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The nuclear power debate is about the controversy[1][2][3] which has surrounded the deployment and use of nuclear fission reactors to generate electricity from nuclear fuel for civilian purposes. The debate about nuclear power peaked during the 1970s and 1980s, when it "reached an intensity unprecedented in the history of technology controversies", in some countries.[4][5]

Proponents of nuclear energy contend that nuclear power is a sustainable energy source that reduces carbon emissions and increases energy security by decreasing dependence on foreign oil.[6] Proponents advance the notion that nuclear power produces virtually no air pollution, in contrast to the chief viable alternative of fossil fuel. Proponents also point out that nuclear power is the only viable course to achieve energy independence for most Western countries. Proponents also emphasize that the risks of storing waste are small and can be further reduced by using the latest technology in newer reactors, and the operational safety record in the Western world is excellent when compared to the other major kinds of power plants.[7]

Opponents believe that nuclear power poses many threats to people and the environment. These threats include health risks and environmental damage from uranium mining, processing and transport, the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation or sabotage, and the unsolved problem of radioactive nuclear waste.[8][9] They also contend that reactors themselves are enormously complex machines where many things can and do go wrong, and there have been many serious nuclear accidents.[10][11] Critics do not believe that these risks can be reduced through new technology.[12] They also argue that when all the energy-intensive stages of the nuclear fuel chain are considered, from uranium mining to nuclear decommissioning, nuclear power is not a low-carbon electricity source.[13][14][15]

Arguments of economics and safety are used by both sides of the debate.


Energy security

For some countries, nuclear power affords energy independence. Nuclear power has been relatively unaffected by embargoes, and uranium is mined in "reliable" countries, including Australia and Canada.[16][17]

The neutron-poisoning element boron, necessary for the operation of pressurized water reactors, is found primarily in two countries (Turkey and the United States) (see Boron).

According to a Stanford study, fast breeder reactors have the potential to provide power for humans on earth for billions of years, making this source sustainable.[18]


Nuclear power plants are some of the more complex mechanical systems ever devised, although much of that complexity is due to redundancy of systems and the defense in depth strategy of the designs. New reactors, though, will incorporate passive safety features to reduce the need for redundancy.[19]

In 2005, out of all nuclear power plants in the world, the average capacity factor was 86.8%, the number of SCRAMs per 7,000 hours critical was 0.6, and the unplanned capacity loss factor was 1.6%.[20] Capacity factor is the net power produced divided by the maximum amount possible running at 100% all the time, thus this includes all scheduled maintenance/refueling outages as well as unplanned losses. The 7,000 hours is roughly representative of how long any given reactor will remain critical in a year, meaning that the scram rates translates into a sudden and unplanned shutdown about 0.6 times per year for any given reactor in the world. The unplanned capacity loss factor represents amount of power not produced due to unplanned scrams and postponed restarts.

The World Nuclear Association states that "Sun, wind, tides and waves cannot be controlled to provide directly either continuous base load power, or peak-load power when it is needed. In practical terms they are therefore limited to some 10–20% of the capacity of an electricity grid, and cannot directly be applied as economic substitutes for coal or nuclear power, however important they may become in particular areas with favourable conditions." "The fundamental problem, especially for electricity supply, is their variable and diffuse nature. This means either that there must be reliable duplicate sources of electricity, or some means of electricity storage on a large scale. Apart from pumped-storage hydro systems, no such means exist at present and nor are any in sight." "Relatively few places have scope for pumped storage dams close to where the power is needed, and overall efficiency is low. Means of storing large amounts of electricity as such in giant batteries or by other means have not been developed."[21] See also energy storage.

