The environmental effects of the nuclear power industry

Can nuclear power be safe, green and reliable?

Elaboration, 2013

8 Pages, Grade: 4.0



Nuclear power was introduced for commercial energy sector during 1950 to meet the global power demand. Nuclear power is proven environmentally economic, reliable, efficient and greener. However, nuclear waste disposal technique and Fukushima Daiichi and Chernobyl Nuclear power plant accidents created waves of fear and concern to environmentalist. Industrialist and environmentalist started to debate on nuclear power expansion project based on pro and cons of nuclear power. Environmentalist opposed and claiming nuclear power is expensive and dangerous to health, safety and environment. Further, they suggest and recommend that alternative energy such as wind, solar and thermal industry to be focused and invested for sustainable future. However, industrialist argued that we have improved modern technology to manage the nuclear waste to keep away from health, safety and environmental hazards. They also highlighted that the nuclear industry is highly regulated by Government to monitor and keep the hazard within permissible limits. Fossil resource is extensively used for energy sector which create unsustainability and push United States to depend on foreign oil resources. I have analyzed and summarized various authors and environmentalist articles argument on this subject. I have also explained the benefits of nuclear energy along with the risk involved in health, safety and environment. In conclusion, I have summarized my understanding and view recommending nuclear power energy over the other energy industries.

Can Nuclear Power Be Safe, Green and Reliable


Due to the heated political situation in the world during the Second World War the rapid development of nuclear weapons technology was imminent in the United States. So, in the beginning Nuclear power was developed and intended for military purpose. After the war, nuclear energy development turned in the direction of the peaceful use for the production of electricity. During 1950s, commercial nuclear power plant was first established in Russia, and then followed in United States of America. Compared to coal and fossil power, using nuclear power in energy industry was considered as economic, reliable, efficient and environmentally greener. However, as a consequence few negative impacts were arising such as safe operation, nuclear waste management, health hazard and risk of weapon proliferation. Inadequate operation technology, resource, waste disposal techniques and security control are blamed for ineffective nuclear power plant operation. Then, few nuclear power plant accidents occurred due to improper operation and natural calamity which cost human life and devastating environment pollution. Since accidents and improper radioactive disposal are dangerous to the environment and humans, nuclear power energy become debatable issue, environmentalist and related groups strongly opposed the nuclear power industry. Non- nuclear industry also have significant environment impacts such as releasing greenhouse gases to atmosphere however, nuclear power industry was considered more dangerous due to huge radiation release which is harmful to human and nature. The technology for producing nuclear energy that is shared among nations can also be used to produce highly-enriched, weapons-grade uranium. It is huge risk and executes safe way of reprocessing nuclear wastes and keeps it away from illegal users. People all over the world depend on energy for many reasons but the production of this desperate needed resource from nuclear energy resource can be very harmful for humans as well as the environment.

Review of Literature

In modern time, environmentalist voiced alternative energy sources such as solar, wind and thermal power that are sustainable and do not pose the accident risks are proposed. In this essay, various literatures and authors view on pro and cons of nuclear power energy and alternative energy sources are well discussed. Thomas A. Easton the author of “Clashing views on Environmental Issues” (2011), addressed an debate on “Is it time to revive nuclear power ?” where environmentalist Iain Murray supports the idea that nuclear power is safe, green and reliable. This statement is further supported by the article on “Safety of Nuclear Power Reactor” (2012) which stated that the number of significant accidents is comparatively very low for the total number of reactors operating in world. Though there are hundreds or reactors operated all over world, we have witnessed only three major disasters such as Three Miles Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima. According to the article in The Franklin Institute (n.d.), in United States, based on the work place safety data compared to private industry, nuclear plants are relatively safe place to work. The article “Safety of Nuclear Power Reactor” (2012) supports nuclear power safety and stated the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) specifies criteria for reactor designs against core damage frequency; however modern designs exceed this requirement.

