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Archives: Is Nuclear Power destined for oblivion?

Originally published in April 2011
Simon Nguyen

Nuclear power has never been a popular energy source. This is mostly due to the public’s lack of knowledge regarding the risks and benefits of nuclear power. The recent nuclear disaster in Japan has invigorated people’s long-standing fear of this energy source, putting a big dent in the future of nuclear power.

Anti-nuclear activists have already seized on this opportunity to push for the abolition of nuclear power. As a matter of fact, advocacy groups in the U.S and around the world have been demonstrating against nuclear energy. Most recently, the ruling party in Germany was dealt a major political setback at the hands of the Green Party, which had promised to curb the proliferation of nuclear power in the country.

While nuclear plant accidents like the one in Japan are indeed serious events, they are not very common. Since 1952, there have been 17 moderate-to-serious incidents at nuclear plants worldwide. Considering the fact that the first nuclear plant came into existence almost 60 years ago and there are at least 440 commercial nuclear power plants currently in operation, the rate of incident is actually not very high. Moreover, nuclear disasters on the scale of Fukushima are even rarer. Chernobyl is the only other nuclear accident that achieved a level 7 rating.

Unfortunately, it will only take one devastating accident to undo years of low nuclear incident rates. The Chernobyl disaster in 1986 did tremendous damages to the environment, crippled the Soviet economy, and displaced hundreds of thousands of people. Japan is currently enduring similar problems with the ongoing nuclear disaster at the Fukushima plant. The astronomical costs posed by a major nuclear accident are leading many to ponder whether the benefits of nuclear power can outweigh the risks.

The nuclear disaster in Japan is being viewed by governments around the world as a big red flag. China has already announced a freeze on new nuclear plant projects. This is a major development, because nuclear power is a major part of the country’s energy policy. China’s concern is apparently shared by Europe, which has called for stress testing of all nuclear plants in operation.

Furthermore, it also does not help that nuclear energy is generally expensive compared to most other forms of energy generation. With nuclear power already facing tighter regulations and public indifference even before Japan’s nuclear disaster, the future of this energy source is looking very bleak.

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