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What are the positives and negatives of nuclear energy and how can we combat the negative concerns?

Discussion Leader: 
Posted Date: 02/01/2016

Several national laboratories recently partnered to host the first Advanced Nuclear Summit and Showcase to demonstrate advancements in the nuclear sector. Nuclear power is integral to the U.S. clean energy sector and 48 North American companies continue developing advanced nuclear reactor plans. Zero-emission energy sources will be crucial to stemming climate change. 

Beaver Valley Power Station (Image Courtesy: U.S. NRC)


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Nuclear energy benefits the United States by lowering our CO2 emissions and our reliance on fossil fuel.
It is important to have a diversified energy plan, especially considering the price of fossil fuels can fluctuate. Increasing energy options reduces the impact of such fluctuations.

The biggest disadvantage is the waste created by energy generation. Such waste is radioactive and must be stored properly to prevent radioactive material from leaking into the environment. The same waste may also be used to create dirty bombs if the material falls into the wrong hands. Reducing these pitfalls include better security in regards to nuclear waste or even the reuse of the waste.

Nuclear power already provides more than 20 percent of the United States' electricity. And, while people know of nuclear accidents (Three Mile Island and Chernobyl ...), nuclear power has a strong safety record. First, people need to get past the fear of these types of accidents, especially as technology improves and nuclear power becomes even safer. Then the United States needs to plan for long term safe and secure waste storage.

Nuclear energy reduces our dependence of fossil fuels and provides an avenue for green energy.
Wide spread education about the benefits of Nuclear energy will help dispel fears of future accidents. Technology and security has gotten better and the chances of a major nuclear accident is low. The funding or nuclear energy will allow for safer nuclear power plants and safe hazardous waste disposal.

Post from HDIAC Social Networks:

I could go on and on about the negatives but they have been pretty obvious for decades. To have nuclear and clean energy in the same sentence is a cruel joke. This Nuclear Summit sounds a tin horn trumpet trying to resurrect the (gratefully mostly dead) Nuclear Energy train wreck of a business model. Does their "Showcase" glow in the dark? Put all the money saved to promote real potential clean energy projects.

If you're going to have a stance on something, it is in your best interest to be the most educated that you can be about that topic. There are some "Environmentalists" that will bash Nuclear Energy into the ground with the biggest stick they can find.

Hypothesis: People will die from radioactivity generated from a Nuclear Plant. People eat bananas. Bananas have relatively high radioactivity when you compare them to other foods. The U.S. consumed roughly 3.12 billion pounds of bananas in 2010. Regular ole bananas contain 0.0117% potassium-40, so Americans consumed 182 tons of radioactive K-40 that year. The reality is that most people will obtain a greater dose of radiation from going to the doctor and eating bananas than they ever could from a Nuclear Power Plant.

Explosions they cry! U.S. Nuclear Power Plants are designed with negative reactivity coefficients. This means that if they get out of hand, they shut down. This is not an administrative safeguard, it is an engineered physical property of the reactor. To break this attribute, you are going to need to bend the rules of the universe. The Russian Chernobyl reactor had a positive reactivity coefficient and was pushed past its operational safety measures on purpose, for one reason or another.

Hypothesis: Wind & Solar are the best "clean renewable energies". I don't necessarily despise wind and solar energy, but if you are going to toot your horn for them, you should understand the production of these energies. Wind for example uses strong rare earth magnets, particularly neodymium. Rare earths aren't rare per say, but they are difficult to mine, extract, and refine. The Molycorp process for Rare Earth production requires processing of radioactive ores, high temperatures, and corrosive acids and bases. China currently produces rare earths in such a process that liberates fluorine gases into their atmosphere and then we buy the end product and call it "clean". At this rate, we are talking about a massive up-front energy cost to make "zero emission" wind turbines. Solar power has a similar problem in that it requires silane gases and other less than desirable chlorocarbon compounds and acidic metal chlorides for production along with high temperatures. High temperatures require a lot of energy. There isn't anything wrong with using these technologies, but let's be honest about what they are.

As a final note, if you are interested in a rather objective education on energy I suggest reading Vaclav Smil's Energy at the Crossroads. He does a very nice job of not running around with his head on fire like so many extremists seem to do.

Education about these topics is key.

Post from HDIAC Social Networks:

I believe Operation Opera set the paradigm for combating possible negative concerns of nuclear energy.