Nuclear Night & Green Day

How Toxic Is Your kW?

Group 11

What took Britain nearly 20 years to build a ‘new’ nuclear power station? Does the stable and sustainable energy source of nuclear outweigh the documented drawbacks? Is it ethical for future generations to live with the outcomes of this decision?

The development of nuclear power will be viewed using a black and white perspective, as the benefits of nuclear cannot be harnessed without the risk associated. Resulting in two options for the government:

  • Invest in future nuclear technology e.g. SMRs
  • Stay clear from the associated risks of nuclear energy and pursue renewables increasing our reliance on our European neighbours…

Independence… we wanted?

…importing up to 21.8TWh of electricity, consequently increasing the stakeholder’s annual electricity bill.

Additionally, waste from our primary sources of energy (coal and gas) contributes to the ever growing threat of global warming. Hence the government has pledged decarbonisation commitments by 2050, requiring alternative energy sources…

Renewable Energy?

In recent years renewables have been sold as ‘clean sources’, producing no waste. However, the carbon produced from manufacturing these systems can be higher than the carbon saved during their life cycle. Renewables are dependent on environmental conditions, hence…

NO-wind, NO-energy

…therefore, their capacity requires 100% back up from fossil fuels, this is not the case for nuclear.

Silent killer…

Waste generated from primary sources is pumped into the air for the public to breathe. This waste acts as a silent killer, contributing to uncounted causes of cancer and other life threatening diseases. NASA concluded the integration of nuclear power prevented 1.8 million deaths since 1976, due to the reduced demand of primary sources, despite sensationalism in the media over nuclear disasters.

Nuclear, the Genie in the bottle?

A common myth is that nuclear plants are inherently dangerous, however, with the integration of advanced manufacturing capabilities and continual learning, nuclear is the safest energy source. This is attributed to the construction, operation and maintenance following strict safety standards. Forbes concluded nuclear energy ranks last on death/energy unit generated as the waste is captured and stored away from human contact.

Fossil fuels are consumed faster than they are formed, therefore inflating prices. Nuclear fuels offers more energy/unit, 1tonne is equivalent to burning 16,000-tonnes of coal. This significantly reduces the carbon footprint by saving on raw materials, extraction, handling and transport. According to the Utilitarianism theory, a decision is deemed ethically acceptable if it brings happiness to the greatest number. This viewpoint can be applied to nuclear power, where the technology aims to benefit a large number of people while minimising risks associated with it. The slim risks associated with nuclear power can certainly be justified by its enormous potential which will ultimately impact millions of lives.

A single nuclear power plant is equivalent to 2077 wind turbines and has triple the lifespan, providing a solution to our energy crisis and reclaiming our independence, consequently reducing the stakeholder’s energy bill.

Kant ethical frameworkSafe Nuclear Pant and the Painter believes whether a decision is good or bad, ultimately hinges on the motivation for action, rather than the consequences. The motivations are to decarbonise, reduce energy dependency and provide cheaper energy to the stakeholders. These motivations should be the focus point for action as it’s our duty, regardless of whether the decision causes divide amongst the population.

However, we can’t contain it…

Nuclear waste is a big problem that goes hand in hand with nuclear energy. The issue lies with discarded fuel rods, as these can no longer be used but still generate enough radiation and heat that they require regulated and actively cooled enclosures. This radioactive waste is hazardous and lethal for up to 1000 years, meaning we must deal with it now, but more crucially, we are passing this waste and danger to future stakeholders to deal with. Viewing this problem through a utilitarianism lens, this is morally unacceptable as the number of people that can be affected during this 1000-year period could be significant. The dangers of failing to contain this waste appropriately will affect entire generations. It is clear that the long-lasting dangers inherent with nuclear energy far outweigh the benefit of a reliable power supply promised.

Still no solution…

More astonishingly, as of January 2018, the UK has failed to find a permanent site for its nuclear waste from countless past reactors. This is of great concern and brings to question any plans the UK has on developing nuclear reactors, as they should first deal with their growing nuclear waste problem before generating more.

