The adoption of nuclear power by the UK Government over the next 30 years is one of the topics that has a lots of discussions and debates. In general, nuclear technology has different applications. For example, production of electricity, manufacturing nuclear weapons, nuclear submarine and medical devices. In particular, nuclear power for production of energy is a big part of applications of nuclear technology. This report brings together some of the underlying reasons to support the adoption of nuclear power by the UK Government over the next 30 years. It is also address the negative effects rising from using nuclear technology. The report attempts to focus on ethical analysis prospective rather than a vast technical analysis.
The report firstly describes nuclear energy, fossil fuels and the most common renewable energy resources and discuss about advantages and disadvantages of these energies. It is then followed by the conclusion based on the arguments provided in the earlier sections. The key conclusion is based on the need for safe and secure energy in UK which suggest nuclear energy as a solution for low carbon future, reducing green house gasses and economical benefits.
2. Nuclear energy
Nuclear energy is produced from the nucleus of an atom. In the fission process the Uranium atom divided into two parts. As a results of this reaction neutrons and energy in the form of heat is also released. This energy is called nuclear energy and used as a power source. The fission process can go infinitely in a chain reaction by interacting the released atoms together. The place that control and initiate the nuclear chain is nuclear reactor. Nuclear fission was first discovered by a scientist from Germany in 1938.
Major European studies reported that the external costs, costs that are related to the health and the environment excluding cost of electricity production, of nuclear energy compare with cost of use of coal as a fossil fuel is about one tenth (Birnie, 2009). The external cost resulted from global warming was excluding from this calculations (Reyes, 2005).
Although there is a need for big investment during the building the nuclear power reactors, the cost during operation of the nuclear reactor limited to the spent fuels. The total cost of production of electricity in US, including different sources, was published by the Energy Utility Cost Group, clearly showed that nuclear energy is the less costly energy comparing to the other sources such as oil, gas and coal.
The other application of nuclear energy is producing the nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons are also produced by the similar fission procedure and used for the large scale destructive purposes. These weapons are a big threat for human (Lisbeth et al., 2005).
The production of nuclear waste as a result of working the nuclear power station is challenging situation rises from operation fuel elements. The unstable radioactive materials produced during the fission reaction, is very dangerous for the human and environment (Birnie, 2009). On the other hand, It is proposed that converting the radioactive material to the stable glass makes it suitable for waste storage.
These waste needs specific handling technology and should be kept isolated from the living environments (Birnie, 2009). However, it is known that the radioactivity these waste will be decayed and reduces over a period of time.
3. Fossil fuels
Fossil fuels are coal, oil and gas. Fossil fuels are formed from plants and animals which remains underground over the years.
Pollution is the major environmental issue with using the fossil fuels (Birnie, 2009). Generally, carbon dioxide is produced during burning the fossil fuels and is supportive for "green house effect". Coal, in particular, is the most effective fossil fuels that contribute to the "green house effect" by producing largest amount of carbon dioxide in addition to producing sulfur dioxide that can cause acid rains.
Global warming and climate change are recognized as the direct effect of the burning the fossil fuels (Metz, 2007).
Fossil fuels will be finished after burning. It means we should always ask how long are they available? On the other hand, it is always possible that we ran out of energy at some points. Therefore, is it logical to be dependant on a energy source that may finish?
In UK, oil and gas have to be imported. Fluctuating in the price of these fossil fuels is the worst part for their consumers and government. These variations causes unstable economical situations (Reyes, 2005).
4. Renewable energy
Solar, hydroelectric, wind, geothermal, ocean and biomass are renewable energy resources. Although it seems that UK is rich in the renewable energy sources, the big capital costs required for these energies limited their usage. Beside the most common advantages of these energy sources such as being renewable. They are, of course, natural and do not pollute the environment and do not contribute to the global warming or climate change (Metz, 2007). The common disadvantage with the renewable energy is the high initial cost for manufacturing a renewable plant. Although this usually argued as a result of requirement a new technology, the amount of electricity produces by renewable energy sources are normally very little (Lisbeth et al., 2005).
The system that utilized for using the sun's energy, solar energy, is controlled by location of the consumers and is limited to the daytime hours and non-cloudy days. It is now possible to fit the solar system to the large buildings to benefit from the large area for absorbing the sun's radiation.
Power of the wind is used to produce electricity and called wind energy. Wind turbines normally set up in the big farms but their performance is relied on the how strong is the winds (Heinz, 2009).
Hydroelectric resources use water to produce power. This is kind of renewable energy is often considered as the most reliable sources. On the down side, it affects ecology and causes downstream problems. The decay of vegetation along the riverbed can cause the buildup of methane. Methane is a contributing gas to greenhouse effect. Dams can also alter the natural river flow and affect wildlife. Colder, oxygen poor water can be released into the river, killing fish. And the release of water from the dam can cause flooding (Reyes, 2005).
