Climate change is acknowledged as one of the pressing issues for the global community because it affects many social and environmental aspects including ecosystems, agriculture, human health and water supplies, sea levels, extreme weather events, and global and local economies. Nuclear industry climatic change is seen as a lever that revitalizes nuclear power fortune. However, there is a need for energy in huge amounts by various stages of the nuclear process more than less complex forms of production of electricity. Most energy is in form of fossils fuel which enables nuclear power to indirectly emit large volumes of greenhouse gases.
Nuclear industry emissions strongly depend on the percentage of uranium found in the ores and it fuels the nuclear process. Recent studies show that the production of nuclear power results in the emission of three times fewer greenhouse gases compared to power stations of modern natural gas. If electricity from burning fossils fuel is replaced with electricity generated from nuclear power, there would be uranium fuel which is economically viable to fuel reactors for three to four years.
The problem would not be solved by switching electricity production to nuclear. Moreover, diverting worlds resources from energy production that is sustainable to nuclear power exacerbates the problem through diverting limited resources far away from technologies that give real hope of addressing climate change. (Hewitt, 2000)
Nuclear power problems
Many serious problems are associated with nuclear power since its introduction and have not been resolved. For storage of radioactive nuclear waste, there are no final repositories that are in operation. For the last decades, researchers have worked on technology to be able to reduce radioactivity and nuclear waste decay time through the transmutation process. It is not guaranteed that it will be successful to do this expensive research and the techniques are only applicable for fuel which is spent in the future but not for nuclear waste of the present amount.
There has been progressing made to increase safety standards but reactors are not yet inherently safe and problems are still in existence. Apart from technical failures, human error risk is never excluded. This risk will increase because privatization and electricity market deregulation forced nuclear operators to reduce costs and increase efficiency. The workforce has reduced in size leading to safety concerns.
The by-products of nuclear reactors called plutonium-239 are used in nuclear weapons and nuclear installations are targets for attacks by terrorists and radioactive materials are used by terrorists for making dirty bombs. Health concerns are obvious in event of a nuclear disaster. Exposure to the fallout of radioactive results in a high risk of cancer, leukemia, and genetic disorders. There are health risks that are associated with nuclear power production on daily basis. (Hewitt, 2000)
Recently, evidence shows that our planet is warmer because greenhouse gases have been emitted by human activities and the energy sector emits half of these gases. To be able to avert change in catastrophic climate, emission of greenhouse gasses need to be reduced. However, world population demand for energy is growing at a very high rate. Estimation by world energy outlook is that use of global energy in 2030 will have an increase of 67% compared to the year 2000 and it is expected that demand for world energy will double by the year 2050. The most pressing question will be on how energy demand can be satisfied and at the same time reduce emissions of greenhouse gas.
Climate change is a pressing issue for the global community. In 2001, an intergovernmental panel dealing with climate change in United Nations published a report that stressed the convincing evidence suggesting that most of the earth warming is attributed directly to human activities such as greenhouse gases emission through burning fossils fuels, for example, gas, coal, and oil to produce energy. Greenhouse gases that are found naturally in the atmosphere trap sun’s heat in the lower atmosphere.
Through this process, our planet is kept warm and makes life to be possible on earth. Devoid of these gases in the atmosphere would make the average global temperature approximately thirty-three degrees lower than today. However, human activities have made greenhouse gases concentration increase unnaturally resulting in too much heat being trapped that raise the global temperature. (Lloyd, 2004)
Effects of climate change
There has been history on earth of huge variations in global temperatures. However, current warming is going on at a very high pace. most recent findings show that there will be a rise in global temperatures between 1.4 degrees to 5.8 degrees Celsius and a rise in sea levels will be by nine to eighty-eight centimeters by the year 2100 compared to levels in the year 2000. Such temperature rise by few degrees is not practically alarming but it is important to note that the difference in average temperature between the last ice-age coldest part and the present is five degrees Celsius and there is a problem because human and natural systems are not able to adapt warming at such a pace.
Climate changes affect many environmental aspects and society. This includes ecosystem, human health and water supplies. Although there are expected positive effects such as longer growing season of agriculture in mid-latitude countries, negative effects are more than positive ones even with small rise in temperature because, the more the temperature rise the more the negative effects.
The myth of nuclear power providing solution to change in climate lies on assumption that electricity generation by use of nuclear fission does not result to emission of greenhouse gas. However, if this was the case, switching electricity production in the entire world would not be the solution to the problem because electricity production is an example of human activities that releases greenhouse gases. Actual fission processes that generate electricity do not involve release of greenhouse gases.
