Opinions on Debatable Issues #6
What is commercial energy? According to sicencedirect.com, the energy sources that are used to generate electricity and that are available in the marketplace with a specific price are known as commercial energy sources. The most commercialized forms of commercial energy sources are electricity, coal, and advanced petroleum products. The major sources of commercial energy worldwide are oil, coal, and gas. In 2019, 11% of US primary energy consumption came from renewable energy and 8% came from nuclear electric power.
The increasing detrimental impacts of global warming alarmed more countries to seek a more sustainable energy source that can effectively reduce carbon emission. Natural gas, which is the main energy source in the U.S. today, generates electricity with half of the carbon emission as coal. It is good, but not as good as nuclear energy, as many have found. Nuclear power plants generate electricity with no significant output of carbon. Specifically, they release only 4-5% of greenhouse gases as a natural gas-fired power plant.
Not only does nuclear energy help ameliorate global warming, but it also has a higher capacity than other major energy sources. Solar power relies on the sun, which is an intermittent energy source, causing its capacity to plummet sharply. According to Yale Environment, nuclear power plants generated 20% of US electricity with “an average capacity factor of 92.3%, meaning they operated at full power on 336 out of 365 days per year.” The 29 days that the plants did not run were used for maintenance. In contrast, hydroelectric systems had a capacity factor of 38.2%, solar electricity arrays were 25.1%, and coal or natural gas plants only scored 50%. In terms of capacity, nuclear energy surpasses all other major energy sources.
A major misconception of nuclear energy usage is that it releases a huge amount of radiation. However, when put into perspective and compared with other sources of radiation, nuclear energy cannot be labeled as “dangerous” in terms of its radiation production. Coal “contains a substantial volume of the radioactive elements uranium and thorium. Burning coal gasifies its organic materials, concentrating its mineral components into the remaining waste, called fly ash”, which is the major source of radioactive releases into the environment. Not only that, but NRC contests that people living within 50 miles of a nuclear power plant would also only receive an average radiation dose of about 0.01 millirem per year, which is 1/300 of the amount an average person receives from natural background sources of radiation annually.
Despite being seemingly innocuous and cost-effective, there are downsides of nuclear energy usage that must be taken into considerations. The risk of accidents of uncontrolled nuclear reactions in a nuclear reactor could result in widespread contamination of air and water. Some argue that the risk is small because of the rigorous regulatory requirements and oversight of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. However, history tells us otherwise, in February 2014, a radiological release incident occurred despite the regulations and surveillance. It was caused by a single waste drum, which was packaged incorrectly with organic kitty litter, which reacted with waste product in the drum and caused an explosion, at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). Worse, WIPP’s air filtration system failed to fully contain the radiological release within the facility, destroying outside of the facility. Not only that, but the analysis by the Los Angeles Times also estimated that the long-term cost of the incident was around 2 billion dollars. One small mistake caused such financial loss and contamination of the land due to radioactive release. The consequences are unimaginable if any of the nuclear power plants have any other issues.
Furthermore, the United States has not yet had an effective solution to deal with the disposal of radioactive wastes. Materials like uranium mill tailings and reactor fuel can remain radioactive and dangerous to human health for thousands of years. The United States only has one facility engaged in the permanent disposal of nuclear waste: the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico. Although the United States contains more than 90,000 metric tons of highly radioactive nuclear waste, the federal government has been unable to implement any strategy for its permanent disposal. That means nuclear power won’t be a sustainable energy source for the long term. This means the United States is not ready for using nuclear energy on a larger scale and rushing this process without a solution to waste disposal creates a problem in the long run regardless of climate change is ameliorated. It might seem we solved a problem, but the truth is we just created another one.
Very expensive. The capital costs of nuclear power plants are greater than those for coal-fired plants and much greater than those for gas-fired plants.
Detrimental environmental impacts of using nuclear energy. According to conserve energy future.com. Nuclear waste can have drastically bad effects on life, causing cancerous growths, for instance, or causing genetic problems for many generations of animals and plants. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, The extraction of uranium, which is used as fuel for nuclear reactors that make electricity, leaves behind radioactive waste. Uranium eventually decays to radium, which decays to release a radioactive gas called radon that disperses into the atmosphere. Wind can, and storms have, blow radioactive dust from the wastes into populated areas, causing the wastes to contaminate surface water used for drinking. Some sites also have considerable groundwater contamination. Even though these might not directly cause cancer on humans beings, the long-term detrimental impacts on the environment are irretrievable and cannot be ignored.
The increased usage of nuclear energy can potentially lead to the proliferation of nuclear weapons. According to arms control and non-proliferation, facilities constructed for use in a nuclear energy program could eventually be used to produce nuclear weapons. “Specifically, the key risk lies with the nuclear fuel cycle because facilities and technologies used in the enrichment and reprocessing of nuclear fuel can also be used to produce fissile materials for use in nuclear weapons. Also, to increase nuclear energy usage means development and increased usage of “uranium enrichment technology that can also be used to produce weapons-grade uranium, which can be used to make a nuclear weapon”. This poses a threat to the entire nation and should be a paramount concern.
In short, nuclear energy has many favorable capabilities that can help the United States, and the world as a whole, to reduce carbon emission and produce commercial energy more efficiently. However, the unsolved problem of waste disposal and risks of radiological release makes it an uneasy call to operate nuclear power plants on a larger scale. Scientists and the legislative branch must work together on evaluating the benefits and dangers of increasing the usage of nuclear energy and coming up with necessary rigorous regulations and protective policies to ensure the safety and health of not just our citizens, but also the animals, plants, and our only home — Earth.
Check out other Opinions on Debatable Issues: - Nature vs. Nurture https://mypathtowardsmindfulness.org/2020/07/09/nature-vs-nurture/ - The "Weaknesses" of DACA https://mypathtowardsmindfulness.org/2020/08/25/the-weaknesses-of-daca/ - Why the US Should Hold Onto USPS https://mypathtowardsmindfulness.org/2020/09/01/why-the-us-should-hold-onto-usps/ - Why No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) is a FAILURE https://mypathtowardsmindfulness.org/2020/09/05/why-no-child-left-behind-act-ncld-is-a-failure/ - The Fairness of Progressive Taxes https://mypathtowardsmindfulness.org/2020/09/12/the-fairness-of-progressive-taxes/ - The United States Elections Should NOT be Run as a "Lottocracy". https://mypathtowardsmindfulness.org/2020/09/26/the-united-states-elections-should-not-be-run-as-a-lottocracy/ - Parents Should NOT be Given the Legal Rights to Refuse Medical Treatments for Children https://mypathtowardsmindfulness.org/2020/10/03/parents-should-not-be-given-the-legal-rights-to-refuse-medical-treatments-for-children/ - Roe v. Wade: Why the Current Ruling is both Unconstitutional and Unethical https://mypathtowardsmindfulness.org/2020/10/10/roe-v-wade-why-the-current-ruling-is-both-unconstitutional-and-unethical/