Nuclear Power Industry Opportunities Midst Fear


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Study of the Opportunities and Hurdles faced by Nuclear Industry.

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Nuclear Power Industry Opportunities Midst Fear

  1. 1. Nuclear Power Industry: Opportunities Midst Fear Although nuclear energy provides tremendous opportunities, it represents many challenges as well. The leak in Chernobyl in Ukraine and Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania blemished the image of nuclear industry world-wide, and has certainly created major barriers to its growth. One must however ask a reasonable basic question as to why the oil spills by Exxon Valdez in Alaska and BP in the Gulf haven’t stopped the global oil consumption, whereas a few nuclear leaks have made the world paranoid about nuclear energy? What Where did the oil leaks What tanker How much oil did it spill (in Year? occur? was it? tons)? 1983 The Persian Gulf Nowruz Oil Field 600,000 1983 South Africa Castillo De Belluer 250,000 1988 The Monongahela River Storage Tank 3,800,000 1993 Off The Shetland Islands Braer 26,000,000 1996 Off SW Wales Sea Empress 18,000,000 2001 Galapagos Islands, Equador Jessica 240,000 Source: Fears of nuclear devastation and radioactive effects have their origin in the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan in WWII, and the 1986 nuclear leak disaster at Chernobyl in Soviet Ukraine that both created widespread protests and fears about nuclear power. However the first instance was deliberate use of these weapons of mass destruction on a scale that made the whole world take notice of the harm caused, and made many countries signatories of the NPT and CTBT years later (although those treaties have major flaws and limitations of their own). The Chernobyl reactor had an acutely flawed design, one which possibly would never have been allowed to be built outside the Soviet Union, and it also had weak safety features that failed to guard against human error. The U.S. Three Mile Island accident in PA harmed no one and the radioactive leak was confined by the extensive protective systems that apparently are now the worldwide industry standards. Reactors with Chernobyl's severe shortcomings have been eliminated or improved, and probably will never be built again due to the advance in technology and worldwide cooperation and involvement of International agencies such as IAEA. Estimates of the eventual death toll from Chernobyl vary widely. A 2005 report by the Chernobyl Forum (eight U.N. organizations) estimated the accident eventually would cause about 4,000 deaths. Greenpeace places the figure at 93,000 deaths, based on information from the Belarus National Academy of Sciences. Another report by the Center for Independent Environmental Assessment of the Russian Academy of Sciences found a dramatic increase in mortality since 1990 (60,000 deaths in Russia and an estimated 140,000 deaths in Ukraine and Belarus) probably due to Chernobyl radiation. 1
  2. 2. The UN's and Greenpeace’s findings don’t trivialize what happened at Chernobyl, but they do put this event in a broader perspective. Coal-mining accidents and gas explosions account for thousands of fatalities each year as we saw last week in Virginia. Some of these deaths are so common that they even go unreported. For example, a single mining accident killing tens or even hundreds of people may occur with little note, while any nuclear radiation leak similar to last week’s leak in New Delhi, India causes major panic. Also one other major impact that most people tend to forget is the health impact from daily use of fossil fuels that cause air pollution. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that such pollution causes nearly three million deaths each year. Many medical scientists predict that the fossil fuel mortality rate will triple by the year 2025 with the automobiles, broad manufacturing and construction revolution in BRIC countries and other emerging markets. We as consumers and business people need to balance them against the fear of nuclear power. Key Issues: Fears: Steps Taken To Allay Those Fears: Ongoing The nuclear industry does The nuclear industry accounts for all of its Nuclear Waste not know how to treat nuclear waste, and solutions for safely Treatment: nuclear waste. managing waste are comprehensively practiced and continually improved. Longevity of Nuclear waste lasts forever Nuclear waste naturally becomes less Radioactive and cannot be managed radioactive over time, ultimately becoming Material: safely. essentially non-radioactive. Most of the radioactivity in nuclear waste disappears within a few decades of its creation. Long-Term Nuclear waste will end up in Well-engineered and highly safe nuclear Nuclear a nuclear waste dump. waste facilities do exist, and others are being Disposal: developed or planned for long-term disposal of materials that pose the greatest radioactive hazard (i.e., UNF-HLW and ILW). High Economic The huge cost of waste The full cost of safely managing nuclear Cost: management makes waste represents a small % of the total cost nuclear energy uneconomic. of nuclear power generation and is generally included in the cost of electricity. Public The nuclear industry is In 1989, the nuclear industry established the Knowledge of secretive about nuclear World Association of Nuclear Operators the Industry waste. (WANO) to foster a global nuclear safety culture. Today every nuclear power reactor in the world is part of the WANO system of operational peer review. The aim of WANO's peer-review system standards are set by the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Source: World Nuclear Association ( 2