Iain Murray also debated nuclear powers are also comparatively cheaper and reduced global warming. As cited in (Thomas, 2011) Murray supporting the statement by referring the Congressional Budget Office report and justified cost of nuclear power energy is cheaper than coal power energy. “When it comes to operating costs, nuclear power is much less expensive” (Thomas, 2011, p.228). He also stated that nuclear power is the most attractive source of electricity and provides “economic benefits regardless of the carbon price”. This statement is further supported by the article in The Franklin Institute (n.d) which stated that the cost of electricity can be much lower from nuclear industry due to reduced cost of air pollution control, air permit exempts, and cost of plant maintenance. The article also stated, in addition to environmental benefits, it provides significant economic benefits as well. Bruno Comby’s argument supported this cost benefit view saying “The cost of nuclear power is competitive and stable. The cost of nuclear fuel is a small part of the price of a nuclear kilowatt-hour, whereas fossil fueled power, especially oil and gas, is at the mercy of the market” (p.5). However, Steven Cohen (2013) argued though we have resource to manage such nuclear waste and meet the Nuclear Waste Act, the economic benefit of nuclear power is not significant.

In addition according to The Franklin Institute (n.d.), “Nuclear power plants produce no controlled air pollutants, such as sulfur and particulates, or greenhouse gases. The use of nuclear energy in place of other energy sources helps to keep the air clean, preserve the Earth's climate, avoid ground-level ozone formation and prevent acid rain”. Nuclear power plant is the best option to meet the U.S. Clean Air Act of 1970 by reducing emission of greenhouse gases such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon and so on. This statement is further referred to Energy Information Administration annual performance report; stated millions of tons of greenhouse gas emission are prevented from entering earth’s atmosphere on every year. This article further highlighted nuclear power energy also provides water quality and aquatic life conservation due to huge amount of clean water discharge comes from cooling process and “they are often developed as wetlands that provide nesting areas for waterfowl and other birds, new habitats for fish, and the preservation of other wildlife as well as trees, flowers, and grasses. Many energy companies have created special nature parks or wildlife sanctuaries on plant sites” (The Franklin Institute (n.d.)). However, according to Niki Fear (2009), “Nuclear Power can contaminate water supplies and cases of water contamination with radioactive substances have occurred around over a dozen different nuclear sites around the country. The process of mining materials used in nuclear power plants such as uranium and titanium run a very high risk of water contamination and improper handling can affect water quality in adjacent water sources including ground water”. Also according to Easton (2011), the environmentalist Kristin argued that nuclear power can be risky and impractical. He further quoted government’s own data which expressed nuclear reactors are highly potential for nuclear accident and may resulted killing people and contaminate huge area. To add this statement Steven Cohen (2013) criticizes the media for trying to make believe that environmentalist embraced the nuclear power is the “new green-energy” option because it is carbon free source of power. Primary nuclear waste such as spent fuel rods is so toxic and difficult to get rid of it because of longer decay period. According to The Franklin Institute (n.d.), “Nuclear power plants produce no gases such as nitrogen oxide or sulfur dioxide that could threaten our atmosphere by causing ground-level ozone formation, smog, and acid rain. Nor does nuclear energy produce carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases suspected to cause global warming”. The same message is agreed by Bruno Comby in Environmentalists for Nuclear Energy (n.d), “Nuclear energy produces almost no carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide or nitrogen oxides as released in vast quantities when fossil fuels are burned. One gram of uranium yields about as much energy as a ton of coal or oil - it is the famous “factor of a million”. Nuclear waste is correspondingly about a million times smaller than fossil fuel waste, and it is totally confined”.


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The environmental effects of the nuclear power industry
Can nuclear power be safe, green and reliable?
Columbia Southern University
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Environment, safe nuclear power, air-pollution free, ecological efficient power source
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Chandran Ilango (Author), 2013, The environmental effects of the nuclear power industry, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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