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