Nuclear power has much different characteristics. As is the case for coal, its capital costs are higher than for gas-fired turbines but its operating costs are lower. Economics therefore favors running nuclear plants at full power as much as possible for baseload power.[22] If nuclear energy is used only for the base load, utilities also need other energy sources most of the time, when power demand is above the minimum. Alternatively, advanced-design nuclear plants could be sized for peak demand and produce hydrogen thermochemically during off-peak hours as feedstock for synthetic liquid fuels.[23]


Reduced operation during very hot weather

Since nuclear power plants are fundamentally heat engines, waste heat disposal becomes an issue at high ambient temperature. In such very hot weather a power reactor (just as a coal-fired or solar-thermal power plant will) may have to operate at a reduced power level or even shut down.[24] In the 2006 European heat wave, a number of nuclear plants had to secure exemptions from regulations in order to discharge overheated water into the environment; several European nations were forced to reduce operations at some plants and take others offline and France, normally an electricity exporter, had to buy electricity on European spot market to meet demand.[25] Overheated discharge water has resulted in significant fish kills in the past, impacting livelihood and raising public concern. Fish kills remain a problem for plants which use water for cooling, due to high volumes which pull fish into intake systems. Plants with cooling towers are more expensive, but allow for alleviating temperature effects.


Nuclear plants generally have very high capital costs, with operating costs just under those of coal-fired generation.[26] Fuel costs, on the other hand, are very low. According to Christopher Crane, Senior Vice President of Exelon, representing the World Nuclear Association in an April 2007 speech to members of the U.S. Congress, "Nuclear energy is, in many places, competitive with fossil fuel for electricity generation, despite relatively high capital costs and the need to internalize all waste disposal and decommissioning costs. If the social, health and environmental costs of fossil fuels are also taken into account (for example, if a carbon tax is implemented), nuclear is outstanding."[27]

Opponents of nuclear energy argue that utilities contemplating the construction of reactors demand support from the government in the form of loan guarantees, which implies that reactors are a high-risk investment. In his 2007 speech to members of congress, Cristopher Crane said that these loan guarantees must cover 100 percent of project debt, otherwise financing of new powerplants would be extremely difficult.[28] Supporters of nuclear power point out that the guarantees would only apply to the first few reactors, as an assurance that the licensing requirements would not be changed during construction, as has happened in the past. Similar loan guarantees are provided for renewable-energy and carbon-sequestration projects.[29]

Anti-nuclear organisations consider the economics of new nuclear power plants to be unfavourable because of the initial costs of constructing a nuclear plant (see Darlington Nuclear Generating Station), the public subsidies and tax expenditures involved in research and security, the cost of decommissioning nuclear facilities, and the undetermined costs of storing nuclear waste.[30][31]

In a study conducted for the SER, an economic advisory council of the Dutch government, the Energy Research Centre of the Netherlands (ECN) expressed concern that the expansion of nuclear energy might reduce investment in renewable energy technologies through lock-in effects.[32]

Cost of new plants

Urgency in the face of possible fossil fuel shortages and climate change can be seen both as an advantage and a disadvantage of nuclear fission. If, for example, the goal is to cover 80% of the world's (present) energy demand with fission, then thousands of new plants would have to be built,[citation needed] at a price of several billion US$ each,[33] which would mean an investment of tens of trillions of US$, although this general scale of investment is required no matter which approach to carbon reduction is taken. Also, permitting and building a nuclear plant can take about 10 years.[33] This allows speculation on where other alternatives would stand by then if that money were invested in making them cheaper and more efficient. It is possible that that route would in the long run be more economical, but that depends on how big the improvements would be. Solar energy, for example, which has received relatively little development investments, and is therefore still in early development stages, is still making progress on efficiency levels.[citation needed]

Cost of decommissioning nuclear plants

Shutting down a nuclear plant is cited as an extremely expensive process by nuclear power critics, although the costs are usually covered by a component of price charged for electricity during operation. In the UK the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority has increased the overall cost for decommissioning nuclear plants from £57 billion in 2005 to £73 billion in 2008, according to the BBC, although this is heavily influenced by cleaning up the weapons development at Sellafield. However, the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee was told in July 2008 that this cost could rise further and that it is almost impossible to come up with an accurate figure. Stabilising a plant and ensuring that it is safe is cited as an unknown cost by critics, claiming that decommissioning costs can massively increase the overall cost of nuclear energy.


Critics of nuclear power claim that it is the beneficiary of inappropriately large economic subsidies — mainly taking the forms of research and development, and financing support for new build — and that these subsidies are often overlooked when comparing the economics of nuclear against other forms of power generation.

