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Nuclear Energy: Yay or Nay?

As the threat of climate change rises, the debate on nuclear power resurfaces

by Malin Håkansson

For as long as we have been aware of the pros and cons of nuclear power there has been a loaded debate on how or if to use them. They do bring a significant threat, yet, they are planned to hold a significant part in the future energy production in the UK and other countries.

The main reason that several governments are looking into nuclear power again is their efficient production of energy without CO2 emissions. As CO2 is one of the big gasses responsible for global warming and climate change, reducing those emissions would be preferable for the environment. The UK government is required to drastically reduce and stop these types of emissions by 2050 in an attempt to reduce the damage they have on the climate. The more commonly used sources for energy create dramatically more CO2 and thus switching to nuclear power could be highly beneficial. However, there are downsides with using nuclear power. Although accidents are rare, they spread disaster and panic when they do occur. We also don’t have a good way of disposing of the radioactive waste and are instead just containing it, something we couldn’t keep doing forever. So, as it does come with some serious risks, what is the government’s plan for its usage?

 According to BBC statistics, our electricity currently comes from about 40% Gas, 30% Renewable energy, 20% Nuclear, 7% coal, and 3% other sources. It has been estimated that the UK’s electricity would be supplied roughly 30/30/30 between nuclear, wind, and fossil fuels (with carbon capture and storage CCS) in the near future. This estimation would thus require a slight increase in the UK’s usage of nuclear power. However, it also appears that no one has been willing to fully invest in the expensive CCS technology to pump emissions of CO2 into rocks. One could then wonder if there would be a larger increase in nuclear energy in case the fossil fuels can’t fulfil their 30%. Some environmentalists argue that the risks are too great and that the UK can be supplied with renewable energy and other less threatening options on their own. Other’s mean that the risk is worth it as the threat of climate change is real and imminent. A spokesperson for EDF, which is building the Hinkley C nuclear power plant also mentioned that: "Nuclear provides low-carbon electricity when the wind doesn't blow and the sun doesn't shine", which shows how nuclear can be essential to supplement renewables if the weather drastically changes due to climate change.

The director of UK Energy Research Centre, Prof Jim Watson mentions how most analysts have concluded that the estimated 30% nuclear power supply in the future is unnecessary, but that the challenge of meeting the government’s carbon target greatly increases without it. Options that are currently being looked into are looking to make our access to power more flexible, meaning that there needs to be an improvement in our techniques of storing power. This would mean that we could distribute the energy in a better way than the peak time and off-peak time currently allows for. There is also a suggestion that the government needs to step in and prompt for households to insulate their houses better to reduce the demand for energy in the first place.

So once again, we then stand by the question of whether the usage of nuclear power with its great benefits is worth the great risks. However, a new question is arising: “Will we have a choice in the future?”

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