I) One of the main pros of nuclear energy is that it does not release greenhouse gases, so it contributes very little to climate change, as compared to both conventional and other alternative energy sources (Brook and Bradshaw 2015). It is also currently cost-competitive with other renewable energy sources, but that is unlikely to remain true in the future (Henle et al. 2016). The main cons of nuclear energy are that it generates radioactive waste that must be stored and that it can cause major accidents that are devastating to both humans and the environment (MSc Green Economy). It is difficult to find places to store radioactive waste because it takes so long to decay, and there have been several major nuclear disasters in the past that have had a wide range of negative effects (Steinhauser et al. 2014).
ii) The main effects of nuclear power generation on the environment are the creation of radioactive waste and the exposure of ecosystems to radioactive materials when there is a nuclear disaster. During the normal process of nuclear power generation, radioactive waste is generated, and it poses an environmental hazard for hundreds of years as it decays (MSc Green Economy). When there is a nuclear accident, like the one at Chernobyl, it can contaminate broad land areas, where it can negatively affect mutation rates and raise the mortality rates of both plant and animal species (Moller & Mousseau 2011). In some cases, radioactive waste can even directly destroy plant and animal tissues (Steinhauser et al. 2014).
iii) Considering the UK approval to the Hinkley Point, my risk perception of nuclear energy is that it is relatively low. The Fukushima nuclear accident was less impactful than the Chernobyl accident, and I expect that prevention and management efforts for nuclear accidents will continue to improve. In contrast, climate change is already having significant, disastrous effects. Unlike a nuclear disaster—which is only a risk—these effects are already occurring, so it makes sense to start replacing conventional fuels with nuclear power.
- Brook, B.W., & Bradshaw, C.J.A. (2015). Key role for nuclear energy in global biodiversity conservation. Conservation Practice and Biology, 29(3), 702-12.
- Henle, K., Gawel, E., Ring, I., & Strunz, S. (2016). Promoting nuclear energy to sustain biodiversity conservation in the face of climate change: Response to Book and Bradshaw 2015. Conservation Biology, 30(3), 666-5.
- Moller, A.P., & Mousseau, T.A. (2011). Conservation consequences of Chernobyl and other nuclear accidents. Biological Conservation, 144, 2787-98.
- Steinhauser, G., Brandl, A., & Johnson, T.E. (2014). Comparison of the Chenrnobyl and Fukushima nuclear accidents: A review of the environmental impacts. Science of the Total Environment, 470-1, 800-17.
- Topic 1: Motivations for using green technology and nuclear power. (n.d.). MSc Green Economy. 1-14.