Nuclear power is a stubborn phenomenon. Uranium is an incredibly dense energy source and, as such, warrants consideration as a sustainable solution to the impending energy crisis. However, several issues cross the line for many environmentalists. This roundup covers five of the most common problems that people have with nuclear power.
High Environmental Impact
Perhaps one of the most attractive aspects of nuclear power is that an operating plant emits no carbon. However, mining and water discharge damage the environment. The uranium mining required by nuclear energy damages the environment and risks contaminating the surrounding area with arsenic and radon. In US history, this type of pollution has had catastrophic effects on the Navajo living near uranium mines.
In addition, nuclear power facilities create thermal pollution. Most reactors reside close to lakes or oceans. Water from these sources condenses hot steam back into the water at the plant, rising in temperature. The facilities then discharge this heated water back into its source. Many native aquatic species cannot survive in this unnaturally hot water, which is often over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
Non-Renewable Fuel Source
Renewable energy sources do not deplete with use. Solar power uses the sun, while wind and water use natural reoccurring phenomena to generate electricity. Nuclear energy does not fit this criterion. Its fuel, uranium, exists in geological formations like coal and is likewise limited. As we mine uranium, we deplete it and cannot manufacture more.
Assuming we maintain our current nuclear output, analysts estimate that known supplies will last up to 200 years. However, relying more on nuclear power may deplete the supply quicker, causing reliability problems sooner than some anticipate.
Problems With Storing Waste
Although nuclear power does not generate greenhouse gas emissions, it does produce radioactive waste. Moreover, this toxic byproduct remains harmful for thousands of years. Currently, the answer to this problem is long-term storage. However, while it has worked so far, storing radioactive waste presents several challenges.
Currently, no long-term storage facility exists for nuclear power plant waste in the US. As a result, the waste will continue accumulating; once current and former atomic facilities run out of on-site storage, there will be a problem. Moreover, radioactive waste might affect nearby residents or the environment if any storage facility leaks.
Intensive Water Consumption
Nuclear power facilities need a lot of water to cool the reactor cores. The United States used 320 billion gallons of water to generate nuclear electricity in 2015 alone. This is more water than the coal industry uses to process its material. This massive water expenditure may become unsustainable as water becomes scarce—particularly in the face of climate change.
Risk Of Catastrophe
Nuclear power stations are very secure because of stringent safety regulations. However, despite precautions, accidents have happened in the past. The Fukushima, Chernobyl, and Three Mile Island disasters illustrate that nuclear plant meltdowns may devastate nearby regions.
Radiation from a nuclear meltdown can exact a devastating toll on human life and the environment. The 1986 Chernobyl catastrophe killed between 4,000 and 60,000 people (depending on the causal thresholds). Additionally, as of 2016, about 2 million Chernobyl-related health issues persisted. The 19-mile Chernobyl exclusion zone still remains restricted 35 years later. Even though nuclear power remains much less deadly than fossil fuels in the aggregate, high-profile disasters are stark reminders of the dangers inherent in industrial energy production.