Nuclear industry proponents argue that competing energy sources also receive subsidies. Fossil fuels receive large direct and indirect subsidies, such as tax benefits and not having to pay for the greenhouse gases they emit[citation needed]. Renewables receive proportionately large direct production subsidies and tax breaks in many nations, although in absolute terms they are often less than subsidies received by other sources.[34]

Energy research and development (R&D) for nuclear power continues to receive large state subsidies. In the United States, nuclear receives more Federal R&D support than the renewables industry[citation needed], however the impact of favorable tax incentives drives the total Federal support of the renewables industry to a level almost four times as high as that of the nuclear industry, despite all renewables (excluding hydroelectric, which receives no R&D funding) producing only 1/8th as much power as nuclear.[35] In Europe, the FP7 research program has more subsidies for nuclear than for renewable and energy efficiency together, although over 70% of this is directed at the ITER fusion project.[36][37] In the US, public research money for nuclear fission declined from 2,179 to 35 million dollars between 1980 and 2000.[34] However, in order to restart the industry, the next few US reactors will receive subsidies equal to those of renewables and, in the event of cost overruns due to litigation or regulatory delays, at least partial compensation (see Nuclear Power 2010 Program).[citation needed]

A May 12, 2008 editorial in the Wall St. Journal stated, "For electricity generation, the EIA concludes that solar energy is subsidized to the tune of $24.34 per megawatt hour, wind $23.37 and 'clean coal' $29.81. By contrast, normal coal receives 44 cents, natural gas a mere quarter, hydroelectric about 67 cents and nuclear power $1.59."[38] The impacts of prior subsidies, some of which may no longer be in effect, are not measured in the previous analysis. However, the Renewable Energy Policy Project[39] stated that from 1947 to 1999, nuclear power was subsidized $145.4 billion, wind power $1.2 billion and solar $4.4 billion[40]. From a megawatt hour basis, this translate into $12.45 per MWh produced for nuclear power, $36.47 for wind power and $511.63 for solar (1999 dollars)[40].

In the United States, nuclear power plant liability insurance coverage is provided through the Price-Anderson Act. Besides commercial insurance of US$200 million per reactor, plant owners maintain a self-insurance pool of over US$11 billion. As a point of comparison, the total payout for the Three Mile Island accident was US$151 million.

Costs of disposing of high-level waste

The cost of disposing of high-level waste is poorly known due to uncertainties of the length of time the waste must be stored, the final method to be used, how payment will be structured, and other reasons.

Nuclear opponents claim that the costs of handling spent fuel will be expensive. Advocates of nuclear energy argue that spent fuel has a high enough value to offset all or nearly all of the processing cost. However by 2003, Sellafield's Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant had made losses of over £1bn in the first 9 years of operation.[41]

Though it is not a viewpoint that figures prominently in the debate, some individuals suggest the value of spent fuel would be enhanced by using it as a heat source. According to a U.S. Department of Energy report,[42] the initial heat produced by U.S. nuclear waste will be on the order of 30 to 50 times the heat flux in the Geysers geothermal reservoir in California. According to The California Energy Commission,[43] Geothermal Energy in California website, in 2007 California produced 13,000 gigawatt-hours of geothermal energy. Assuming the conservative estimate of 30 times this amount of heat flux for U.S. nuclear waste, 390,000 gigawatt-hours of energy is produced annually by U.S. waste. This is close to half of the power output by America’s operational reactors (806.5 billion kilowatt-hours (bkWh in 2007).[44]

390,000 gigawatt-hours is the equivalent of 219,956,237.507 barrels of fuel oil (US). The energy return on investment for SAGD is 5.2/1 [45]. Therefore, the heat flux of America’s nuclear waste has the potential to produce over a billion barrels of synthetic oil annually.

The U.S. has approximately a quarter of the global inventory of spent nuclear fuel; therefore the potential exists for the development of significantly more unconventional deposits with imported spent fuel. Essentially America’s total oil demand could be met from the output from the global spent fuel inventory. But that would require converting all energy use to electricity, for one thing. So this statement is rather hopeful, if not bizarre.