Pandora’s box waiting to be opened…

Furthermore, the threat to nuclear security is a real problem. Cyber threats look to exploit weaknesses in computer systems and bypass safety measures. The impact of a nuclear-fuelled terrorist attack on the UK would be unimaginable, is it worth creating such a potential risk? The Chernobyl disaster, resulted in the evacuation of 340,000 people whilst causing 4000 premature deaths. The nuclear fallout, where radioactive particles were carried into the atmosphere after the explosion, covered large parts of mainland Europe, including a rise in radiation detected in Britain. The UK is a much smaller, more densely populated country, meaning any nuclear fallout would engulf the British Isles and affect large parts of mainland Europe. Can it be considered ethical to create this risk which would seriously endanger our European neighbours, despite them seeing none of the potential benefits? Hence, using a common sense approach, surely the impacts of potential disasters associated with nuclear are too great to consider pursuing the technology?

The future shouldn’t be radioactive…

Wind, solar and hydropower can all contribute to the increasing energy demand, whilst remaining safer, cleaner and cheaper. A key example of this is the government’s nuclear sector deal, which aims to reduce the cost of nuclear generated electricity by 20-30%, despite wind power remaining cheaper by £7.25/MWh. Although nuclear energy may increase the overall wellbeing of those that make use of it, we should seriously consider renewable sources.

42 thoughts on “How Toxic Is Your kW?

  1. I think you make some really good points.

    Everything we do in the end is bad, there must be balance but we must choose a balance that lets us live for long time, Nuclear sounds like a good in between of balance between goods and bads.

    1. I personally do agree with you and believe we need to have a mixture sources where we harness energy. Nuclear should definitely be in the mix. However, with this balance, what other technologies would you consider to complement nuclear?

      1. I agree with this comment, we are an Island which provides many desirable characteristcs for energy generation. Costal line, providing a pressure difference leading to high wind. Sea water to be used as the condeser within Nuclear energy. Start small with nuclear, build public perception!!!

      2. To answer your question, we are an Island which provides many desirable characteristcs for energy generation. Costal line, providing a pressure difference leading to high wind. Sea water to be used as the condenser within Nuclear energy. Start small with nuclear, build public perception!!!

  2. This article is an interesting one, I think it is clear that there is a need for new energy sources in the UK and we need to move away from fossil fuels. Nuclear power certainly seems promising however the waste is still an issue that worries me!

  3. “the carbon produced from manufacturing these systems can be higher than the carbon saved during their life cycle” – can you reference this if possible please?

    I really like the structure of your article. It makes it very readable, and that is a delight from the point of view of your readers and yours truly who is also marking it.

    This is an excellent choice of topic as there are good reasons for and against. Personally, I’m for but that is because one of the modules of my degree was nuclear chemistry. I’ve always wondered why we can’t store the waste in spent uranium mines? But that is an aside.

    In terms of ethics, there seems, to me, to be more ethical arguments for nuclear power then against it. Can you develop this side of your arguments in Assignment Two please?
    Thanks.

  4. While the pros raise some good points, from the media in the past and the cons that have been written, I absolutely disagree with using nuclear energy. The fact that the waste cannot be dealt with and is dangerous for a 1000 years is actually more damaging to the environment over wind energy, while not 100% reliable it does not leave an incredible amount of dangerous waste. Additionally the fact that in today’s world terrorist attacks can come from breaches within nuclear technology is risky, considering the size of the UK if we turned to using just nuclear energy and if an attack, like what is alluded to , happens would the UK be left standing? Also as we part of the west would our potential use of nuclear energy encourage other developing countries to use it also, leaving them with no infrastructure to dispose of waste, as even we don’t currently have one, and leave them as vulnerable as us to a terrorist attack.

    1. Good points but we can not burry our heads in the sand!

      We need an alternative energy source, we need to be energy dependent, as it is economically unattainable!

      If we can not cope with the demand at the moment, what will happen when the decarbonization commitment comes into play? Electricity prices surging? As a stakeholder I want to know my price per k/w is fixed or increase only with inflation!

      All motor manufactures are pushing towards electrical vehicles and the government provides incentives to make this attractive for people to buy electrical cars! Thus a huge requirement on electricity!!!!

