Thursday, December 17, 2009

Nuclear Power a Solution for Climate Change: Clean or Dirty?

At justmeans we've gone over UK: Climate Policy- it's going nuclear, but is it a solution for climate change?

Nuclear power- the word likely brings chills down the spine with images of chaos, green glow, hair falling out, melting skin, and all sorts of horrific consequences of a nuclear power plant failure. The UK has begun a process to commission 10 more nuclear facilities, to save the environment from global warming. Nuclear energy carbon-wise is clean and it certainly will last centuries longer after the last brick of coal is burned (some 200 years from now). To compare it with renewable energies: it is on par with GhG emissions, which are just produced in the initial construction phase. As clean as green, but not quite renewable, going nuclear is a likely energy strategy to support the future of the world. Of course there are some major problems to this major solution.

Concerns over nuclear power and the questions that most come up: where does the waste go? How is it treated? Why provide terrorists with an obviously devastating target? Although the last question always will remain difficult to answer- how does one account for unimaginable attacks- the answer to the first question is: currently the waste doesn't have an acceptable system of disposal. There are many proposal sites and the plan has always been to contain the spent uranium in an underground cave system. However, the proposed locations are not ready and non have begun construction. Think of having a city with thirty years of trash lying around everywhere, randomly, and that's pretty much how nuclear waste is handled. For the most part, waste is sitting around in the most imperfect ways.

Lack of nuclear engineers is also a grave problem. For the past 30 years there has been a decline in interest in nuclear power resulting in less funding. The decline is due to the fear created by the nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl (1986) and the leak at Three Mile Island, abbreviated TMI (1979). Chernobyl had highly exposed 600,000 people to radiation; TMI had a negligible effect on health. The public has since opposed nuclear power. To meet the potential need of a growing interest of nuclear for climate change and energy production that's carbon free, there needs to be 700 new graduates a year, according to ANS; currently there are only 250 graduates a year (USNews, 2008). 65 engineering programs existed in 1980 and now it is half of that. Lack of construction workers knowledgeable in their construction adds to the problem. The nuclear reactor Areva is building in Finland has seen some 3,000-construction errors resulting in immense delays.

Delays also arise from locals who oppose nuclear energy construction, so called Nimbys (Not In My BackYard). Yet, nuclear is gaining attractiveness in powering the future and powering off coal. The appeal is that nuclear plugs into current existing grids, unlike renewable energy which needs a costly infrastructure retrofit to handle the intermittence of sunlight and gusty winds. A secure and reliable energy program will need an assortment of technologies, including nuclear technology, nuclear fusion anyone?

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