The Henry Hub pricing point for natural gas futures contracts traded on the New York Mercantile Exchange for the week ended July 30, 2008 was $9.01 per MMBtu. 390,000 gigawatt-hours is the equivalent 1,330,735,236.9199 MMBtu so the waste heat of America’s spent nuclear fuel has the annual potential of $12 billion worth of Natural Gas. Burning a clean fuel [natural gas] to make a dirty fuel [from oil sands] has been characterized as a form of reverse alchemy. A far better use for natural gas is making electricity, home heating or as Boone Pickens advocates, transportation.

The Nuclear Assisted Hydrocarbon Production Method,[46] Canadian patent application 2,638,179, is a method for the temporary or permanent storage of nuclear waste materials comprising the placing of waste materials into one or more repositories or boreholes constructed into an unconventional oil formation. The thermal flux of the waste materials fracture the formation, alters the chemical and/or physical properties of hydrocarbon material within the subterranean formation to allow removal of the altered material. A mixture of hydrocarbons, hydrogen, and/or other formation fluids are produced from the formation. The radioactivity of high-level radioactive waste affords proliferation resistance to plutonium placed in the periphery of the repository or the deepest portion of a borehole.

Environmental effects

The primary environmental impacts of nuclear power come from uranium mining, radioactive effluent emissions, and waste heat, as under normal generating conditions nuclear power does not produce greenhouse gas emissions [CO2, NO2] directly (although the nuclear fuel cycle produces them indirectly, though at much smaller rates than fossil fuels).[47] Nuclear generation does not directly produce sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, mercury or other pollutants associated with the combustion of fossil fuels. In 2008, The Economist stated that "nuclear reactors are the one proven way to make carbon-dioxide-free electricity in large and reliable quantities that does not depend (as hydroelectric and geothermal energy do) on the luck of the geographical draw."[48] Many experts, some of whom consider themselves environmentalists, now believe that expanded nuclear generation is the only way to reduce green house gas emissions while providing for current and future electricity needs.[citation needed] However, this is disputed by some on the basis of thermodynamic limits to nuclear energy deployment.[49]

While nuclear power does not directly emit greenhouse gasses, over a facility's life cycle, emissions occur through plant construction, operation, uranium mining and milling, and plant decommissioning. A longtime opponent of nuclear energy collected 103 life cycle studies of greenhouse gas-equivalent emissions for nuclear power plants[50] from various sources, most of them other anti-nuclear activists. The calculated emissions over the lifetime of a nuclear power plant ranged from 1.4 to 288 g/kWh and averaged out to 66 g/kWh. This figure is 50 percent greater than that of biomass (41 g/kWh), more than five times that of solar (13 g/kWh), and more than seven times as much as wind and hydroelectric (9-10 g/kWh); these other emission rates come from a single reference and aren't averaged from multiple references. The article never figured importantly in the nuclear power debate. A study done at the University of Wisconsin has had influence on the debate; it showed all non-fossil sources are roughly equal in reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.[51]

Nuclear plants require more, but not significantly more, cooling water than fossil-fuel power plants due to their slightly lower generation efficiencies. Uranium mining can use large amounts of water - for example, the Roxby Downs mine in South Australia uses 35 million litres of water each day and plans to increase this to 150 million litres per day.[52]


There are a number of different kinds of nuclear waste: low-level waste (LLW), intermediate-level waste and high-level waste (HLW). LLW is defined as any radioactive waste that isn't categorized as HLW or ILW. It accounts for the majority of nuclear waste produced from power and weapons generation.[53] LLW includes materials that have been exposed or contaminated with dangerous levels of radiation, like protective clothing (such as radiation shoe coverings and clothing), wiping rags, mops, syringes, lab animal carcasses and reactor residue.

Intermediate-level waste consists primarily of materials from plants that have been decommissioned. ILW contains lower levels of radioactivity than high-level waste but is still radioactive enough not to be incorporated into the exclusionary category or LLW.

High-level waste is the most dangerous type of radioactive waste. Spent nuclear fuel and transuranic waste are considered HLW. HLW contains the fission products and transuranic elements generated in the reactor core. Although over 90% of radioactive waste is LLW, HLW still accounts for over 90% of the radioactivity produced from power plants.[53]. HLW consists of waste products that can be considered concentrated biological hazards. HLW can, depending on type, remain radioactive for millions of years. The reason the waste stays dangerous for so long is that, when, for example, plutonium-239 decays, it becomes uranium-235. The former remains dangerous for approximately 250,000 years, but the latter can remain dangerous for over 7 million years.[54] Therefore, HLW must be stored in a facility that can quarantine the waste from the ecosystem essentially forever if we do not consider any other solution than geological repositery. Indeed, the long-term radioactivity of nuclear waste (HLW) can be reduced, from ~10 million years to 200 or 300 years[55][56], with nuclear transmutation, although this technology have yet to be proven[55].

