A Short Commentary on the Safety of Nuclear Energy
The question of safety in the utilization of nuclear energy has been discussed in the world debate forum on nuclear issues since the inception of nuclear technology in the 1940’s. Many experts believe that nuclear energy can be utilized safely, and many advocate for the continued utilization of nuclear energy. Yet there are some among illustrious scientists who believe that nuclear power, in any form, is bad, and can harm humans. These latter individuals give the example of Chernobyl, and most recently, Fukushima, and point to countries such as Iran, who are developing nuclear “energy” without a clear statement of their intention as to what they will do with this technology. Thus, the uncertainty surrounding various facets of nuclear issues prompts one to think whether, in fact, nuclear energy is positive or whether the world forum should monitor more closely the utilization of this technology, especially in rogue countries. This essay will discuss these issues by referencing four recent articles, cited in the reference section at the end of the paper, and present, as its central point, the fact that if unregulated and unchanged, the utilization of nuclear power in an unsafe way can lead to many disastrous accidents.
The cause, in this case, is the utilization of nuclear energy for, most of the time, peaceful and beneficial purposes, yet the effect, as seen in disasters in Ukraine and Japan, can be catastrophic. Thus, many journalists are now wondering whether the safety mechanisms in place are enough to control these powerful nuclear reactors that supply the energy. The most obvious disadvantage, one that far outweighs the advantages of nuclear power, is the fact that accidents can cause death and destruction on a massive scale (i.e. Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and Fukushima). Yet safe nuclear power does exist, more specifically in the form of the thorium reactor. Needless to say, this reactor was not utilized in any of the three places mentioned above. But this reactor is safe, because it does not produce waste and provides clean, reliable electricity. Furthermore, it is safe from just about any natural disaster and quite cheap and efficient to run. It is thus surprising to hear that in the wake of such disasters and such disadvantages to utilizing other types of reactors, more thorium reactors are not employed. The reason that many have not heard of these reactors is because nobody wants to change current practices, if they work, and many lobbying groups employed agree, for some odd reason, against these reactors, simply to maintain the status quo. Unfortunately, this is the sad truth, and threatens to be so for years to come. (Article 1)
The threat of more accidents with respect to this issue is not something that can be ignored. Yet the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is keeping aging reactors within standards of safety by either weakening or ignoring its own rules. This is not only alarming, but challenges the very purpose of this commission and demonstrates very reckless behavior. Some investigations have, in fact, found that the NRC has twice weakened safety standards, which is very dangerous for the safety and the health of the population, not to mention that this is a sure path to a potential accident. Yes, nuclear energy is important and is a clean alternative to other means, but the population must also question its safety standards, for a disaster, as seen recently in Japan, may prove devastating. (Article 2)
Other sources continue to encourage nuclear reactors and the utilization of this technology, despite the afore-stated risks. These sources, however, seem to warn of the costs, which are cited to run at about $7-8 billion for a new reactor. Despite the fact that these reactors would be safer to utilize than existing ones, banks have been unwilling to lend, as it takes quite awhile for a plant to see its investment back once it starts selling power. Yet these source also warn that that U.S. must get back in the game of safe, clean energy, and must foot the bill for such power, as it would tremendously improve not only the cleanliness of the environment, but also the job market. (Article 3)
Lastly, there are some who argue that the need to prevent the accidents caused by potential oversights and shortcoming of reactors and of nuclear energy in general must be a new declaration adopted at a ministerial meeting by the IAEA in order to prevent a Fukushima from happening every again. The engagement of the international community in the well-being of society, with regards to this issue, is only a step in the process of ensuring that the cause and effect relationship between nuclear power and accidents does not every happen again. As described above, the other steps are the utilization of well-built nuclear reactors that are well regulated by the NRC. International safety standards should, furthermore, check on all 75 nuclear reactors in the world, including those that are currently being constructed, which are an additional 91 reactors. (Article 4)
It is quite scary to think that by trying to be responsible and environmentally “green,” some countries and organizations are putting in motion, by ignoring safety standards established nationally and internationally, as well as by lacking or refusing to put in place better-equipped reactors, a cycle that can lead a potential nuclear disaster with devastating consequences. This cycle must be stopped at any cost, especially because of the fact that enough nuclear disasters have happened that should teach a lesson, and everybody must contribute towards this effort in order to save mankind from the irrevocable damage it may bring upon itself.
1. Cribb, Julian. (2011, April 26) The Canberra Times. “Why is no one talking about safe nuclear power.” Retrieved December 6, 2011 from www.canberratimes.com/au/news/opinion/editorial/general/why-is-no-one-talking-about-safe-nuclear-power/2144252.aspx .
2. Dallas News. (2011, June 22) “Editorial: yes to nuclear power, but only if safety comes first.” Retrieved December 5, 2011 from www.dallasnews.com/opinion/editorials/20110622-editorial-yes-to-nuclear-power-only-if-safety-comes-first.ece .
3. NY Times. (2010, February 17) “Editorial: a reasonable bet on nuclear power.” Retrieved December 5, 2011 from www.nytimes.com/2010/02/18/opinion/18thur2.html .
4. The Yomiuri Shimbun. (2011, June 23) “We need nuclear energy, so let’s make it safe.” Retrieved December 5, 2011 from www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/editorial/T110622005048.htm .
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