  5. This article reads very nicely and make very good points concisely and easy to understand.
    There are many problems with both renewable and nuclear but I believe the consistency gained from nuclear far outweigh the supposed benefits of renewable. Solar will change the power output through the day and season to season but provides a much better power per unit area compared to wind. Wind also has the problem of being a visual eyesore (in my opinion) where as solar is usually only visible when close by.
    With how technology dependent we are the consistency is needed, even more so with the 2020 move from petrol and diesel so there will be a greater draw from electric cars and if all cars were to become electric nuclear may be the only viable option. or cover the entire coastline and open spaces with wind and solar farms.

    1. Personally I quite like the look of wind turbines out in the distance, but they can be quite noisy when you are near them. I think this is kind of a similar issue with nuclear, nobody wants to be near one but we need the energy it harnesses.

      Your point on the future energy demands due to car legislation is one I have not considered, it definitely makes me think on whether the visual annoyance of these technologies is even a problem when you consider how reliant we are and will be on the energy they can produce and we consume!

    2. I agree with this comment, a clear requirement for an alternative energy source, I think we are going into an electrical generation. We can not burry our heads in the sand and not act.

      We are an Island which provides many desirable characteristcs for energy generation. Costal line, providing a pressure difference leading to high wind. Sea water to be used as the condeser within Nuclear energy. Start small with nuclear, build public perception!!!

  6. This is a very interesting and captivating topic!

    There is a great deal to think about with how we obtain our power. There is postives and negatives to all sources of power. Wind Power is clean but in some cases inefficient in terms of the land it takes up (and can be an eyesore). In a way most of the disadvantages of renewable energy come down to the limitation in the amount of power that can be produced.
    In a way, we should be thinking about the long term and for this, your points explain this well. Nuclear waste would have a long lasting effect and will be around for generations to come. Chernobyl is also a standing example of the problems that can occur when nuclear power goes wrong even if nuclear power is consired quite safe.
    Overall, nuclear power might be necassary as we move into an ‘electric age’ where more and more we rely on electricity, especially moving into hybrid/fully electric cars!
    I believe we are stuck on a path that has been set for a long time, and the crisis we have with carbon pollution needs a quick fix. Nuclear might be our best bet until we find something better.

  7. I agree that nuclear power is the answer to our environmental concerns and power needs. However, I would not like to be the one living near a site!

    Nuclear seems more sensible in many ways, and of course it produces less CO2. But I still worry about nuclear, at least as the technology is presently constituted. For one thing, it results in very expensive, complex plants. It appears that only very large entities can finance and manage them

    What I want to see is technology that is relatively simple (like dropping water through a turbine) or can be scaled down (like putting a solar panel on my roof). I suppose we could make small nuclear plants and put one in each neighbour hood, but I think I’d prefer to use the one in the sky.

    1. Putting a nuclear reactor in the sky would be the dream! However you would still need to bring that energy back to earth at some point…

      I would be the same as you with liking the technology but not wanting to be near it personally. However, if you gave me the choice of having repeated energy cuts or have a consistent energy supply thanks to the nuclear plant near my house, I think I would go for the latter! I think we take electricity for granted and that’s the reason we dislike these kind of controversial technologies, but if we consider what they provide and what our lives would be without them we would change our minds.

      Which one would you choose, continual power cuts, or continual reliable energy due to living near a nuclear power plant?

      1. Fair comment.

        A reliable energy every day obviously however I do think the war of words in the media over Nuclear weapons has caused doubt over the technology.

        As nation we need to educate and improve understanding of the benefits before going ahead and instaling a reactor. This way people would be more inclined to say yes!

  8. Nuclear power is a source of energy that, I believe, should be used. Nuclear power allows us to continue to power our lives without having to pollute the air. It also provides stable electricity which helps prevent the frequent power outages that many areas without nuclear energy face. So long as nuclear power plants are well regulated to maintain safety, there is no reason not to use it as a source of power.

