Global Ethics Corner: Nuclear Power's Future

Mar 25, 2011

Due to the high demand of energy, competitive costs, and environmental concerns, nuclear power seemed like a reasonable option. The earthquake and tsunami in Japan have since raised serious concerns about its safety. Is nuclear power worth the risk?

Before the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, a new generation of nuclear power plants seemed inevitable. China, had plans for 28 new reactors, and more than 60 were planned globally.

To many, the arguments were persuasive. Many sources are needed to meet the future demand for electricity. To meet current economic growth by 2015, China alone may need one and a half times the electrical capacity of 2010.

Nuclear power is also increasingly cost effective. Cost calculations are extremely controversial varying dramatically depending on assumptions. Variables include massive up-front capital, low operating expenses, large decommissioning charges, and costs for spent-fuel storage. Nevertheless, as oil prices increase, nuclear power is ever more attractive. [Oil is currently over $100 a barrel.]

Finally, climate change makes nuclear power compelling. There are serious environmental issues with nuclear power. However, carbon dioxide is not emitted, and the impact on global warming is minimized, compared to fossil fuels.

Given high demand, more competitive costs, and a more balanced environmental argument, nuclear power was experiencing a resurgence.

The Achilles heel of nuclear power is water. Huge volumes are needed to cool the fuel rods. This is the problem in Japan, where the pumps were disabled because both the main and backup power supplies were destroyed.

The best sites for nuclear plants are on huge bodies of water; hence their vulnerability to tsunamis. The subsequent overheating and meltdown of plants dramatically multiplies the consequences of natural disasters.

What do you think? Would you embrace nuclear power? If so, where would you build the plants?

By William Vocke

For more information see:

James Pomfret & Benjamin Kang Lim, " China nuclear plants only delayed, not stopped," The China Post, March 20, 2011, p. 4, Daya Bay, China, Reuters.

Editorial, "Questions After Japan," International Herald Tribune, March 19-20, 2011, p. 6.

World Nuclear Association

Photo Credits in order of Appearance:

Douglas Sprott

Jeremy Whitlock/ AECL
Erik
Jakob Montrasio
Jeremy Farmer
Lina Zernova/Bellona
Lina Zernova/Bellona
Tony
Ian Britton
Campus Progress
Bigod
Digital Globe
Eric Lewis
Webtravel

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