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article imageTaking a closer look at the pros and cons of nuclear energy

By Karen Graham     May 15, 2019 in Environment
For a variety of reasons, nuclear power has been left out of the renewable energy mix, even though it is clean and carbon-free. Today, we look at the pros and cons related to nuclear power.
There is increasing recognition of the urgency needed in addressing carbon emissions, yet this must be done in a technologically-inclusive manner, according to Josh Freed, senior vice president of the Clean Energy Program at the Washington-based think tank Third Way.
His comment was in part, a response to Green New Deal sponsor Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's (AOC) latest comment that she still has an “open mind” on nuclear energy as part of the renewable energy mix.
“I don’t take a strong anti- or pro- position on it,” the New York Democrat said about nuclear energy in an interview last week. Her Green New Deal calls for “clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy” to meet 100 percent of U.S. power needs in the next 10 years. However, she “leaves the door open on nuclear so that we can have that conversation,” she said.
One hundred House freshmen took the oath of office  including trailblazers like New York's Alex...
One hundred House freshmen took the oath of office, including trailblazers like New York's Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (seen here), who at 29 is the youngest woman ever elected to Congress
Actually, AOC's latest comments are a "walk-back" from how the original Green New Deal read when it was introduced. In February, Digital Journal reported the ultimate goal of the Green New Deal was to stop using fossil fuels entirely, as well as to transition away from nuclear energy.
“The initial approach to nuclear energy as laid out by the Green New Deal was a nonstarter, and this is clearly a start in the direction towards the bipartisan consensus on nuclear energy,” David Blee, president, and chief executive of the U.S. Nuclear Industry Council, said regarding Ocasio-Cortez’s comments.
“It’s clear from anyone involved in environmental policy, you can’t get from ‘A’ to ‘Z’ without nuclear energy. But notwithstanding, the bill has a long way to go before it can muster even a vote in the Senate.”
Oregon vineyard in the Willamette Valley wine region utilizing solar power.
Oregon vineyard in the Willamette Valley wine region utilizing solar power.
Looking closely at the pros and cons
There are legitimate arguments for and against nuclear power plants. But while it is agreed that a few nuclear power plants are way past their usefulness, like Entergy Corp.’s Indian Point Energy Center in Buchanan, N.Y., this does not mean we should be running around willy-nilly closing all of them.
We will need to sit down with industry leaders and government officials and look closely at all the aspects, good and bad, of utilizing nuclear energy in our clean energy plan.
Freed notes that zero- or negative-emission options need significant investment and policy support. And this means all the types of renewable sources of energy. “We don’t have the luxury of picking and choosing technologies,” he said.
Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant on the Hudson river
Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant on the Hudson river
Tony (CC BY 2.0)
The case for nuclear energy
1. Low Harmful Emissions: Nuclear energy used to generate electricity has the least effect on nature because there are no harmful greenhouse gasses emitted. There is no unfavorable impact on water or land, unlike the damages caused by fossil fuels.
Actually, it has been determined that with the advent of nuclear power, there has been a nearly 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gasses due to this form of energy, according to Conserve Energy Future.
2. High-Reliability: When nuclear power is used in conjunction with other renewable energy sources, like wind or solar, there is greater reliability in clean energy all around. While wind and solar energy are dependent on the weather, nuclear power has no limitations.
Uranium reserves are estimated to last another 70 to 80 years based on today's rate of consumption. Knowing this adds to nuclear's reliance as an energy source compared to other forms of energy. Another point in favor of nuclear is that a reactor can run for months without replacing its fuel, as compared to coal-fired plants.
View of the Robert Emmett Ginna Nuclear Power Plant on the south shore of Lake Ontario at Ontario  N...
View of the Robert Emmett Ginna Nuclear Power Plant on the south shore of Lake Ontario at Ontario, New York.
3. Low operating costs: Keep in mind that we are talking about the cost of operating a nuclear power plant, not the expense of setting one up. The fuel costs in operating a nuclear plant are low, and the cost of the electricity produced is low.
If we take into consideration their typical lifetime, which is about 40-60 years, the overall expenses involved in producing power from nuclear power plants are comparatively minimal. Even if the cost of uranium goes up, the impact on the cost of power will be that much lower.
4. More Proficient Than Fossil Fuels: Without a doubt, nuclear energy is much more proficient than fossil fuels due to its energy density. The energy released by the nuclear fission process is one million times greater than the amount of energy released by fossil fuels.
The greatest benefit of nuclear power is that there is no reliance on fossil fuels and the energy produced isn’t influenced by fluctuating oil and gas costs. However, nuclear energy cannot be classified as renewable because the amount of uranium on Earth is limited and cannot be produced again and again on demand.
Located in northern Saskatchewan  the McArthur River mine has an annual uranium capacity of 18.7 mil...
Located in northern Saskatchewan, the McArthur River mine has an annual uranium capacity of 18.7 million pounds of U3O8.
Cameco Corp.
But wait. With the technology we have today, we can - by using breeder and fusion reactors, produce other fissionable elements. We are also working to control atomic fusion, the same reactions that fuel the sun, which would give us an almost unlimited energy source. So this would make nuclear power plants even more reliable.
The case against nuclear power
1. Environmental Impact: In this case, we are talking about the production of the uranium used for fuel in a nuclear power plant. The process of mining and refining uranium, as well as transporting it to a power plant poses an environmental hazard.
After all, uranium is radioactive, and this is a hazard. Then, we have to consider what will be done with the fuel rods once they are ready for disposal. This is something you can't send to a landfill.
Nuclear fuel rods are shown at North Korea's Yongbyon uranium enrichment complex in January 200...
Nuclear fuel rods are shown at North Korea's Yongbyon uranium enrichment complex in January 2009
, South Korean Foreign Ministry/AFP/File
2. Radioactive Waste Disposal: While the mining and procession of uranium ore pose risks, the disposal of radioactive waste is actually a growing concern worldwide. Think of this fact - a nuclear power plant creates 20 metric tons of nuclear fuel per year, and with that comes a lot of nuclear waste.
Calculating even further, if we consider all the nuclear power plants in the world today, that raises the number to approximately 2,000 metric tons a year. Most of this waste creates heat and transmits radiation, both dangerous to humans and the environment.
Even parts, supplies and outerwear worn by workers have low levels of radioactivity. These items also have to be disposed of properly, and there are only so many repositories in the world today where radioactive waste can be stored. Radioactive waste takes decades and even hundreds of years to decay and reach safe levels.
3. The high cost of nuclear plants: Building a nuclear power plant is fraught with difficulties, from planning to eventual operation. This takes many years and is often plagued with cost overruns that have made investors less apt to fund the projects.
The expansion of the Vogtle Power Plant in Georgia is already four years behind schedule.
The expansion of the Vogtle Power Plant in Georgia is already four years behind schedule.
Westinghouse Electric Co.
In the United States, the expansion of the Vogtle nuclear power plant near Augusta, Georgia is already four years behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget. Vogtle’s two new nuclear reactors were initially scheduled to have been up and running in April 2017.
The length of time involved, and the costs, in building a power plant with such massive infrastructure does not fit in with renewable energy activists' ideas of a quick fix to lowering emissions.
4. Other reasons against nuclear power: Some people add the terrorist threat as being significant to not building more nuclear plants, and there is a reasonable assumption that the threat is high in today's political climate. A lax in security at power plants could result in a very high degree of danger for the public.
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