A fire burns at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan.
Nuclear energy is one of the most controversial and misunderstood sources of energy in the world, and it may very well be the solution to the energy crisis. When most people hear nuclear energy, their mind often automatically goes to doomsday scenarios or public disasters such as Fukushima or Chernobyl. Many people view nuclear energy as dangerous and unpredictable, but in fact, it may have actually prevented 1.8 million deaths.
When a nuclear reactor fails, it does so in spectacular fashion, and necessitates a massive clean up effort. Nuclear disasters are few and far between, but when they do occur, the media circus surrounding them ensures that a huge amount of people can see the disaster, and that many people will form an opinion on nuclear. While nuclear energy does have some very serious drawbacks, there is no energy source without some cost. The problem with more traditional forms of energy is that their production’s costs are often hidden. The pollution caused by coal and natural gas plants accounts for a massive amount of disease and resulting death worldwide, but those plants rarely have massive meltdowns, and hence get less negative media attention.
From what I have written in this blog so far, it may seem that I think that nuclear energy is a perfect solution. It is not. While it may cause less death and disease than other forms of energy, and it does not contribute to climate change, it has other risks. While it may appear that nuclear energy is a completely renewable and unlimited source of energy, this is not completely true. Uranium is still expensive to obtain, and mining generally has negative consequences for the environment. An even more pressing issue is the problem of disposal of nuclear waste. Nuclear waste is radioactive, meaning that it must be contained safely, and it degrades very slowly, meaning that any attempt at storage must be extremely durable and stable. While it does have a lower affect on the environment than other forms of energy, the reactors that produce nuclear energy pose the threat of catastrophic meltdown such as the recent Fukushima accident. Disasters like this threaten to expose entire cities to dangerous radiation, and can cost millions to clean up. In the end, Nuclear energy is a promising but imperfect solution, and it may be our best option looking forward.