  9. Very good article, with good arguments for for, and against. Which makes for a very balanced read. I believe greater focus has to be put on research on the handling of consumed rods etc. With the great minds of 2018 and daily advancements in tech, this is something that should be explored further, and subsequently a combative resolution can be found. Good point raised with cyber security. However there will become a time where our hand is forced. The short to medium term threats will have to be out weighed by the long term. The company/government/person who pre empts this will be ahead of the game. Whether the answer is nuclear or not. There has to be a greater exploration of the possibilities out there that move away from the traditional methods.

    Thank you, Rim.

  10. Interesting article and I think you have highlighted the main points on either side of the argument well.

    I’ve always thought that the solution to the energy problem is going to be a combination of things rather than just one. I think nuclear has great potential for the UK with its reliability and energy/unit ratios but it is not renewable so will we eventually run out of that material as well? I also dislike the fact that we leave waste for future generations to deal with, we should learn from our mistakes and always think about what effect our actions could have. Also sometimes the waste is shipped to other countries, and I’m not sure it’s right to make them deal with it instead.

    On the other hand, you highlighted that perhaps renewable energy is not as green as people may think and can often be not reliable enough for todays high energy consumption society. If these issues are solved, and storage of electricity is improved I think renewable would be the way to go but until that point I’m not sure it’s enough to keep society running as it currently does.

  11. Well written article, a nice read.

    I find it interesting that you can use utilitarianism to discuss both the positive and negative aspects of nuclear. I do think the UK has a difficult future in terms of energy security and something must be done. Through reading this report, I think I believe that there are some real concerns with Nuclear, but there are negatives involved with other forms of energy generation as well (such as coal, etc), so at the end of the day there needs to be a mixture of sources for energy, not just one. I think nuclear should be in that mix and we should be investing into it to address those concerns raised here, as they are not small issues, in fact they are considerable!

    1. Do you mean the importation of Uranium into the country and how this effects our relationships with other countries?

      OR

      Do you mean the implications on the UK investing into nuclear energy and what that could imply onto other countries? Ie, encouraging other countries to invest into nuclear as we are leading by example?

  12. Definetly something that has been in my head for a while. This should genuinely be researched upon before leaping to such advancements in a country. I hope this article is an eye-opener for many.

    Thanks,
    Felix J M

  13. Really insightful article!

    Whilst nuclear has some problems, I think it should be viewed as an opportunity that can’t be missed! The energy density of fissile materials is far greater than anything else in the world, surely by combining this with small module reactors a large chunk of the UK’s energy crisis could be solved?

    I would even argue that the greenhouse gases produced by fossil fuels and in manufacturing renewable sources is far more harmful to us and the environment than nuclear waste is!

  14. The very good article, with good arguments.

    I agree that nuclear power is the answer to our environmental concerns and power needs. However, a lot of things must be considered first. as you now nuclear can be a very good and helpful energy resource but also can become very harmfull energy resources..

  15. A well written article, presenting both pros and cons of nuclear. However, i think nuclear should’nt be implemented because nuclear meltdowns can kill thousands of people.
    If a nuclear melt down occurs thousands of people could die. Its a waste of money and time. Nuclear not exist because we can easily use renewable energy sources like water or solar energy because nuclear energy is not renewable. We should learn from countries like germany which are harnessing different renewable options.
    Moreover, the thought of terror attack on such a dangerous site scares me.

  16. Nice article, I personally think that the benefits of nuclear certainly outweigh the negatives. We can’t persist with our reliance on fossil fuels and renewables are almost completely weather dependent making them too inconsistent in my opinion. This only really leaves us with nuclear power as the solution to our problems. I also don’t think terrorism will be a big issue with regards to nuclear energy. France generate over 70% of their electricity with nuclear and I can’t think of any nuclear disasters or attacks that have happened over there. Although it pains me to say it, I think we should follow the way of the French for a change!

  17. A good and interesting article, but I personally believe that the future generation of electricity in the UK should consist of a mixture of electricity generated from renewable and nuclear sources. This is because the big problem with renewable energy as mentioned within this article is that it is a highly unpredictable source of energy and the current technology to store and release this energy when it is needed is currently not available. It should also be pointed out that even though nuclear energy poses a risk to life through waste and nuclear disasters, the technology available for nuclear power generation would steadily improve with the prospect of generation IV reactor designs. In addition, nuclear power also does help to save life, as countries such as Australia, don’t generate power from nuclear energy but do possess a nuclear reactor just to solely produce medical and industrial radioisotopes.

