The biggest negative to nuclear energy is the waste. Nuclear waste lasts at dangerous radiation levels for thousands of years. To date it is buried but it has the potential to leak as no container can last long enough to completely contain the waste.
Though the media tends to focus on dangers from nuclear plant accidents as the main drawback to nuclear power, there are other problems with nuclear energy that arguable make a much more convincing argument against nuclear plants. In reality, the two biggest problems with nuclear energy probably have to do with disposing of nuclear waste, and preventing the spread of nuclear technology that could be used to develop nuclear weapons. Nuclear plants produce radioactive that will remain dangerous to human life for many years – in some cases literally tens of thousands of years. There is simply no way to store this waste so as to be sure dangerous leaks will not develop at some point during that time scale. In addition, a decision by the United States to dramatically increase reliance on nuclear power will inevitably prompt other countries to do the same thing. This would almost certainly lead to the spread of nuclear technology around the world, greatly increasing chances that unstable and dictatorial regimes could get access to the technology needed to make nuclear bombs. So both disposal of nuclear waste and the spread of nuclear weapons technology pose very big problems if we decide to increase our reliance on nuclear energy – these issues are probably bigger negatives than the risk of accidents at nuclear plants.
Obama believes that nuclear energy is a good option in the transition to sustainable alternative fuel sources and will help out our economy. It is better than oil and coal, but not nearly as good as wind and solar power. Nevertheless, nuclear power is expensive, but it does not release any direct pollution. If done correctly much of the nuclear waste can be recycled and/or reused.
The biggest negative to nuclear energy is that it fares poorly in an economic analysis compared with potential competitors. Below here, you can find two different takes on the economics of nuclear power, first from the Department of Energy, which compares nuclear power only to coal and gas, and the second from the Rocky Mountain Institute comparing nuclear to a portfolio of renewable and efficiency options.
While much is opaque surrounding the nuclear power industry, the information I have seen leads me to prefer Lovins’ perspective over that of the DOE, as the latter tends to be peppered with technological optimism and a refusal to admit that some of the avenues we have been pursuing for energy production may turn out to be dead ends. Nuclear power is expensive, takes a long time to build and requires an extensive permitting and review process by its nature, and in the end, renewable energy may just end up making enough sense on its own to address climate change while still allowing for a world with fewer atomic meltdowns rather than more.
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