However, stages of nuclear process such as uranium, mining, building, decommissioning power plants and storage of radioactive waste need energy in huge amounts than the forms which are less complex in electricity production. Most of the energy comes in form of the fossils fuel and nuclear power generates large amounts of greenhouse gas.
In establishing magnitude of the emissions by comparing with emissions from the form that produces electricity, comparative lifecycle assessment need to be carried out in various options of energy supply. In the assessment, lifecycle total emissions are added together and then divided by total amount of electricity produced over power plant lifetime. (Ringel, 2003)
Nuclear power is no solution to climate change
The nuclear industry has hope that climate change concern will help in supporting nuclear power. However, on economic criteria it offers poor money value by displacing the plant for fossils fuel. Further, with its long construction time, high cost, waste management problems and high risk to the environment, nuclear power is not able to offer climate change solution which is viable. Rather mixture of renewable energy and energy efficiency has quicker, sustainable and more realistic approach to reduce emission of carbon dioxide.
Nuclear power is cost effective and economical because its cost has been underestimated seriously by the countries that have the technology and only recently its true cost has begun to be established. Waste disposal hidden costs, provision for accidents and decommissioning have not been accounted for adequately resulting to massive drain of the economies. This drain will go on for several years as dangerous and expensive task of decommissioning nuclear gets underway.
Liberalization and privatization of market has led to exposure of true cost of the nuclear power and it is clear that in a competitive energy market, nuclear power cannot be able to exist without getting government subsidy. This process is used in the whole world with investors not willing to accept risks and high costs of nuclear power. Moreover, if comprehensive insurance was required to cover the nuclear accidents risks, electricity costs from nuclear power would go higher than present level.
In cost-effectiveness to reduce CO2 emissions, nuclear power is very poor. In 1995, after one year review of nuclear power case, it was concluded by United Kingdom government that nuclear power is the least cost-effective ways for cutting emission of CO2. In United States, improving efficiency of electricity is seven times cost effective than use of nuclear power to obtain reduction in emissions.
Nuclear power is considered to be safe. Problems of safety, environmental impact and security are perennial issues for nuclear industry. Most of the countries are against developing nuclear power but radioactive contamination does not respect national borders and there is threat to well-being and health by nuclear power plants in the surrounding environments and nations and serious problems of trafficking and nuclear proliferation.
Recent studies in United States tried to challenge the claim of exposure to low level radiation doses being safe. The safety and health of employees, community and environmental contamination are genuine risks. Nuclear power does not produce carbon dioxide and is not friendly to greenhouse. Electricity from nuclear power does not emit carbon dioxide directly, the cycle of nuclear fuel release carbon dioxide during plant construction, fuel enrichment and mining. Mining of uranium is industrial operation that is CO2 intensive and increase in uranium demand leads to rise in CO2 emissions as decline in core grades occurs.
Nuclear power is sustainable and nuclear power plants can produce toxic and long-lived wastes which have no safe means of disposing. The only scrutiny that is independent is the safety case of government waste management that resulted to test site for disposing waste being cancelled. There is no scientifically credible disposal and the only option is interim storage of wastes from radioactive. This means that radioactive wastes legacy will pass to future generations. Production of radioactive wastes which are long lived having no disposal solution is contrary to sustainability principle. (Vischer, 1997)
The nuclear industry claim to have the role of alleviating change in climate need to be rejected because, they have self-serving and dangerous fantasies which create serious legacy of radioactive waste which is deadly and lead to rise in catastrophic nuclear accidents and threat of proliferation of nuclear weapons. Putting environmental impacts aside, nuclear economies can preclude the use of combating global warming. It is not among the cheapest alternatives for non-fossils fuel and not the cleanest.
Renewable technologies have already outstripped nuclear power in its performance and development while measures of energy efficiency are cost effective ways for addressing need to have new power. The challenge due to climate change brings about important questions about the type of world we would wish to have. The one where inseparable technologies of civil and nuclear power prevalent in each nation and where there is wise use of energy which is generated by use of renewable and sustainable systems.
Mitigation of problem of climate change needs transformation of supply of world energy where fossils fuels are replaced by sources of energy that have no emission of CO2. Presently, over 6% of commercial energy in the world is produced by nuclear power but barriers exist to significant expansion in the next fifty years. (Nelson, 2002)
Hewitt G. (2000): Introduction to nuclear power: Taylor and Francis.
Nelson F. (2002): climate change and hazard in the circum: Springer.
Vischer L. (1997): climate change; Sustainability and Christian witness: The Ecumenical Review.
Ringel M. (2003): International climate change policy; triggering environmental reforms: international journal for Global environmental issues.
Lloyd B. (2004): Nuclear power and the green house effect: Oxford University press.