  18. Good report, however I do think you missed a chance to expand a bit more on SMR’s , specifically how they could provide thousands of jobs around the UK, thus why Nuclear energy technology is actually a huge win for the entire population!

    Rolls-Royce has stated for example:
    “Design, development and
    production of a UK SMR fleet would create up to
    40,000 skilled UK nuclear supply chain jobs. It
    would also add over £100 billion to the value of
    the UK economy, locally and nationally , through
    both domestic and export sales.”

    if you could include more of this in the next blog post, that would be great.

    1. That is a very good point you have raised! Unfortunately due to the limited word count we could not include all the advantages of Nuclear technology, as there are many!

      But yes, if the UK invests into nuclear technology suck as SMR’s it could mean a huge influx of business and money into the economy! If we write another post we will definitely include some of these facts, thank you for the insight.

  19. I think articles like this are great at getting people to discuss issues with nuclear energy as it is a very controversial topic.

    Decisions about nuclear energy require honest and open conversation, informed by up-to-date information which this article encompasses, specially the fact that the UK still hasn’t found a way of dealing with nuclear waste (SHOKING).
    Nuclear power could play an important role in reducing greenhouse gasses and be a viable alternative to fossil fuels, that was a great point.

    I do think nuclear is great, however, I would not like to be the person living next to a nuclear plant. Essentially i’m saying that in theory Nuclear is the best answer to our problems, as long as i’m not near it, I know that sounds very selfish but it’s the truth.

  20. This makes for a good read, there are certainly strong arguments for both sides here. I feel that the initial cost of building these sites requires more consideration. The Hinkley Point C nuclear power station in Somerset is supposedly costing over £20 billion and is already £1.5 billion over budget! Despite potentially reducing energy bills in the long term surely the tax payer’s money could be used better elsewhere? (specifically the NHS!)

    1. Fair point, but if we are not energy secure with the electrical generation on the horizon this will adversely affect our economy. Providing a solid energy source will add to the economy. A stronger economy then more money for the NHS.

      In addition, Rolls Royce are proposing manufacture of SMR’s (small module reactors). Potential to boost the economy by $100 billion + open up 40,000 skilled jobs.

      See this webpage for more info – https://www.rolls-royce.com/products-and-services/nuclear/small-modular-reactors.aspx

      Please let me know your thought…

      1. You make a good point, I agree we need to do something about the imminent energy crisis however the start up cost for nuclear is too great at the moment in my opinion. Perhaps in a few years, once the economy has recovered further we should start to heavily invest. For now I think government subsidies should be handed out to renewable sources whilst we gradually reduce our fossil fuels usage.

        SMRs are an option that I haven’t really considered and could certainly be a good way into nuclear power generation due to their (hopefully) low investment requirements! Thank you for this insight, they do look an exciting possibility!

  21. I am personally against the use and development of nuclear power in the UK. Nuclear seems to be sold as this be-all and end-all to our power needs, however uranium is still a finite resource. In the future, like gas, this will run out. Currently, like oil, it produces dangerous waste and looking back accidents have killed people and destroyed landscapes just like coal! Yes the carbon savings may be significant but are we really solving our energy problem in the right way? I for one don’t think so and believe our full commitment should be towards improving the reliability and consistency of renewables.

  22. Fantastic article, really well presented and easy to read – great use of colour to distinguish between the positives and negatives. I think nuclear energy is great in theory, but it presents too many potential risks. I think we should explore renewable sources first, and keep nuclear as a last resort.

  23. Interesting article offering a range of opinions supporting both views. I understand your choice of “black and white” ethical strategy naturally lends itself to the single solution of renewables but can we not have both solutions working together? As you correctly discussed, each energy source comes with its problems but this is inevitable and that should not stop us harnessing the benefits of both. Nuclear has huge potential, especially considering the advancements being made in fusion technology. For renewable energy, it would be silly not to make this happen when we have so many natural sources that could be used (sustainably of course).

