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Nuclear Energy

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Nuclear energy can be good. It is cost-effective, creates cheap electricity and there currently is a lot of it. However, in our society, nuclear energy has once again become one of the most criticized forms of energy. The recent tsunami in Japan and ensuing Fukushima power plant disaster along with leaks at the California San Onofre plant have once again energized the debate about the long-term viability and safety of nuclear energy. Indeed, in California, a ballot initiative to shut down nuclear plants nearly succeeded this year.

In America, we depend upon energy so we are constantly searching for the most efficient and cheapest form to be used. We equate power with growth, so the more energy we use, the more growth we expect. The problem is that energy has benefits and costs: it supports our lives but it also has major man-made repercussions. According to many -- me included -- the costs of nuclear energy simply outweigh the benefits.

The major problem with nuclear energy is the waste it produces -- spent uranium -- which is extremely radioactive. Where is all of that waste to go? It is not renewable, so it has to go somewhere, just like trash does. Most trash can be recycled or decomposed into the ground; it won't just exist into eternity. Even if it did, trash is not too dangerous. The nuclear waste needs a place to go. A good idea has not been found yet. One plan was to bury it in the side of a mountain in Nevada. Although the project was started, it was abandoned after health concerns were raised. The waste is highly dangerous to humans; it is radioactive and can infect you with radiation which turns into cancer if you get too close. To bury the waste in a mountain in a desert sounds safe, but in truth, it is not. The waste contaminates the air. And explosive release of gas from an underground disposal site is possible. There is unfortunately no reliable way of estimating this danger - there are too many possibilities with moving and burying the waste and chemical interactions with the environment. Burial of the waste also presents the danger of water contamination: Underground water may come in contact with radioactive material that has leaked out from the waste and can contaminate the drinking water of communities near and far.

The uranium used for nuclear power is not just a waste problem. Uranium mining is a messy process that destroys regions and communities and leaves a radioactive waste. It kills and sickens miners and people unlucky enough to live anywhere near the mining operations. The impact of uranium mining in New Mexico that started over 60 years ago still lingers.

A second problem with nuclear energy is cost. The cost of building new nuclear plants is now in the billions, and now must be heavily subsidized by the government to be compete with other forms of energy. Public subsidies in this economic climate simply are not sustainable.

A third problem with nuclear energy is the lack of safety. Billions of dollars are spent for safety devices for reactors, but as history has shown, such devices do not prevent a "melt down." Two examples are Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, in 1979 when thousands of people were killed and incapacitated. And recently, the world stood by, holding its breath as the Fukushima reactor in Japan was flooded, damaged, and could not be controlled. The Japanese rely heavily on nuclear power having no real reserves or fossil fuel. Many would have considered them the most disciplined and most prepared nation on earth when it comes to nuclear technology and safety. Yet despite this, the unthinkable happened. Experts will study Fukishima for years to come; they will improve designs and regulations and procedures. The likelihood of a catastrophic outcome will go down. However, one can never fully plan for the unexpected.

With nuclear power, when things go wrong they can go horribly wrong with consequences that impact millions of people if not the entire globe. Nuclear mistakes are permanent and can span a human lifetime. Areas contaminated



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