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Nuclear Power

In this age of oil shortages, concerns about global warming, and increased pressure to find a clean source of energy, nuclear power has become a prominent issue in both the United States and around the globe.  In the United States alone there are One hundred and three active reactors in 31 different states providing energy to the country.  Nuclear power accounts for about 20% of the total amount of energy created in our country.[1] The regulation and licensing of civilian nuclear plants is the responsibility of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission which was established by the Energy Reorganization Act of 1974.  On average the One hundred and three nuclear plants have been operating for twenty-four years.[2]  All plants were originally issued an operating license for forty years with an option to renew for another twenty.  Many plants have already begun the process of applying to have their licenses extended.  Additionally three new applications for nuclear plant sites were submitted in 2003 and expectations are that construction licenses will be applied for and granted in 2008 with a three to five year construction period following.  The stated goal of the nuclear energy industry is to continue construction of new plants to allow for the growth of nuclear energy by 20% by 2020.  If this goal is realized nuclear energy will account for over 30% of the nation’s energy output.  Over the past three decades nuclear power has become an ever more pervasive and frightening specter and the controversy will only grow as the world attempts to make a move away from dirty sources of energy.  While the United States runs far more nuclear energy reactors than any other country, it is not alone in its choice to expose humans and the environment to serious danger.  France is currently running 59 nuclear reactors which accounts for about 77% of the nation’s electricity.  Japan operates 55 nuclear reactors which make up just over a third of the energy produced in the country.[3]  It is important to acknowledge that the issue of nuclear power is not isolated within the United States but the focus of concern for citizens of the United States must focus on nuclear power as it exists here.  Throughout its history, nuclear power has showcased a massive inequity between those who make decisions concerning the technology and those who are affected by the decisions.  The public as a generalization has not been exposed to and thoroughly educated on the subject of nuclear power and because of this there is not nearly enough understanding of the dangers and concerns presented by the growth of the nuclear power industry.

Nuclear power is championed by its proponents as a clean, cheap, and simple solution to the energy problems of the world.  What its supporters fail to mention is that nuclear power is has none of these benefits and instead hosts a myriad set of problems.  The nuclear power industry has evolved through a system of vast disparities and government support.  Decisions regarding the advancement and implementation of nuclear energy, from identifying plant sites to issues of waste disposal, are regularly made by an elite few with little or no input from the millions of citizens who stand to be affected.  Furthermore, nuclear power is only cheap when the role of government funding is ignored.  Construction and operation of nuclear power plants has been made possible by a disproportionate amount of government funds when compared to all other potential energy sources.  Perhaps the most telling failure of the nuclear power industry to own up to the truth is its claim of the inherently safe and clean nature of nuclear power.  Nuclear power plants operate with and create highly radioactive nuclear waste materials that pose life-threatening risks to any person unfortunate enough to be exposed to such materials.  After the initial momentum behind nuclear power died out there might have been hopes that it was a passing fad but in recent years the industry has been revived and with it all the old disparities have come back with a vengeance.  It is important to understand both why the nuclear power industry is experiencing a revival and why it remains neither a viable nor responsible choice for energy generation.  This understanding of why nuclear power cannot be considered an option can be gained through an investigation of the history of nuclear power in the United States.  Three Mile Island, the Davis-Besse plant in Ohio, Indian Point in New York, and the ongoing saga of Yucca mountain are but a few of the plentiful examples of what has gone wrong and what can go wrong with nuclear power.

External Links:
Nuclear Regulatory Commission
U.S. Department of Energy: Nuclear Power
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[1] “Power Reactors.” Accessed on Apri12, 2006 at http://www.nrc.gov/reactors/power.html

[2] “Nuclear Statistics.” Accessed on April 2, 2006 at http://www.nei.org/index.asp?catnum=2&catid=106

[3] Buckley, S. (2005, March 24). Japan’s shaky nuclear record. BBC News.  Retrieved March 24, 2006, from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/default.stm

[4] Image borrowed from at http://www.greenpeace.org/international/ photosvideos/photos/action-at-the-nuclear-power-pl

 

A protest against nuclear power carried out by Greenpeace International

A protest against nuclear power carried out by Greenpeace International  [4]


Last updated:  5/2/2006

 


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