When I think of nuclear power, two images come to mind: the scheming Mr Burns of the Simpsons and the tragedy of Chernobyl. Both of these images were born from an era long ago (yes, 1989 is after-all, 20 years ago)! Often nuclear power is thought of a thing of the past, born out of the days of the Cold War. Then why is it that I am hearing so much about it these days? From the President’s State of the Union to mainstream media, it seems to be everywhere. People are turning back to nuclear power in the midst of the impending oil crisis and the knowledge that we need a new way to approach energy in this country and throughout the world.
The world’s first nuclear power plant used to supply electricity opened in 1956 in the UK. Since then, power plants have been built throughout the entire world and were at their heights in the 1980’s. However, the accidents of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl have cast a shadow on the energy source, and nuclear power, once the darling of the country has been stunted. The idea of supplying the world’s electricity through nuclear power has been quietly put on a shelf, that is until recent years. Currently, 15% of the world’s electricity is supplied by nuclear power. However, we may see this trend change in upcoming years.
Many nuclear supporters, such as France, have begun touting it as a feasible answer to the oil crisis and some have gone as far as labeling it renewable energy. Supporters of nuclear being a renewable energy point to the fact it produces little or no greenhouse gases. And that current Uranium stocks (how nuclear power is created) are enough to last , at current rates, 2000-2500 years.
Calling Nuclear Power a renewable energy has sparked some huge protests among the environmental community. Most notably, nuclear power is created by Uranium, which must be extracted from the Earth through destructive mining techniques. Also, there is the problem of nuclear waste, which is incredibly dangerous. Although, nuclear power may not produce greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, it still produces waste that must be placed somewhere. Where are they going to put all this waste? For decades they have been burying it in containers, hoping thousands of years will reduce its radioactivity, however, if an earthquake or war breaks out containers could spill into the soil and water supply. This waste is terribly harmful to humans and the environment, one just has to look to Chernobyl for an example or that three eyed fish from the Simpsons.
Speaking of Chernobyl, it is clear nuclear power can be dangerous. Although meltdowns are very rare, if one were to occur, it could be horrific and harmful to the environment. The land and water surrounding Chernobyl is still feeling the effects of the meltdown in 1986. As mentioned these incidents are a rarity, however the nuclear power industry must spend costly amounts on safety within the plants to be certain these will not occur.
It seems likely that many nuclear power supporters and industry are looking to promote it as a renewable source to benefit from the tax cuts and subsidiaries that are awarded to true renewable energy sources. You can just see Mr Burns putting those bony fingers together and hissing “Excellent.” So far, even with the President backing it, nuclear power has not been included in the definition of renewable energy. For instance, the International Renewable Energy Agency has yet to include it. And nuclear power has seen an even greater backlash here in the States. Vermont’s Senate recently voted not to renew the state’s Nuclear Power Plant contract another 20 years. Without a contract, the plant is likely to close in 2012.
Labeling nuclear power as renewable seems like a far stretch to me and to most of the environmental community. Instead of focusing time and energy on labeling an incredibly expensive and waste emitting source, it would be in our best interest to focus on real renewable sources. This includes wind, solar, and even geo-thermal. We need to be funding and devoting new technologies to these renewable sources instead of wasting our time on a debatable source of energy. We must figure out a way to produce more energy at cheaper rates through sources such as sun and wind. It is time we become focused and actually forge a sustainable energy plan to ween ourselves off this nasty oil addiction, and nuclear power just isn’t the answer. Ask the victims of Chernobyl or that three eyed fish, if you don’t believe me.