By Mia Speier ’18
As the animated cartoon clouds and familiar yellow font part away, the music to America’s longest running cartoon begins. Ah yes. The Simpsons.
We first notice the city of Springfield. The theme showcasing Springfield Elementary School, Bart writing sentences repeatedly on the chalkboard, Lisa’s saxophone solo, and of course, the recurring couch scene. However, what catches my attention the most is the Springfield Nuclear Facility.
But why, out of all things, does this catch my attention?
It has to do with the ongoing debate about nuclear energy.
As Iran begins to start the construction of its second nuclear power plant with the help of Russia, Western nations have been split as to whether this can be seen as a risk of proliferation or not.
“Construction of the power plant is a symbol of Iran enjoying the results of the nuclear deal,” Senior Vice President Ishaq Jahangiri said, marking the start of the project. Iran has promised to build the plant according to high safety standards, as not to repeat Fukushima or Chernobyl.
But this raises questions about nuclear energy itself. Is it beneficial or harmful?
Nuclear Power Is Good
There are many arguments for why nuclear power is a great source of energy.
- Nuclear power is good for the environment.
Unlike most fossil fuel power plants, nuclear reactors generate energy just as strong and claim the benefit of not producing carbon dioxide emissions. Producing nuclear energy can help to meet the goals of a clean-energy, low-carbon economy due to its ability to create energy without emitting greenhouse gases. Unlike other sources of alternative energy, such as, wind, solar, and hydropower, nuclear power plants are the only source of energy that produces a sufficient amount around the clock. Instead of burning materials, nuclear plants use uranium to generate what the Nuclear Energy Institute states is 20% of the electricity in the U.S. and over a quarter to 13 countries around the world.
- Nuclear energy is the most reliable source of alternative energy.
Ernest Moniz, professor of physics and Engineering at MIT and former undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Energy, states that nuclear energy is reliable and necessary. He claims that generation of nuclear energy is cheap in operation, maintenance, and fuel and is in effect in too many countries– China, India, Russia, and South Korea– too consider a ‘prohibition’ on it. Other alternative sources, such as wind power, solar power, and hydropower, have become widespread but are still low in supply and unaffordable to be implemented on a grand scale use.
- Nuclear power will not lead to nuclear proliferation.
One of the biggest arguments that those for nuclear energy have to address is the claim that nuclear power will inevitably lead to nuclear weapons. However, creating nuclear weapons is neither a simple process nor a direct result of the production of nuclear energy. The first point is that not all nuclear fuel material is suitable for bombs. Plutonium and uranium isotopes, materials needed to create a weapon, are hard and nearly impossible to do without the proper infrastructure and economy. If countries already planned on making weapons, they would have done it by now. And unless we plan on disarming powerful countries such as China and France, nuclear energy is not an issue. Lastly, the idea of mutual deterrence states that the stakes of proliferation, or going to war, are lower when more countries have weapons. Why use nuclear weapons against a country who has nuclear weapons to use as well?
Nuclear Power is Bad
- Accidents are catastrophic.
Nuclear disasters have the greatest damage potential. Events like Fukushima, where a nuclear plant was devastated by an earthquake and tsunami, and Chernobyl, release airborne radioactive contamination. These two events only prove that even the best safeguards aren’t even enough. Some say that even the theoretical possibility of a nuclear meltdown or accident outweighs the benefits of nuclear energy.
- Nuclear Waste harms the environment.
Nuclear waste is produced at almost every stage of the nuclear fuel cycle. This waste remains hazardous for a long time and is harmful for future generations. But even worse than the production of harmful waste, is the fact the government still hasn’t created a feasible plan or solution of getting rid of it. In the status quo, current ways of getting rid of nuclear waste involve burying it underground or keeping them in storage containers. However, either way cannot stop radioactivity from eventually escaping and ruining the environment.
- Nuclear Energy will lead to nuclear proliferation and terrorism poses a threat.
As we become more dependent on nuclear power, more countries will begin to create plants. Plutonium and Uranium, elements found in nuclear reactors, are the key component in making a nuclear weapon. It is inevitable as global concerns rise for powerful countries gaining more and more nuclear strength. Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaties are already ineffective and disarmament agreements are highly disputed. In addition to the threat of proliferation, nuclear reactors are themselves potential targets for acts of terror. They are not designed to withstand large aircrafts or bombs. A potential attack can pose a threat to both civilian life and biodiversity within the area.
With 440 nuclear plants in the world, 13 countries relying on nuclear energy to produce 1/4 of their electricity, and 63 new reactors underway, the debate about nuclear energy continues.