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Nuclear Power: Boon or bane Print

by Markus Mayer
Fort Collins Coloradoan
July 11, 2007


It started a couple years ago. Everybody was talking about the "greenhouse effect" and "global warming" and the terrible consequences we will have to face if we do not change our lifestyles and our energy consumption. New ways to produce "clean energy" were sought.

One of the most advertised solutions are nuclear power plants. They are supposed to produce "clean energy" without the emissions that coal power plants release. As of May 2007, there are 436 nuclear power plants in use worldwide and 31 under construction. The United States is planning on adding about 30 new power plants over the next 15 years to the 103 running right now, and China wants to build 30 reactors over the next 20 years. Nuclear energy is now the second-largest energy source after coal in the United States and accounts for approximately 20 percent of the U.S. electricity generation.

Now you think that nuclear power plants sound great, right?

Only if you look on the surface of a nuclear power plant. If you look inside, you will find highly enriched radioactive uranium. The uranium atoms are being bombarded with neutrons so they split up (fission). During the fission, the uranium releases an incredible amount of energy in form of heat and radioactive gamma radiation. The heat is used to produce water steam to drive a turbine, which spins a generator to produce power. During this process, no greenhouse gases are released.

However, greenhouse gases are released during the mining and the transportation of the uranium that is needed in the reactor. The estimated amount of uranium the United States required for its reactors in 2006 was 19,715 metric tons.

Also, because uranium is not a renewable resource, every 18 to 24 months a third of the uranium in a plant has to be replaced. The used fuel has to be transported and stored in a radioactive waste facility. Spent fuel is toxic for billions of years and there is no safe place to store it. All U.S. plants together produce 2,000 tons of radioactive waste every year. The state of Nevada is fighting to not being buried in nuclear waste right now!

In addition, "waste generated from uranium mining operations and rainwater runoff can contaminate groundwater and surface water resources with heavy metals and traces of radioactive uranium" (Nuclear Energy Institute). If you support nuclear power plants, you support uranium mining and its consequences.

Of course, there is always a risk that the power plant doesn't function correctly and radioactivity is released. Accidents such as Three Mile Island and Chernobyl happened!

So, do you still think that energy from nuclear power plants is "clean?" I hope not. Otherwise, something went wrong.

I know that we need a long-term alternative energy source. However, I don't think that nuclear power plants might be the solution. Two-thousand tons of radioactive waste every year got me. It's not worth it!

There are other renewable energy sources that do not produce greenhouse gases or radioactive waste. There is wind and solar energy. There is certainly enough wind and sun in Colorado!

But before you do anything else, try to conserve energy. Use your bike instead of your car, read a book instead of watching TV, do something outdoors!

Just think about it!

Markus Mayer lives in Fort Collins.






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