Why The United States Should Not Embrace Nuclear Power Rutgers Model Congress

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Why The United States Should Not Embrace Nuclear Power

Rutgers Model Congress

Massachusetts Democrat

House Committee on Energy and Commerce

Growth of Nuclear Energy

Adam Horowitz

Churchill Junior High School

On April 29, 1986, the largest unplanned nuclear catastrophe in the history of man shook the city of Chernobyl in what is now Ukraine. Due to machine error and careless supervision, thirty-one workers at the plant died, not to reveal the effect that the massive amounts of radiation emitted from the accident had on the entire area (The Chernobyl 1). Tragedies like these prove the abhorrent consequences that can result from nuclear misuse. Although plants may be held to a much higher standard in America, supervision of nuclear facilities is still subpar, just one of the reasons why nuclear power should not be embraced in the United States.

The state of Massachusetts in particular believes that clean energy, such as solar and wind power, has much more potential than fossil fuels and nuclear energy as these “clean” power sources do not result in the depletion of resources or create waste (Why Clean Energy 1). In fact, the state only has one nuclear power plant in Plymouth (Nuclear Energy 1), and the state ranks twenty-ninth out of the thirty-one states with nuclear capacity (Massachusetts 1). Clearly, the state of Massachusetts understands that nuclear energy will not greatly benefit any aspects of the energy industry.

One of the compelling reasons why America in general should not embrace nuclear power in this country is nuclear waste. First, the harmful byproduct produced by nuclear power plants will have a detrimental impact on the environment. Although many argue that nuclear plants give off very little carbon-dioxide, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the nuclear waste that all of the American plants produce remains toxic for over 100,000 years and will almost certainly have a worse impact on the environment than the gases produced from the same number of factories in this country that create energy from fossil fuels. Moreover, a great conflict arises when possible locations for the storage of nuclear waste are discussed, as few Americans actually wish to live near nuclear storage facilities (Ten Strikes 1). Recently, it was proposed in the Senate that Yucca Mountain in Nevada could serve as a national nuclear waste dump. Even after several years of careful consideration, however, the plan has (essentially) been abandoned due to fierce opposition from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, demonstrating the difficulty that finding locations for nuclear waste dumps will bring (Herszenhorn 1). Therefore, the issue of nuclear waste should prevent any new plants from being built in this country.

In addition, the expenses needed to maintain safe and efficient conditions will be extremely costly, making nuclear power too expensive to be of any use to this country. For instance, the price of simply building a nuclear plant can be ten billion dollars (Kanter 1). With dwindling uranium reserves, the cost of producing nuclear energy is rising still. Currently, the United States spends about eleven billion dollars annually in subsidies to the nuclear industry. As the private sector is unwilling to invest in nuclear power due to its numerous risks, the government also wastes taxpayer money on loans to the nuclear industry (Ten Strikes 1). In addition, standard reactors last only thirty years before they have to be decommissioned, which in itself costs about 200 to 500 million dollars (Keller 1). These are just some of the examples that show how the costs of nuclear power greatly outweigh the benefits.

Moreover, nuclear power plants currently make the country more susceptible to catastrophes caused by terrorist attacks. Should one be exposed to high amounts of radiation, horrible effects will follow. Great doses of radiation cause nausea, vomiting, skin and deep tissue burns, and damage to the body´s immune system. Radiation poisoning also kills large numbers of cells, which can result in the impairment of vital organs and eventually death (Health Effects 1). Terrorist attacks on nuclear reactors could cause these levels of radiation exposure to victims miles away. For example, nuclear power plants such as Indian Point near New York City are extremely vulnerable to terrorist attacks. Recently, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. flew in an aircraft one thousand feet above the plant for twenty minutes and was not even asked to leave the area by anyone from the plant (Russell 1). In total, Kennedy found eight different ways to cause a meltdown in a nuclear plant, showing just how susceptible nuclear plants are to terrorist attacks. (Ten Strikes 1).

Furthermore, possible accidents play a major role in the argument against nuclear power. One example of such an accident occurred on March 28, 1979, near Middletown, Pennsylvania at the Three Mile Island plant. Human, mechanical, and design errors all contributed to the meltdown, causing the greatest nuclear accident in American history. This accident showed just how crude the safety conditions were of the Three Mile Island reactor (Fact Sheet on the Three 1). It took fifteen years and one billion dollars before the Three Mile Island cleanup was complete (Ten Strikes 1). Although provisions have been made since then to ensure plant safety, they are still not nearly enough regulations to make reactors safe for use (Fact Sheet on the Three 1). The numerous plants that are located near major American cities could have catastrophic results on millions of people should accidents occur (Nuclear Power Plants 1). In any event, should such a tragedy take place, the owners of the power plant responsible would only be liable for $15 billion dollars worth of the damages, as outlined in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (Fact Sheet on Nuclear 1). The rest of the damages, therefore, which in some worst case scenarios could total about 300 billion dollars, would be paid for by the government, which in turn would be paid for by the taxpayers (Nuclear Power Plants 1). Therefore, the risk of an accident in nuclear power plants is too great and would place a large burden on the public, making nuclear energy much less desirable.

