Renewable Energy Vs. Nuclear Energy - 1 Year After Fukushima
Author: Ian Wright
Published: Thursday, 21 June 2012
Renewable energy vs. nuclear energy remains an ongoing debate within the green community. Renewable energy resources are those which come from a source that can't be diminished over time and are therefore constantly available to generate the energy we need. They are wind, The Sun, flowing water and geothermal heat.
Nuclear power relies on the mining of uranium and other radioactive elements then used in nuclear reactors to produce energy. While nuclear energy is much more efficient that fossil fuels such as coal and oil the supply of these radioactive elements, like fossil fuels eventually diminishes with use over time.
Both nuclear and renewable energy have a lesser impact upon CO2 emissions and are therefore preferable to fossil fuels which are diminishing in availability, rising in cost and contributing to climate change.
A drawback of renewable energy resources is the geographical area it takes to generate significant quantities of energy necessary to power our industrialized world. Added to this, the development of renewable energy resource technology requires major investment in order for it to become a viable option for energy creation.
The technology is relatively new and therefore requires years to develop it to optimize efficiency. Also all renewable energy creation requires suitable and appropriate weather conditions. If these conditions don't exist the energy simply isn't created. We therefore have a situation where reducing our energy consumption and expanding the variety of resources from which we acquire energy is necessary.
Nuclear energy has the largest baseline energy output per unit of any available electrical energy source. Uranium is expensive to produce but once in function can be used over a long period of time to produce energy and is therefore a much more effective fuel source than petroleum. However, the process by which we can extract energy from uranium must be conducted in a nuclear power-plant which can cost up to 15 billion US dollars to make.
The expense of making the nuclear reactor at the heart of all nuclear power-plants makes this source of energy prohibitive for all but the richest nations. French company Areva are currently building two plants based in Finland and France, both are far from completion and building costs have recently increased by 3 billion euro each. Building projects such as these around
the world are always thwarted with the same problems regarding expense. A further pressing issue is what to do with the nuclear waste resulting from the by-products of nuclear fission. This waste remains highly dangerous for thousands of years and is therefore of huge risk to populations in close proximity to nuclear facilities. There is currently a 20 mile exclusion zone around the reactor which melted down in Fukushima Daiichi and 150,000 people have had to relocate their homes and lives as well as having been exposed to dangerous levels of radioactivity.
There are massive risks from Nuclear energy due to it being inherently dangerous through the waste products and the margin for human error within the regulatory processes. Most worrying is the self-regulatory nature of risk assessment regarding the Nuclear industry and the lack of government intervention within the industry. This self regulation can be seen in the various nuclear industries throughout the world. Greenpeace states that,
"Since Chernobyl, the US alone has faced nearly 200 'near misses' according to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission."
Greenpeace also reports the Japanese government's neglect of scientific evidence, over-confidence by the nuclear industry as the causes of the Fukushima Daiichi disaster. Confidence is further diminished in the industry due to the cost of cleaning up nuclear disasters falling to governments and not the private enterprises responsible for building the nuclear power-plants in the first place.
Insurance costs for such high risk endeavours mean that companies are protected against paying the full amount of cleaning up a potential disaster meaning that governments are putting the profits of Nuclear companies ahead of the interests of the people.
Further evidence and research from Greenpeace suggests that,
"Even if the entire global fleet of reactors was quadrupled…this would lead to at most a 6% reduction in global CO2 emissions."