  3. 3. Some Essential Facts About Radiation and Nuclear Energy: • Radiation is released naturally from the ground and atmosphere in all places on Earth. This 'natural background' radiation, which varies considerably from region to region, is part of the environment to which all human beings are conditioned. Radiation produced within nuclear reactors is similar to natural radiation but more intense and deliberate. At nuclear power plants, protective shielding isolates this radiation, allowing millions of people to live in safety nearby. Typically, the radiation people receive comes 90% from nature and 10% from medical exposures. Radiation exposure from nuclear power is a bit negligible. • The great advantage of nuclear power lies in the vast amount of energy that can be extracted from a handful of the element uranium, which is found in great concentrations underground. The waste from nuclear power retains the same tiny volume and can be safely returned to the Earth for underground storage. • Under present policies, fossil fuels and nuclear energy operate under different rules. Most governments have allowed the environment to be used as a free dumpsite for fossil fuels. While the price charged for nuclear power includes an allocation set aside for the cost of storing and disposing of its waste permanently and safely. • Radiation scientists, geologists and engineers have produced detailed plans for safe underground storage of nuclear waste. Geological repositories are now designed to ensure that harmful radiation would not reach the surface even with severe earthquakes or the passage of time. • A nuclear reactor is not a potential bomb. The raw material in nuclear weapons can only be made by a substantial military project. Nine nations have developed nuclear weapons, and more that 190 governments have committed not to develop such weapons and have accepted IAEA inspections designed to detect a nuclear weapons project (With a caveat that countries like Iran, North Korea, Syria, and other middle eastern countries keep denying their nuclear ambitions). • Nuclear power plants are extremely robust in design and have a decent safety record. For external protection, these natural defenses are fortified with security controls and guard forces. Although not immune to attacks, most reactor designs would prevent a release of radioactivity even in an improbably worst-case scenario. Transportation of nuclear material is relatively safe too, with highly engineered containers capable of withstanding enormous impact. More than 20,000 containers of spent fuel and high-level waste have been shipped safely over a total distance exceeding 20 million miles, and there has never been a harmful radioactive release. Source: World Nuclear Association ( • According to Greenpeace, the first 75 reactors in the United States resulted in $100 billion in cost overruns in the 1970’s, and Wall Street and Main Street America abandoned nuclear power, especially after Three Mile Island incident. President Obama’s 2011 budget proposal includes $55 billion in new federal loan guarantees for the construction and operation of a couple of reactors in Burke Country, GA. To make nuclear and other alternative energy sources viable, governments have to keep providing loan guarantees and subsidies for many years to come. The U.S. CBO has estimated that there’s a 50% chance that these loans and guarantees may default. 3
  4. 4. • Nuclear power generates electricity and electricity does not power our automobiles yet. Many automobile makers are trying to make more efficient hybrid or electric cars, but until the entire global auto fleet can do without fossil fuels, nuclear energy and alternatives have limited use. • It takes a very long time to find out negative side-effects of nuclear leaks similar to those of asbestos. For years now, nuclear plants have been leaking radioactive materials from underground pipes and waste pools into the ground water at various sites. Recently, radioactive contamination was found in drinking wells at Exelon’s Braidwood, IL nuclear plant, and Vermont Yankee power plant in VT. • Government officials are still very concerned about long-term radioactive storage. The Department of Energy earlier this year filed a petition with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to withdraw its application to allow disposal of nuclear waste at the Yucca Mountain, NV site. Source: Greenpeace, The Associated Press, and Global Finance Magazine. CONCLUSION: There have been e-coli outbreaks, lead poising through toys, mad-cow disease, financial meltdown, and many other accidents & disasters over the years. Solution isn’t completely stopping consumption, but strengthening the regulatory, inspection, audit and punitive functions that provide a well-balanced and regulated framework for various stakeholders in any particular industry. The nuclear accident at Chernobyl was horrible for its inhabitants, but the positive legacy would be an even stronger system of nuclear disposal and storage safety worldwide to prevent a repeat of that incident. If global warming and climate change is real as many scientists predict, we need as many alternative energy sources as possible, and a reliable, productive and safe nuclear energy is then in our best interest. 4