Additionally, a surplus of nuclear energy would do little to alleviate the current energy crisis. For nuclear power to have a positive impact on the energy crisis, thousands of nuclear plants would need to be built. However, this is highly unfeasible for two reasons. First, nuclear power plants take great amounts of time to build. It would take over ten years to build seventeen new plants, let alone the thousands to produce sufficient amounts of nuclear energy. Furthermore, there are not enough sites in this country for all of nuclear reactors necessary to be built. Nuclear power plants need to be safe from droughts, hurricanes, floods, and other natural disasters. Nuclear plants also meet opposition from local governments, who work hard to keep nuclear plants, which have been proven to emit carcinogens, far away from their towns and cities (Ten Strikes 1). Without the time and means necessary to make a change quickly, nuclear energy will be of no help to the current energy crisis, nor will create energy independence in America.

Finally, research and government spending for nuclear energy should be abandoned in favor of studies in more promising fields, such as solar energy. One reason this is true is that nuclear plants are horribly inefficient, as only one percent of the energy from uranium in a U-235 power plant can be used; the rest becomes nuclear waste (Keller 1). On the other hand, some solar devices exhibit twenty-nine percent efficiency. Solar energy, unlike nuclear power, also demonstrates massive potential, as the Earth receives more energy from the sun in one hour than is used by humans in an entire year (Wind 1). Moreover, if nuclear power replaced all other sources of electricity worldwide, the necessary uranium would be depleted in under ten years, whereas solar energy is unlimited (Ten Strikes 1). Solar power has no harmful effects on the environment and does not require the structure of large plants to be harnessed. Hence, renewable resources such as solar energy, not to mention wind, geothermal, and hydroelectric power, show much more promise than nuclear energy and therefore deserve more attention and funding.

As demonstrated above, nuclear energy will only bring problems and difficulties to this country. Ideal locations for nuclear plants and waste dumps will be difficult to find and will take billions of dollars to establish. Also, the people that live near these plants will be susceptible to catastrophes through both planned and unplanned disasters. Instead, research should be spent on new technologies that could harness natural and renewable resources. Should America invest in nuclear power, uranium deposits will empty, and once again the United States will enter into an energy crisis, looking for yet another possible energy source.

Works Cited

“Fact Sheet on Nuclear Insurance and Disaster Relief Funds.” United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission. February 2008. Online. Internet. http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/fact-sheets/funds-fs.html 8 April 2009.

“Fact Sheet on the Three Mile Island Accident.” United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission. March 2009. Online. Internet. http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/fact-sheets/3mile-isle.html 8 April 2009.

“Health Effects of Ionising Radiation.” Australian Radiation Safety and Nuclear Protection Agency. 28 February 2008. Online. Internet. http://www.arpansa.gov.au/radiationprotection/basics/health_ion.cfm 8 April 2009.

Herszenhorn, David M. “Yucca Mountain Plan For Nuclear Waste Dies.” New York Times. 31 March 2009. Online. Internet. http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/03/31/yucca-mountain-plan-for-nuclear-waste-dies/ 8 April 2009.

Kanter, James. “Report Says Climate Change Begs for Nuclear Energy.” New York Times. 16 October 2008. Online. Internet. http://greeninc.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/10/16/report-says-climate-change-begs-for-nuclear-energy/?scp=2&sq=nuclear%20power%20cost&st=cse 8 April 2009.

Keller, Edward A. “Some Facts About Nuclear, Solar, and Wind Power.” Center For the Study of the Environment. 2001. Online. Internet. http://www.naturestudy.org/pdf/SolarNuclearWindPower.pdf 8 April 2009.

Lovins, Amory and Hunter Lovins. “Q: Can Nuclear Power Solve the Energy Crisis?” Rocky Mountain Institute. 27 August 2001. Online. Internet. http://www.rmi.org/images/PDFs/Energy/E01-05_CanNucPowerSolve.pdf 8 April 2009.

“Massachusetts.” Energy Information Administration. 2003. Online. Internet. http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/nuclear/page/at_a_glance/states/statesma.html 8 April 2009.

“Nuclear Energy in Massachusetts.” Nuclear Energy Institute. July 2008. Online. Internet. http://www.nei.org/resourcesandstats/documentlibrary/reliableandaffordableenergy/factsheet/statefactsmassachusetts/ 8 April 2009.

“Nuclear Power Plants and Other Large Nuclear Facilities in the United States.” The Animated Software Company. Online. Internet. http://www.animatedsoftware.com/environm/no_nukes/nukelist1.htm 8 April 2009.

Russell, Dick. “Legal Eagle: Bobby Kennedy Jr. Fights for the Environment — and For His Kids’ Future.” The Environmental Magazine. Online. Internet. http://www.emagazine.com/view/?1157&printview 8 April 2009.

“Ten Strikes Against Nuclear Power.” World Change Café. 31 January 2008. Online. Internet. http://www.worldchangecafe.com/2008/01/31/ten-strikes-against-nuclear-power 8 April 2009.

“The Chernobyl Nuclear Accident.” Kiev City Guide. 2008. Online. Internet. http://kievukraine.info/chernobyl_facts.htm 8 April 2009.

“Why Clean Energy Is Important: Overview.” The State Government of Massachusetts. Online. Internet. http://www.mtpc.org/cleanenergy/important/overview.htm 8 April 2009.

“Wind and Solar Power Statistics, Facts and Trivia.” Energy Matters. 2009. Online. Internet. http://www.energymatters.com.au/renewable-energy/solar-wind-trivia.php 8 April 2009.

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