Just the term nuclear energy provides numerous definitions, perceptions and opinions. The nuclear industry and community at large has never been fantastic at PR and managing the perceptions of the industry by the public. This has not been helped over the years by the disasters at Chernobyl and more recently Fukushima and how the nuclear is dealt with in the media from the hideous nuclear ‘area 51’ sign and the portrayal of the industry on the shows such as The Simpsons.
Disadvantages of Nuclear Energy
Errors have major consequences
Firstly it should be noted that the workers in the nuclear industry are the most skilled, professional in the world. However, regardless of the level of sophistication of the safe systems of work developed for nuclear energy production on a nuclear power plants the risk of human error remains. When faced with a decision to make during an incident we have no assurances that the correct decision will be made 100% of the time. One such example of this are the above mentioned Chernobyl.
The management of the Chernobyl accident at all levels before, during and after the incident leaves a lot to be desired from deciding to try to do the experiment in the first place, the handover of the shifts working that evening, the dealing with the direct aftermath and the media stonewall following the incident.
Waste Management and Decommissioning
A major disadvantage of nuclear energy is the sourcing, immediate management of and ultimate storage of the radioactive nuclear waste. The mining and transportation of uranium in particular is not a 'clean' process and is in fact an environmental hazard when in transport.
With regards the nuclear waste, in the UK in particular this has been managed over the years by ‘temporary’ storage - particularly at the Sellafield site in West Cumbria. When it comes to the NNB’s (Nuclear New Builds) it is still work in progress on how the waste will be treated once in a state ready to leave the Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) site. With regard HPC "At the end of the decommissioning period, EDF Energy will make a payment to the Government to cover the remaining costs of the storage and disposal to the GDF. Ownership of the spent fuel will then transfer to the Government who will continue to look after it on the Hinkley Point Site."
Furthermore from the each nuclear facilities utilised during the production of nuclear power have a shelf-life and will be required to be decommissioned at some point in the future. Recent history has told us that this is an expensive, prolonged, risky, hazardous task to undertake. Currently in the UK this bill is being footed by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) however for the NNB’s the companies power generating companies need to make a provision of money which is set to one side and built up during operations which is to be used for the cost of decommissioning in the future. "The full costs of decommissioning, waste management and waste disposal will be paid for by EDF Energy through its Funded Decommissioning Programme. This means money will be paid into an independent Fund Company over the lifetime of the station to meet these costs. The money is held separately from EDF Energy and the Government and can only be used to meet the decommissioning and waste liabilities."
Nuclear Power Plants are potential targets of Terrorism
Nuclear power plants are objectives of terrorist organisations. This is both for the nuclear power plants themselves become under attack or misused in some way and for the wrong people getting hold of a nuclear weapon. The second of these is alarming closer than you might think!
Nuclear Power requires multi-national inter-dependence
Nuclear power plants generate external dependence. Not many countries have uranium mines and not all the countries have nuclear technology, so they have to hire both things overseas.
To add to this uranium is like most fuel source not as plentiful and available as people would like - some sources predicting there is only 30-60 worth of uranium available if we up the usuage. This bring rise to increase in prices and the more mined and refined ultimately the more waste that is produced.
The Nuclear deterrent and where it will end
Although we are talking about nuclear energy production the biggest disadvantage of nuclear power is when it is used in a nuclear bomb. Whether you are pro or anti any country having a nuclear deterrent no one ever wants to see a nuclear bomb dropped again like those in WWII in Japan. As nuclear power becomes more wide spread and prevelent in more countries the ease in which nuclear bombs can be armed is rapidly increasing.
Advantages of Nuclear Energy
Nuclear is a Clean Energy
Nuclear energy generation produces much less greenhouse gas emissions as the process does not produce CO2 and reduces reliance on fossil fuels for energy. All these leads to the reduction in consumption of fossil fuels with benefits on global climate change and global warming and ultimately improves the quality of the environment that we live, and breathe, in.
A little goes a long way
Strictly speaking, nuclear energy is not "renewable". However, the world's supply of the basic fuel, uranium, is practically unlimited - and a miniscule amount of uranium-based fuel can provide a lot of energy. Just one pellet, equivalent in size to the rubber on the end of a pencil, of this fuel can provide as much energy as 4.5 barrels of oil, 17,000 cubic feet of gas or 1 ton of coal.
Many people who live on the doorstep of a nuclear facility or are close-by to a proposed facility may not initially agree with this statement but in the main a NPP is very compact and usually very well hidden into the natural landscape and surroundings. When you compare this to wind turbines and solar power panels this is a major advantage.
Security of energy production
A Nuclear Power Plant operates at 90% efficiency meaning that a continuous supply of energy can be almost guaranteed all year round. This is a major advantage against other green energy options such as wind and solar power as there is no dependence of nature and the seasons.
Economic benefits with Nuclear Energy
An increase dependance on fossil fuels brings with it the uncertainty in the market and the fluctuation that are inherent in a volatile market. Nuclear power has the advantages of a much more stable cost.
To add to this although the upfront costs of building a nuclear power plant are expensive the costs of fuel and electricity produced is actually very cheap. The maintenance from a cost perspective are minuscule and the price of the fuel itself does not have a the same impact of the production cost as those felt in oil, gas and coal.
Nuclear Power technology is readily available
Companies to other ‘clean energy’ alternatives nuclear energy is a proven technology which is being improved upon in all the right areas; quality, efficiency and safety. Though they might be loath to admit it, even the staunchest of nuclear opponents must surely recognise that nuclear power is the only current technology with the potential to pick up the slack left by fossil fuels within a short timeframe.
As you can see there are clear advantages and disadvantages associated with using nuclear energy as part of the UK's clean energy strategy. There are numerous other resources to find out more information on the topic. Why not check out our pages on the UK Nuclear Industry as a start to find out more.