    The only other point I have to raise is your claim about renewables requiring 100 % back up from fossil fuels. If you are referring to the unreliability of renewables in general, then surely that’s more of a reason to use nuclear as well? Also, did you consider use of other back up stores from alternative renewable sources? This isn’t as common but still happening in off grid communities like Eigg, Scotland.

    1. I agree with this comment, a clear requirement for an alternative energy source, I think we are going into an electrical generation. We can not burry our heads in the sand and not act.

      We are an Island which provides many desirable characteristics for energy generation. Costal line, providing a pressure difference leading to high wind. Sea water to be used as the condenser within Nuclear energy. Start small with nuclear, build public perception!!!

  24. Yes, we need an alternative energy source, we need to be energy dependent, as economy it is unattainable!

    If we can not cope with the demand at the moment, what will happen when the decarbonization commitment comes into play? Electricity prices surging? As a stakeholder I want to know my price per k/w is fixed or increase only with inflation!

    All motor manufactures are pushing towards electrical vehicles and the government provides incentives to make this attractive for people to buy electrical cars! Thus a huge requirement on electricity!!!!

    I believe with we need to strike a balance between the energy sources and nuclear. Improve education and improve awareness.

    However nobody would wants a nuclear site in their own back yard. E.g. Sellafield Nuclear reactor, no body wanted to live near the site. An thus businesses and houses in that location loss value.

    Biggest concern is opening ourselves up to terrorist attacks……it will not be easy to protect those sites. Possibility to strike with missiles or grenades, then you guarantee a fall out zone of a certain radius. In addition wind movement will spreads it further. Not an easy solution.

  25. This is a well written and easy to comprehend article.

    In as much as nuclear energy has the potential to reduce emissions relative to fossil fuel, the potential side effects cannot be overlooked. You did mention that fuel rods disposal leads to the release of harmful substances.

    My knowledge about this is that fuel rods are stored in under water for a minimum of 5years and are then moved to a dry site afterwards. I do not think the nuclear waste disposal should be an issue hindering nuclear energy.

    Rather I will agree that a major concern should be the fact that this nuclear energy could be used for terrorist plots, and the catastrophic effect if this happens is unimaginable.

    I think nuclear energy has a lot of potential considering the issues with the amount of power generated from renewables, and also the amount of emissions from fossil fuel. With these in mind I think it has huge potentials for future power generation.

  26. The world is in dire need for renewable sources of energy as clearly demonstrated in the article. Nuclear energy definitely seems to take a right step in that direction as it has a much smaller carbon footprint compared to the other energy sources mentioned in the article. However, just like most commoners, I would not be too happy to know that a nuclear power plant is being set up near to where I live.

    Governments need to demonstrate their ability to successfully manage nuclear power plants and dispose their wastes safely. As shown in the article, this is not the case as of yet. Thus in my opinion we are not ready for nuclear energy.

    The article was well presented and easy to read. Great food for thought!

  27. I think that was a well written article, although there was no mention on how to make nuclear safer in terms of information security. Like how available is nuclear information in the internet? How easy would it be to get a nuclear job and learn the inside secrets, etc?

    I would like that to be expanded further please.

    1. Thank you for your comment, nuclear security is definitely an area we would’ve liked to explore further if we had a few more words at our disposal! A key principle within the UK’s approach to nuclear security is the requirement of nuclear licenses to build, operate and decommission any sites. The Office for Nuclear Regulation acts as an external auditor and regulating security is a huge section of their business. In terms of nuclear site employees, they carry out regular vetting of permanent staff and contractors. They also have strict emergency responses which are practiced and rehearsed annually in case anything does go wrong.

      For information security, there are strict guidelines which outline how to classify, handle and protect sensitive information. Again external auditors help to ensure industrial companies are complying with these guidelines.

      For more info, ONR have released a guide to nuclear regulation here: http://www.onr.org.uk/documents/a-guide-to-nuclear-regulation-in-the-uk.pdf

      Also the IAEA published an implementing guide for the security of nuclear information here:
      https://www-pub.iaea.org/MTCD/Publications/PDF/Pub1677web-32045715.pdf

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