Steam from the Earth's ground is used to generate the Geothermal power. As to compared to other power plants, this requires less land areas and can be operated 24 hours a day, every day of the year. There are however some disadvantages as well, for example these are very site specific, and it can also bring up toxic chemicals from the earth along with obtaining steam. Also it requires heavy investment to drill geothermal reservoirs and establish the plant (Lisbeth et al., 2005).
Biomass is another form of electricity that is produced through wood, agricultural and municipal waste. It is good in saving the landfill waste however it may affect the ecological diversity of land and the transportation can be expensive. Also, its process needs to be made simpler.
One of the most clean and abundant forms of energy is the Ocean energy. However, it has high costs and requires about 40 degree Fahrenheit difference in water temperature all year round. The installment of the system and laying pipes etc. can cause damage to the eco system (Heinz, 2009).
There are a number of advantages and disadvantages of using the renewable sources. It most however be noted that the energy demand will continue to increase in the foreseeable future. There is however hope that through extensive research and development and new technologies, many of the disadvantages of renewable sources of energy will be eliminated and these will be eventually successfully incorporated in our power supplies.
There are two main areas where non-renewable sources of energy have advantage, cost and availability. Most of the energy-consuming products that run off of non-renewable energy sources have very little real competition from similar or comparable products that utilize renewable sources. For example, it is difficult to find a car or truck that runs off of rechargeable battery power, solar power, or electricity. If you did find one, it would be less efficient (wouldn't go as fast, be as practical, etc.) and cost a LOT more. The disadvantages, of course, are that they are non-renewable, meaning that when they're gone, they're gone. You can't replace natural gas, oil, or coal. Also, mining for these sources at such an intense rate can have devastating environmental effects (Birnie, 2009).
Renewable energy, on the other hand, provides for cleaner, environmentally friendlier power sources. Once fully developed, they have the potential to be much more cost efficient (consider solar power; it's not like the sun is a market-based commodity that can be over or under produced to obtain a better selling price). However, until this type of power source is fully integrated into the market, products utilizing it will remain more expensive, less readily available, and more of a unique alternative rather than viable competitor (Reyes, 2005).
It is easy to recognize the environmental advantages of utilizing the alternative and renewable forms of energy but we must also be aware of the disadvantages (Birnie, 2009).
One disadvantage with renewable energy is that it is difficult to generate the quantities of electricity that are as large as those produced by traditional fossil fuel generators. This may mean that we need to reduce the amount of energy we use or simply build more energy facilities. It also indicates that the best solution to our energy problems may be to have a balance of many different power sources.
Another disadvantage of renewable energy sources is the reliability of supply. Renewable energy often relies on the weather for its source of power. Hydro generators need rain to fill dams to supply flowing water. Wind turbines need wind to turn the blades, and solar collectors need clear skies and sunshine to collect heat and make electricity. When these resources are unavailable so is the capacity to make energy from them. This can be unpredictable and inconsistent. The current cost of renewable energy technology is also far in excess of traditional fossil fuel generation. This is because it is a new technology and as such has extremely large capital cost (Lisbeth et al., 2005).
5. Summary and conclusion
As evident from the above discussion, the biggest benefit of nuclear energy is that there is no release of dangerous greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, ozone, chlorofluorocarbon etc. during the nuclear reaction. These gases are a major threat in the current scenario, as they cause global warming and climate change. As there is no emission of these gases during nuclear reaction, there is very little effect on the environment. Nuclear reactors make use of uranium as fuel. Fission reaction of a small amount of uranium generates large amount of energy. Currently, the high reserves of uranium found on Earth, are expected to last for another 100 years. High amount of energy can be generated from a single nuclear power plant. Also, nuclear fuel is inexpensive and easier to transport. In contrast, the burning of fossil fuels results in emission of the poisonous carbon dioxide. It is a menace to the environment as well as human life. It therefore does seem to be the case that nuclear energy is much more beneficial and efficient for energy generation as compared to other available option and is therefore recommended in the light of the discussion in this essay as the primary engine for future energy generation.
- Metz, B. (2007) "Climate Change 2007" (2007), Published by Cambridge University Press (Chapter 4)
- Birnie, Patricia W (2009), "International Law and the Environment" by: Oxford University Press
- Reyes, J (2005): "Ethics, Environment and Innovation", 6ME011
- Heinz C. Luegenbiehl (2009): "Themes for an International Code of Engineering Ethics"
- International Energy Agency (2008): "Key World Energy Statistics: 2008"
- Lisbeth Greenland et al. (2005), proceedings of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS)
- Vesilind, P Aarne (1998), "Engineering, ethics, and the Environment" Blackwell, UK