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The Dilemma of Nuclear Power

Shivani Tripathi

Posted on June 6, 2019 11:17

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Germany hopes to become climate neutral while also shutting down nuclear power plants. Is this a wise decision?

In her Harvard Commencement speech, Angela Merkel reiterated her aim of making Germany climate-neutral by 2050. However, the shutdown of nuclear power plants in Germany seems to be counterintuitive to this goal.

All German nuclear power plants will be closed by 2022 due to fear of potential accidents. As Charles Lane pointed out in an op-ed for the Washington Post, Germany will initially have to return to coal. Forms of renewable energy, such as wind and solar power, cannot immediately counteract the loss of nuclear power. In contrast to nuclear power, which reduces a country’s carbon footprint, coal will only further harm the environment.

At the same time, the German’s concerns may be justified. Nuclear reactors are not infallible. Mechanical errors along with operational failures can result in explosions and harmful radiation emissions.

For example, the second reactor of the nuclear plant on Three Mile Island (TMI) partially melted in 1989 due to management and mechanical failures. Multiple groups, affiliated and unaffiliated with the US government, have conducted studies and concluded that the mild radiation did not affect the health of those living around the plant. However, there have been several accounts of multigenerational cancer within families, along with a recent study suggesting a link between the surge of thyroid cancer in Pennsylvania and TMI.

Other more well-known nuclear leaks include the Chernobyl and Fukushima Daiichi disasters. 56 people were killed due to radioactivity from the Chernobyl reactors. There have been no deaths caused by radiation in Fukushima. Nowadays, the areas surrounding both plants are deserted, reminiscent of ghost towns.  

The accidents damaged the nuclear industry’s image and credibility, dividing public opinion on the matter. On the 40th anniversary of TMI, a 2019 Gallup poll shows that approximately half of Americans support nuclear power, and the other half oppose it. On a global level, public opinion polls suggest that most people are against nuclear power. Other than Japan, Germany is the only country to phase nuclear power out.  

However, such fear may be irrational. TMI, Chernobyl, and Fukushima all forced the nuclear industry to strengthen its regulations. As a result, the chances of another nuclear disaster occurring again are slim.

We don’t have much time. The UN warns that we only have 12 years to “limit climate change catastrophe.” Indeed, nuclear power is the most efficient route towards a greener future. At the same time, is it a risk worth taking?

 

 

Shivani Tripathi

Posted on June 6, 2019 11:17

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Source: BBC

A German nuclear power plant has been found to be infected by several different computer viruses.

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