The Dangers of Nuclear Energy

By Joanne Redding

While there are many tangible benefits associated with nuclear energy, the risks related to it cannot be ignored. While they don’t reach the magnitude of risk that nuclear weapons present, they are significant and should be a part of the conversation. Things to consider include the following:.

  1. Accidents
    • We have seen how human error and natural disasters lead to dangerous and costly accidents, as seen in 1979 with Three Mile Island,1986 with Chernobyl, 2011 with Fukishima. These disasters resulted in hundreds of thousands of people relocated, millions of dollars spent, a huge uptick in radiation-related deaths and diseases, and the release of radioactive materials into the surrounding areas. Cancer rates among populations living in proximity to Chernobyl and Fukushima, especially among children, rose significantly in the years following the accidents.
  2. Terrorist Targets
    • Nuclear research facilities, uranium enrichment plants, and uranium mines are at risk for attacks that could cause widespread contamination with radioactive material. News of recent attempts to hack nuclear power plants underscores this risk. Furthermore, if a plane were to fly into a nuclear power station, the 9/11 atrocity would be tiny by comparison
    • Nuclear power stations use the same technology as that used to manufacture nuclear weapons. Any plant purifying uranium power stations can manufacture weapons-grade fissile material. Nuclear power development has been used repeatedly as a cover for creating nuclear weapons.
  3. Nuclear Waste
    • The waste generated by nuclear reactors remains radioactive for thousands of years. There are no long-term storage solutions for radioactive waste. Typically, the waste is buried in bedrock and sealed off, an irresponsible and short-sighted “solution”.
    • The standards in place for nuclear-waste handling and storage are inadequate and pose frightening hazards to the public and the environment.
  4. Nuclear Proliferation
    • The development of nuclear energy programs increases the likelihood of proliferation of nuclear weapons. As these interchangeable technologies become globally available, the risk of them falling into the wrong hands skyrockets.
  5. Cost and Competition with Renewables
    • Nuclear energy production keeps getting more expensive, while alternatives are getting cheaper. Studies show that in order to meet current and future energy needs, the nuclear sector would have to scale up to around 14,500 plants, from the current 444 plants which provide 11% of the world’s energy. Mining the necessary uranium is extremely energy intensive. As a result, the purported energy savings of nuclear energy production are greatly diminished, as is the case for any reduction in greenhouse gas emissions brought about by switching from coal to nuclear.
    • The price of renewable energy has fallen significantly over the past decade and is projected to continue to fall. Investment in nuclear plants, security, mining infrastructure, etc. draws funding away from investment in cleaner sources such as wind, solar, and geothermal.