yoo and Yoo 87). Hence, given that nuclear energy does not produce carbon dioxide, it is safe for the environment, which makes it to be the cleanest form of energy.
Comparatively, the use of both fossil fuels and nuclear energy requires their extraction from the earth’s surface. While the extraction of fossil fuels is cumbersome and destructive to the environment due to mining process, nuclear energy involves construction of nuclear plants, which does not destroy the environment. Uranium, a radioactive element that fuels nuclear reactors, is a ubiquitous element on the earth’s surface, thus its extraction process is less destructive when compared to mining of fossil fuels. According to Totty, activities such as “mining of uranium, shipping fuel, constructing plants and managing waste … are comparable to the full life-cycle emissions of wind and hydropower and less than solar power” (1). Thus, nuclear energy is friendly to the environment because extraction and uses of uranium do not involve destructive activities, unlike fossil fuels.
Nuclear wastes and other emissions are not environmentally friendly since they destroy natural life. Nuclear wastes contain radioactive materials that have potential of destroying human life. Rabl and Rabl state that the management of nuclear wastes is a challenge associated with nuclear energy because they can leak into the environment and cause catastrophic impacts on the environment (p. 576). As nuclear wastes are radioactive, they require appropriate package and storage in the deep sea or mountains where terrorists or natural disasters cannot interfere. “Most experts agree that the best way to dispose of waste is deep underground, where radioactive materials can be prevented from entering the environment and where it can be guarded against theft or terrorist attack” (Totty 4). The objective of burying nuclear waste in stable geological structures is to prevent future leakage due to human or natural activities that destabilize geological structures.
Nuclear plants also have a negative impact on the environment because they release radiations that affect human life and the environment. Due to safety and health concerns, people do not live close to nuclear reactors because they are prone to accidents and leakage of radiations, which threaten the lives of people (Gamble and Downing 457). This means that people should not live near nuclear plants so that they can avoid exposure to radiation. In instances where accidents happen like Chernobyl and Fukushima, nuclear reactors released harmful radiation into the environment, thus contaminating water, food, and air (Rabl and Rabl 2029). Contamination of the environment by the radioactive particles poses serious health impacts because the particles cause gene mutation that result in congenital abnormalities.
Impacts on the Economy
Nuclear has significant benefits to the economy because it produces cheap energy for industrial and domestic uses. Some countries like Korea have exploited nuclear energy in the generation of electricity to supplement the hydroelectric power supply. Yoo and Yoo state that, “nuclear energy has played a key role in the economic development of a country since 1980s by securing long-term stability in power supply, demand, and electricity tariffs in Korea” (86). In this view, countries can overcome the issue of expensive and unreliable electricity by developing nuclear plants that generate electricity and avoid frequent shortages of electricity that cripple industrial activities. Electricity produced by nuclear plants is cheap because nuclear reactors require atomic amounts of fuels inform of radioactive elements such as uranium, which are not expensive to procure, unlike the use of expensive fossil fuels in the generation of electricity. Nestle supports the assertion that the use of nuclear energy reduces the cost of electricity, creates more jobs, and increases gross domestic product (152). Creation of more jobs occurs because small industries can afford to pay for the electricity, which consequently leads to mass production of industrial products that enhance economic growth. In this view, nuclear energy is a catalyst for economic growth because it produces sufficient energy for industrial purposes.
Nuclear accidents that occur in nuclear plants usually have serious economic consequences due to the destruction of the nuclear plants and surrounding structures. The Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986 and Fukushima disaster of 2011 are major nuclear accidents that did not only cause the loss of lives but also the loss of properties (Kawanshima and Fumiko 2029). Although the two disasters happened at different times that span a quarter century, they both attracted international attention regarding the safety of nuclear reactors. In the Chernobyl disaster, a nuclear reactor exploded and released tons of radioactive elements into the atmosphere. According to Kawanshima and Fumiko, “the loss of power crippled the reactor’s coolant, resulting in explosions, radiant leaks, and meltdowns” (2030). The meltdown of the reactor caused a catastrophic explosion that destroyed the reactor and structures surrounding it, thus causing great economic loss. The occurrence of the nuclear accidents has prompted nuclear scientists to develop safe nuclear reactors that can withstand natural disasters and contain their nuclear waste in case of nuclear accidents.