Low-level waste is disposed of in two ways. Under the first method, the waste is stored in a secure facility on the generator until it is no longer dangerously radioactive. When radiation levels have dropped to those found normally in nature, the waste is disposed of as regular trash. The second method of disposing of LLW is to transport it in secure containers approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation to a facility that is equipped to safely contain it. Three of these sites exist in the USA. The waste at these sites comes from plant operations and the chemical processing system.[57]

The disposal of high-level waste is more difficult and has been the source of political debates every since waste disposal became an issue in the 1970s. HLW is first stored in on-site tanks of cooling liquid. Immersed in this liquid, the HLW (such as spent fuel rods) cools in temperature and becomes less radioactive over time. In the 1970s, however, these on-site cooling facilities began to run out of room for new waste. Therefore, an alternative means of storage was devised and is currently used today. Waste that has been cooled for at least one year in tanks are moved to dry cask storage containers, which are large, silo-shaped receptacles with numerous protective layers that shield workers and the public from radiation. The United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has determined that these containers are a form of "leak-tight containment" due to the numerous redundant measures to keep the radiation inside the receptacles.[58] The rods themselves are surrounded by inert gas which is within a steel cylinders that are welded or bolted closed. Each cylinder is further surrounded by additional steel and/or concrete that provides further radiation shielding.

Most countries with nuclear power agree that storing spent fuel in deep geological repositories is the best option for waste disposal, but no such long-term waste repositories have yet been constructed.[59][60] In nature, sixteen repositories were discovered at the Oklo mine in Gabon where natural nuclear fission reactions took place 1.7 billion years ago.[61] The fission products in these natural formations were found to have moved less than 10 ft over this time period,[62] thus since its discovery in 1972 this site has provided an important part of the basis for evaluating the geology and design of potential man-made repositories, including the proposed US repository at Yucca Mountain.[63]

The argument has been made that the problems of nuclear waste do not come anywhere close to approaching the problems of fossil fuel waste.[64][65] A 2004 article from the BBC states: "The World Health Organization (WHO) says 3 million people are killed worldwide by outdoor air pollution annually from vehicles and industrial emissions, and 1.6 million indoors through using solid fuel."[66] In the U.S. alone, fossil fuel waste kills 20,000 people each year.[67] These statistics reinforce the scientific consensus that man-made fossil fuel waste has caused global warming.

However, nuclear power isn't just less problematic with regards to emissions. It also releases less radiation into world than other forms of energy generation. For instance, a coal power plant releases 100 times as much radiation as a nuclear power plant of the same wattage.[68] It is estimated that during 1982, US coal burning released 155 times as much radioactivity into the atmosphere as the Three Mile Island incident.[69]

Nuclear power has also caused less death from accidents than other forms of energy production. The World Nuclear Association provides a comparison of deaths from accidents in course of different forms of energy production. In their comparison, deaths per TW-yr of electricity produced from 1970 to 1992 are quoted as 885 for hydropower, 342 for coal, 85 for natural gas, and 8 for nuclear.[70]

Safety concerns

Safety of nuclear power centers around two issues; risk to workers and public due to low-level radiation from the plant, and health risk to the public when and if an accident happens at various stages of the fuel and maintenance cycle. While there have been some disastrous accidents in the past, the reactor design was typically at fault, and modern reactors are significantly less prone to such accidents.[71] Actually, human error was the significant factor in the Chernobyl accident, as well as most others. Regardless, the catastrophic aftermath of past accidents presents a strong justification for such safety concerns. In addition, the effects of the everyday activity is also a prominent concern. A recent example was unsecured interstate transport of contaminated cleaning equipment from the Prairie Island plant in Minnesota.

