By Andrew Tsou
Between mine collapses and nuclear reactor meltdowns, the papers are full of energy-related disasters, and the impetus to locate safer energy sources continues to grow. Some such sources already exist. As a blog article on forbes.com pointed out, solar power is an extremely important option to pursue. Unfortunately, the costs and space required in order to harvest solar energy have hindered its potential. While solar power should certainly be refined and encouraged, until it becomes a means of supplying us with the requisite levels of energy, other methods must be relied on; one of these is nuclear power, which should be used far more than it currently is.
A paper presented by Dr. Bernard Cohen, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh, claims that nuclear power “guarantees the world an everlasting supply of fuel without affecting resources sorely needed for other application.” Most of the objections to nuclear power are not based on its limitations or consumption of natural resources, but rather on other drawbacks; most prominent among these are the safety risks inherent within the venture (although one would be hard-pressed to suggest a viable means of energy production that does NOT have serious risks).
Constructing nuclear reactors in isolated regions would solve many of the safety problems, as would creating, refining, and enforcing stricter safety regulations. According to ucsusa.org, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in the United States has failed to properly regulate nuclear power; accordingly, the venture is riskier than it needs to be, and it is even rather fanatically suggested that should we opt for reprocessing (a means of making waste, um, less wasteful), the possibility of terrorists stealing easily obtained plutonium would be a serious concern.
Admittedly, nuclear power is problematic even beyond the obvious safety concerns. A 2003 MIT study concluded that “nuclear power is not now cost competitive with coal and natural gas.” That said, the study also recognized that costs could be significantly reduced with changes in the industry and in governmental policies. The website of the Union of Concerned Scientists, Ucsusa.org, claims that government subsidies are required in order to make nuclear power cost-effective; whether this is a positive fact or not is debatable. The aforementioned site claims that subsidies would conceal the true costs of nuclear power and thus “diminish or delay support for more economical and less risky alternatives like energy efficiency and renewable energy.” However, this is more a public relations issue than it is an argument against using taxpayer funds to support one of the better means of energy production currently available to us.
Waste disposal is also a problem; however, the MIT study suggested that further refining the “open, once-through fuel cycle may offer waste management benefits as large as those claimed for the more expensive closed fuel cycles.” Nuclearnow.org has even suggested that “Integral Fast Reactor technology will enable us to turn the vast majority of what is currently considered waste into energy.”
The recent nuclear disaster in Japan has served less to discredit nuclear power than to illustrate the logical fallacies that humans are prone to. Nuclear power might have the potential to cause headline-worthy disasters, but when one compares these disasters to the harm caused by the slow-’n’-steady environmental problems caused by, say, coal, it’s arguable that nuclear power is still superior to a lot of the other energy sources we have available right now. Just as we cannot swear off oil simply because of the BP disaster, we have to consider nuclear power as a viable energy source … at least for now.