Is Nuclear Energy a Viable form of Energy?

There is no doubt that fossil fuels are depleting. The future is surely going to witness oil wars and resource geopolitics will dominate the global agenda. However, this alarming depletion of resources has also led to an increased focus on alternative forms of energy. Several alternative forms of energy include- solar, tidal, geothermal and nuclear. While all have their pros and cons, nuclear energy remains one of the most contentious due to several reasons. However, there is no denial to the fact that it has huge potential.

Economically, generating nuclear energy isn’t exactly an expensive business but the fact that it is not yet very common makes it less competitive. Another factor that escalates costs is the fact that the opening of a lot of power plants often gets delayed due to some reason or the other. However, with advancements in technology, the costs are expected to go down.

Disposing nuclear waste is cumbersome and also requires some monitoring to ensure that there are no radiation leakages. Again, technologies to help recycle this waste are being developed and some countries are already undertaking experiments regarding the same.

The main purpose for which nuclear energy is supposed to be put to use is that of electricity generation. Critics argue that while resources like oil and gas serve multiple purposes, nuclear power can only help to generate electricity. In this case, it is important to note that when in the future, there would be scarcity of resources, one will have to use a variety of energy combinations to serve diverse purposes. Complete reliance on fossil fuels and their application in every purpose has led to their exhaustion.

It  is believed that nuclear energy does  not  emit  any  obnoxious  gases  like  carbon  dioxide,  sulphur  dioxide,  etc.,  which  damage  the environment However, the claim that nuclear energy is ‘‘clean air energy” is debated by several environmentalists. They argue that nuclear plants can play a major role in climate change as its increased use would generate stockpiles of uranium.

It is true that the risk of a nuclear accident or disaster like those in Chernobyl and more recently, in Fukushima looms large with the increase of use of nuclear energy. In such situations, the spread of radiations to local communities or workers in these plants also becomes a major threat. However, the use of advanced safety technologies can reduce the risk, if not eliminate it completely. Critics argue that the nature of nuclear technology is such that a small probability of the occurrence of an accident will always exist. Further, nuclear disasters have the capability to impact the generations that are yet to come. With changes in the patterns of world security, there are also concerns over terrorist attacks on nuclear plants. Yet another security concern is proliferation of energy to make weapons. While most countries acquire nuclear energy for civil purposes, there are concerns that these might be misused and this once again poses a great threat to international security.

In such a scenario it becomes hard to ignore the vulnerability of the nuclear power plants.

One can only hope that adequate safety mechanisms are developed in time so that the complete potential of nuclear energy can be exploited.

Sarah Zia