Health effects on population near nuclear power plants and workers

Fishermen near the now-dismantled Trojan Nuclear Power Plant in Oregon. The reactor dome is visible on the left, and the cooling tower on the right.

A major concern in the nuclear debate is the long-term effects of living near or working in a nuclear power station. These concerns typically center around the potential for increased risks of cancer. However, studies conducted by non-profit, neutral agencies have found no compelling evidence of correlation between nuclear power and risk of cancer.[72][73]

There has been considerable research done on the effect of low-level radiation on humans. Debate on the applicability of Linear no-threshold model versus Radiation hormesis and other competing models continues, however, the predicted low rate of cancer with low dose means that large sample sizes are required in order to make meaningful conclusions. A study conducted by the National Academy of Science found that carcinogenic effects of radiation does increase with dose.[74] The largest study on nuclear industry workers in history involved nearly a half-million individuals and concluded that a 1–2% of cancer deaths were likely due to occupational dose. This was on the high range of what theory predicted by LNT, but was "statistically compatible".[75]

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has a factsheet that outlines 6 different studies. In 1990 the United States Congress requested the National Cancer Institute to conduct a study of cancer mortality rates around nuclear plants and other facilities covering 1950 to 1984 focusing on the change after operation started of the respective facilities. They concluded in no link. In 2000 the University of Pittsburgh found no link to heightened cancer deaths in people living within 5 miles of plant at the time of the Three Mile Island accident. The same year, the Illinois Public Health Department found no statistical abnormality of childhood cancers in counties with nuclear plants. In 2001 the Connecticut Academy of Sciences and Engineering confirmed that radiation emissions were negligibly low at the Connecticut Yankee Nuclear Power Plant. Also that year, the American Cancer Society investigated cancer clusters around nuclear plants and concluded no link to radiation noting that cancer clusters occur regularly due to unrelated reasons. Again in 2001, the Florida Bureau of Environmental Epidemiology reviewed claims of increased cancer rates in counties with nuclear plants, however, using the same data as the claimants, they observed no abnormalities.[76]

Scientists learned about exposure to high level radiation from studies of the effects of bombing populations at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. However, it is difficult to trace the relationship of low level radiation exposure to resulting cancers and mutations. This is because the latency period between exposure and effect can be 25 years or more for cancer and a generation or more for genetic damage. Since nuclear generating plants have a brief history, it is early to judge the effects.

Most human exposure to radiation comes from natural background radiation. Natural sources of radiation amount to an average annual radiation dose of 295 mrem. The average person receives about 53 mrem from medical procedures and 10 mrem from consumer products.[77] According to the National Safety Council, people living within 50 miles of a nuclear power plant receive an additional 0.01 mrem per year. Living within 50 miles of a coal plant adds 0.03 mrem per year.[78] These numbers are negligible compared with the average annual dose of 358 mrem per year.

Current guidelines established by the NRC, require extensive emergency planning, between nuclear power plants, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the local governments. Plans call for different zones, defined by distance from the plant and prevailing weather conditions and protective actions. In the reference cited, the plans detail different categories of emergencies and the protective actions including possible evacuation.[79]

Nuclear proliferation and terrorism concerns

Nuclear proliferation is the spread of nuclear weapons and related technology to nations not recognized as "Nuclear Weapon States" by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NNPT). Since the days of the Manhattan Project it has been known that reactors could be used for weapons-development purposes—the first nuclear reactors were developed for exactly this reason—as the operation of a nuclear reactor converts U-238 into plutonium. As a consequence, since the 1950s there have been concerns about the possibility of using reactors as a dual-use technology, whereby apparently peaceful technological development could serve as an approach to nuclear weapons capability.[80] Part of the radioactive material produced in some types of nuclear reactors has the potential to be used to make nuclear weapons by countries equipped with the capability of chemical and isotope separation.[81] For that reason, the United Nation's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) closely monitors all reactors of nations who have joined.