Since nuclear reactors produce massive energy that industries rely upon in manufacturing process, the occurrence of accidents affects the functions of the industries, and by extension economic growth of a nation. A single nuclear plant usually generates massive electricity that can serve many industries; hence, its malfunctions due to accidents have grave economic consequences on the affected industries. According to a study to determine the impacts of Fukushima nuclear accident, the findings indicated that “the stock prices of utilities that own nuclear power plants declined more sharply after the accident that the stock prices of other electronic power utilities” (Kawashima and Fumiko 2029). This means that nuclear accidents have a negative impact on the electronic industries because they reduce the utilization of the electronic utilities. Additionally, given that industries rely on electricity for mass production of goods, nuclear accidents usually disrupt the supply of power, hence, making industrial activities to stagnate.
The costs of constructing nuclear reactors are very high in that not all countries are able to construct and manage them well. “Critics argue that the high cost of building and financing a new plant makes nuclear power uneconomical when compared with other sources of power” (Totty 2). Although is it cheap in the long run, startup capital is very prohibitive, thus making nuclear energy uncommon in most countries across the world. According to International Atomic Energy Agency, it requires 11 to 20 years to set up a nuclear plant in a country without any supporting infrastructure (Schneider, and Froggatt 17). Owing to the high cost of constructing a nuclear plant, Mitenkov, Averbakh, and Antyufeeva recommend that nuclear plants should “be made more cost effective than the alternative power sources with corresponding operating conditions by decreasing the specific capital cost of building a nuclear plant and lowering the cost of the energy produced” (42). Thus, reduction in the cost of constructing and managing nuclear plants will enable many countries to adopt nuclear energy as a source of electricity because it is very reliable in energy production.
Impacts on Population
Nuclear energy has a positive impact on the population because it provides a cheap source of electricity, which encourages the growth of industries. The growth of industries consequently offers employment opportunities to the unemployed population. Nestle highlights that expansion of nuclear plants have “a positive impact on economic growth and employment” (152). By promoting economic growth, the nuclear energy enhances the living standard of the population in a country. Given that electricity that nuclear energy generates is cheap, it reduces the cost of production and transport, which has a magnificent effect of the production and distribution of goods. For instance, in Germany, nuclear energy produces about 29.4% of electricity (Matthes 43). Whenever interruptions are experienced because of repairs and accidents, people in German suffer a lot as their lives are dependent on nuclear power. In Korea, apparent economic development and improved living standards are attributed to nuclear energy since the country has a stable source of electricity (Yoo and Yoo 86). The Korean government is developing nuclear infrastructure to supplement the shortage of energy and improve economic standards of the population.
Although nuclear energy has some benefits to the population, it also has negative impacts on the population. Nuclear accidents like Chernobyl and Fukushima released massive radioactive materials into the environment, thus threatening the lives of the people. Rabl and Rabl state that the nuclear accidents affected the population because “irradiated food was not taken off the market in time and no iodine pills were given to the population to reduce the risk of thyroid cancers” (577). Radiations that emanate from leakage of nuclear plants or nuclear wastes have significant health impacts that affect the population, which lives within the proximity of the nuclear reactors. Normally, people avoid living proximity to the nuclear plants because of radiations that they emit have negative impacts on the health of the population (Gamble and Downing 457). As nuclear plants emit radiations and are prone to accidents, people should not reside close to the plants. Additionally, nuclear plants pose significant threat to the population because rogue countries or terrorists can use them to manufacture weapons of mass destruction. Totty argues that nuclear plants present the greatest risk to humanity because “there is a possibility that an expansion of nuclear power will contribute to the proliferation of nuclear weapons” (7). Hence, since nuclear plants can lead to the development of weapons of mass destruction, they threaten the existence of humanity.
In conclusion, nuclear energy is the solution to the energy crisis that the world is facing in the 21st century. Proponents of the nuclear energy assert that nuclear energy generates cheap electricity that is essential for industrial and economic growth. Moreover, nuclear energy is friendly to the environment because it does not emit greenhouse gases, unlike fossil fuels that emit carbon dioxide. However, a number of people hold that nuclear energy is prone to accidents and has radioactive wastes that are harmful to the environment, economy and the population. Nuclear wastes affect the health of people since they emit radiations that are harmful to the body organs such as reproductive organs, heart, and skin. Thus, for nuclear energy to be an answer to the energy crisis that is facing the world, safety measures of the nuclear reactors require improvement to reduce risks of accidents while the appropriate management of nuclear wastes is also necessary to prevent leakage and contamination of the environment.
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