Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Nuclear Power Plants

Nuclear Power Plant
Nothing arouses more controversy and argument than the subject of nuclear power. Since the advent of the nuclear power plant, there has been strong opposition and defenders of the technology. The figures for 2006 show that there are 442 reactors in the world, producing 17% of the world's electricity. The finite nature of fossil fuels is focusing the minds of politicians on whether to build new plants. Every time a new reactor is mooted, there are lengthy inquiries and protests.
Supporters of nuclear power say that the absence of greenhouse gas emissions is justification for building more nuclear power plant facilities. Environmental campaigners, such as Greenpeace, point to a number of concerns. There have been accidents, notably at Chernobyl and Three-Mile Island, radioactive leaks, and there is the threat of terrorism at nuclear facilitates.
Radioactive waste is another problem, with regard to how to transport it and how to dispose of it safely. The waste is dangerous to humans for thousands of years. Plutonium, a by product of nuclear power, can be used in the manufacture of an atomic bomb, a factor going against the quest for non-proliferation.
Cost is also a factor in the debate. The reactors are very expensive to build and to maintain. Their lifetime is limited and then they have to be decommissioned, another costly exercise. The technology of the nuclear power plant is reliant on uranium and this is a finite resource anyway.
When the first electricity power was produced by a nuclear reactor in 1951 in an Idaho experimental plant, it was supposed to usher in a golden era of clean power. The first commercial enterprise in the world began five years later at Calder Hall in England. The nuclear age has not met with universal praise. Many people claim that radioactive waste from a plant in Cumbria, England routinely leaks into the Irish Sea and that there is an above average amount of leukemia in the area.
The anti-nuclear lobby has a friend in the hit show, The Simpsons. The character of Homer Simpson is an incompetent safety officer at the local nuclear power plant. The industry is lampooned, showing Mr. Burns, the plant's owner, as an irresponsible money grabber with no social conscience. Core meltdowns are a regular occurrence, often averted by Homer who has invariably caused the incident in the first place.
The campaign for alternative energy sources continues. People who are not comfortable with the expansion of nuclear power look to wave, wind and solar power for the answer in addition to energy conservation. In the meantime, let us hope that Homer is a vast exaggeration.