Vulnerability of plants to attack

According to a 2004 report by the U.S. Congressional Budget Office, "The human, environmental, and economic costs from a successful attack on a nuclear power plant that results in the release of substantial quantities of radioactive material to the environment could be great."[82] Such an attack would, however, be difficult to mount. U.S. reactors are surrounded by a double row of electronically monitored tall fences, and patrolled by a sizable force of armed guards. Modern nuclear reactor containment buildings are designed to be impervious to a September 11-style attack.[83].[84] If terrorists were able to gain access to a nuclear reactor, they could do little more than vandalize the equipment. The National Reconnaissance Office's "Design Basis Threat" criteria for nuclear plant security is classified; what size attacking force the plants are able to protect against is unclear. It should be noted that scramming a plant takes less than 5 seconds, while unimpeded restart takes several hours, severely hampering any efforts to release radioactivity into the atmosphere. Attacks on chemical industry or petroleum industry plants, which are much more vulnerable to terrorism, would result in similarly dangerous outcomes, sometimes more lethal than an attack on the nuclear power industry.[85]

Use of waste byproduct as a weapon

An additional concern with nuclear power plants is that if the by-products of nuclear fission (the nuclear waste generated by the plant) were to be left unprotected it could be stolen and used as a radiological weapon, colloquially known as a "dirty bomb". There were incidents in post-Soviet Russia of nuclear plant workers attempting to sell nuclear materials for this purpose (for example, there was such an incident in Russia in 1999 where plant workers attempted to sell 5 grams of radioactive material on the open market,[86] and an incident in 1993 where Russian workers were caught attempting to sell 4.5 kilograms of enriched uranium.[87][88][89]), and there are additional concerns that the transportation of nuclear waste along roadways or railways opens it up for potential theft. The United Nations has since called upon world leaders to improve security in order to prevent radioactive material falling into the hands of terrorists,[90] and such fears have been used as justifications for centralized, permanent, and secure waste repositories and increased security along transportation routes.[91]

Public confidence

Polls consistently show that populations continue to oppose nuclear energy, but desire the energy security.[citation needed] A comprehensive public opinion survey, performed in May and June 2006 in the European Union member countries, concluded that EU citizens perceive great future promise in the use of renewable energies, but despite majority opposition, believe nuclear energy will have its place in the future energy mix.[92]

Safety culture in host nations

The safety of nuclear power depends strongly on building, maintaining and operating the reactors as designed. While the U.S. nuclear industry has an excellent safety culture, derived from standards established by Admiral Hyman G. Rickover for the U.S. Navy's Nuclear Propulsion Program, other nuclear industries and countries seeking nuclear power do not. Some developing countries which plan to go nuclear have very poor industrial safety records and problems with political corruption.[93] The Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine, during the time of the former Soviet Union, occurred due to the poor soviet safety culture. The Chernobyl reactor was badly designed, had no containment building, and was located near a large population, which proved catastrophic when an uncontrolled power increase occurred in the reactor. Large areas of Europe were affected by moderate radioactive contamination, and parts of Ukraine and one fifth of Belarus continue to be affected by radioactive fallout as of 2008.[94]

Plants in adjacent nations

The limited liability for the owner of a nuclear power plant in case of a nuclear accident differs per nation while nuclear installations are sometimes built close to national borders.[95] The Vienna Convention on Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage is intended to address this concern.

See also


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  29. ^
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Further reading

External links



Simple English

Nuclear issues are controversial and there is a debate about nuclear power.

In one book, scientist Barry Brook argues that there are seven reasons why people should say "yes" to nuclear power:[1]

  • Because renewable energy and energy efficiency won’t solve the energy and climate crises
  • Because nuclear fuel is virtually unlimited and packs a huge energy punch
  • Because new technology solves the "nuclear waste" problem
  • Because nuclear power is the safest energy option
  • Because advanced nuclear power will strengthen global security
  • Because nuclear power's true costs are lower than either fossil fuels or renewables
  • Because nuclear power can lead the "clean energy" revolution

Ian Lowe responds with seven reasons why people should say "no" to nuclear power:[1]

  • Because it is not a fast enough response to climate change
  • Because it is too expensive
  • Because the need for baseload electricity is exaggerated
  • Because the problem of waste remains unresolved
  • Because it will increase the risk of nuclear war
  • Because there are safety concerns
  • Because there are better alternatives

Other pages


  1. 1.0 1.1 Brook, B.W. & Lowe, I. (2010). Why vs Why: Nuclear Power. Pantera Press, ISBN 978-0-9807418-5-8


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