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Is nuclear energy safe? Show more Show less
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The place of nuclear power in our energy provision is one of the most intricate debates in modern energy policy. In the aftermath of a handful of high profile and high-risk nuclear disasters, many are wary of expanding the use of the controversial energy source. Paradoxically, it also presents one of the most sustainable and efficient forms of energy concurrently with debates surrounding climate change and environmental responsibility. Can the energy source be a viable and safe path forward?

Nuclear energy is not safe Show more Show less

Nuclear energy has the potential to cause catastrophe. That potential alone is enough for nuclear energy to be considered unsafe.
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There are currently no safe options for storing nuclear waste

When nuclear fuel is no longer usable, it is referred to as nuclear waste. This waste is still highly radioactive and dangerous for tens of thousands of years. Nuclear reactors are constantly generating this waste without long-term disposal solutions.

The Argument

Currently, the U.S. has very few long-term storage solutions for nuclear waste. This is problematic, because while the government tries to get a long-term solution in place, the nuclear waste sits in short-term storage facilities at the nuclear power plant where the waste was produced. Some nuclear waste has been sitting in these interim storage facilities on-site since the 1940's.[1] Nuclear waste doesn't just become safe overnight, either. It remains dangerously radioactive for thousands of years. Without long-term solutions that take this waste off-site and far away from the nuclear power plants, nuclear plants will continue to accumulate this waste, until something inevitably goes wrong. At the decommissioned Hanford Nuclear site alone, about 60 of the 180 interim storage tanks are known to be leaking radioactive waste. Even well-established practices like vitrification of nuclear waste-- turning nuclear waste into glass-- has it's own problems. After the waste is turned into molten glass, it solidifies in a steel canister and is sealed. The glass essentially "locks" the nuclear components in place. However, after about 1000 years, the canister is predicted to corrode, leaving the glass exposed. If water interacts with the glass, there is a risk that it could release the radioactive elements that were locked inside.[2] Until the U.S. has a reliable, long-term solution for storing nuclear waste, nuclear energy cannot be considered safe.

Counter arguments

Nuclear power plants produce very little waste. According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, all the nuclear waste produced by commercial plants since the late 1950s only occupy the space of a football field about 9 meters deep.[3] By stark contrast, the coal industry produces the same volume of waste each hour. While there may not be a perfect solution for nuclear waste, most scientists agree that burying it deep underground would be the safest possible option. It's just a matter of where. The U.S. has been trying to open up permanent disposal sites for decades, like Yucca mountain, but they have constantly been thwarted by politics.[4]

Proponents

Premises

[P1] Nuclear waste is harmful to people if stored improperly. [P2] Reactors produce nuclear waste without a long-term storage solution. [P3] Reactors are unsafe.

Rejecting the premises

[Rejecting P2] Scientists are currently developing long-term storage solutions.

References

  1. https://www.greenamerica.org/fight-dirty-energy/amazon-build-cleaner-cloud/10-reasons-oppose-nuclear-energy
  2. https://cen.acs.org/environment/pollution/nuclear-waste-pilesscientists-seek-best/98/i12
  3. https://www.nei.org/fundamentals/nuclear-waste
  4. http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2016/reconsidering-risks-nuclear-power/
This page was last edited on Saturday, 22 Aug 2020 at 18:19 UTC

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