At the dawn of the twenty-first century, the demand for electric power has never been greater. With developing countries like China and India far outpacing most Western populations, there is no simple path to energy independence for all. Some countries like Venezuela and Qatar benefit from vast mineral resources and an energy glut while others like Japan and India depend on the political benevolence of neighboring countries. Meanwhile, scientists continue to pursue the mastery of fusion technology without industrial-grade success. As energy industries in solar and wind power gain public support and government subsidies, real-world needs for nuclear power remain unchanged. Less than two weeks ago, the International Energy Agency (IEA) reported that “global energy demand will increase by one-third by 2035, driven nearly completely by emerging and developing economies. . . . As the energy sector is responsible for two-thirds of global greenhouse gas emissions, much of the burden of mitigating climate change will fall on this sector and these countries.”c In this brief article, we will examine some of the common diversions to avoiding the advantages provided by nuclear power. The demand for energy however, cannot be ignored; in the United States one average nuclear power plant generates 12.2 million megawatt-hours per year with minimal greenhouse gas emissions outpacing the entire American solar power industry currently generating 6.9 million megawatt-hours anually.
Environmental advocates correctly point out the dangers of nuclear energy use. Each plant generates waste that requires careful disposal every eighteen to twenty-four months. What politician wants to publically accept the stigma of nuclear waste in their state? In addition, the IEA rightly pointed out that developing countries will inherit the responsibility of combatting escalating global greenhouse gas emissions. In a world of pirates and conflicting worldviews, who can seriously envision successful nuclear plants with uncompromised security in places like Mogadishu or even Tehran?
The Beyond Nuclear organization, based out of Takoma Park, MD, highlights the ongoing issue of disposal: “no country has an operating repository for radioactive waste.”b Indeed, the proposed use of Yucca Mountain as a national repository has been shelved by the Obama administration leaving nuclear waste sites scattered across the country. Although nuclear waste poses a threat to human health and safety, its daily danger often gets exaggerated for effect—Barbara Rose Johnston and Holly M. Barker wrote that some scientists believe people receive five times the radiation from sitting in front of television screens and computer monitors over their entire lives than they do living next to a nuclear power plant.a Regarding security, nuclear power plants will not solve every country’s energy needs. Playing favorites with the technology, however, will only lead to resentment among countries, further heightening political tensions. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) exists to enforce and maintain the high standards required for the utilization of this dangerous technology. Countries unwilling to cooperate with IAEA guidelines should not and will not benefit from the energy advantages acquired with nuclear power.
In the heat of World War II, nuclear science was born from violence and the threat of obliteration. Today, this power of fission, whether promoted for peaceful energy or for the death of enemies will never simply disappear. Rather, we must act to peacefully regulate it for the betterment of mankind. This Pandora’s box will not close any time soon.
a-Johnston, Barbara Rose., and Holly M. Barker. Consequential Damages of Nuclear War: The Rongelap Report. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast, 2008. Print.
b-Ten Reasons to Say No to Nuclear Power. Takoma Park: Beyond Nuclear, n.d. Beyond Nuclear. Web. 22 Nov. 2013.
c-World Energy Outlook. Issue brief. Climate-I, 14 Nov. 2013. Web. 22 Nov. 2013.