The Nuclear Debate
On the 10th January 2008, the UK government stated its intent to develop its nuclear energy capabilities with the release of the Nuclear White paper and Energy Bill, sparking an age old debate: Is nuclear energy a safe and clean source of power? Given the current political climate regarding global warming, it is no small wonder that nuclear energy is back on the agenda, as it is commonly seen among governments as the most viable low emission source to take us at least into the next century. However, despite this, fear still looms over its apparent safety, and the environmentalists continue to quote figures relating to radioactive waste. So with all this confusion filling the airways, how does one discern the facts from the fiction?
In a conventional reactor the process of nuclear fission involves a neutron colliding with a Uranium nucleus, which splits in to two smaller nuclei, releasing more neutrons and energy. A key factor in this reaction is that no pollutants are released into the atmosphere by the power plants – making a zero emissions energy source. At present, the UK has 19 operational nuclear facilities, which generate 15% of our electrical energy supply, compared to 79% generated by fossil fuels.1 This value needs to change however, due to the recent targets set by the UK to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by the middle of the century and as a result, the government has changed its stance concerning nuclear energy. Yet despite this, many still have reservations concerning safety, waste management and cost; reservations that are often unfounded and are the result of a politically charged climate.2
A common subject of dispute regarding safety is the radiation dose to the general public. The main source of this radiation from nuclear power plants stems from the decay series of Uranium and Thorium, a process that takes millions of years. However, although levels are high within the bound of the reactor, once one considers the...