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Innovating Nuclear Energy (Part 1)

Nuclear energy: a concept born with the nuclear bomb and kept alive with the hope of cleaner energy. It’s not as safe as scientists would like, and it’s not foolproof.

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Nuclear energy: a concept born with the nuclear bomb and kept alive with the hope of cleaner energy. It’s not as safe as scientists would like, and it’s not foolproof. Events like Fukushima and Three Mile Island have put a negative connotation on all forms of nuclear energy, and large nuclear plants exploding due to human error or natural disaster have been in the forefront of the American mind for generations. With 99 nuclear reactors in the nation (1), the United States is still putting nuclear energy on the back burner despite it being cleaner and at times more cost-efficient than fossil fuels.

Current situations regarding the growing economy and climate change in the United States show that nuclear energy could be an opponent to fossil fuels. As the economy is growing rapidly, so is the need for more energy to power it. This is a problem. The United States’ main energy sources are fossil fuels, which release mass amounts of carbon dioxide. The result of too much carbon dioxide is the climate change that you’ve probably heard of on the news in the past year. On the flip side, nuclear energy is environmentally clean. It doesn’t produce any carbon dioxide at all! It also could be as cost effective as fossil fuels, and cost is the main priority of some companies.

Studies have been done to prove this correlation between nuclear waste, carbon dioxide emissions, and the economy (2). In one of these studies, 25 countries were examined for 17 years and it was determined that nuclear energy drastically helps countries with the decline of climate change in times of economic success (3).

Nuclear energy has the potential to be at its best in future years. Regulatory licensing framework, which stabilizes energy production within plants, is improving to match energy costs of energy consumption with the high costs of energy production (2). This means that nuclear plants now have stricter rules that could stabilize energy costs in the economy without harming it. However, to stabilize the economy in this way, household power costs would need to be higher to accommodate initial higher production costs (4). This would be a negative for working-class families.

While nuclear energy benefits the economy and the environment, societal views have had negative impacts on its innovation for decades. Some citizens say that nuclear energy can’t last long without societal acceptance (5). Most people are afraid of another disaster like Fukushima or Chernobyl, which makes sense.

Research has been done concerning negative beliefs and concerns. In 2004, Morrison et al. surveyed 159 people who resided near active nuclear power plants. This survey found that citizens are concerned about government safety regulations. One group of people living near a nuclear plant, who were labeled as repressors, didn’t acknowledge that their location near nuclear reactors was dangerous.

The other group, sensitizers, were more concerned about government care after disasters (6). Most people labeled themselves as repressors. The underlying societal concern about nuclear safety is, in 2017, mostly based on past disasters rather than current data. With new safety procedures, licensing framework, and progressing government plans, nuclear energy is currently safer than it has ever been. However, to make it safer (which is definitely a must), the United States could follow many other countries in innovating new types of nuclear reactors.

Next week, this Nuclear Energy series will come back with a part two, which will introduce types of innovative reactors and nuclear waste.


References:

(1) “How Many Nuclear Power Plants are in the United States, and Where are They Located?” U.S. Energy Information Administration, 15 August 2017, https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.php?id=207&t=3

(2) Joskow, Paul L., and Parsons, John E. “The Economic Future of Nuclear Power.” Daedalus, https://search.proquest.com/docview/210574785?pq-origsite=summon

(3) Alam, Abdullah. “Nuclear Energy, CO2 Emissions and Economic Growth: The Case of Developing and Developed Countries.” Journal of Economic Studies, https://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/abs/10.1108/JES-04-2012-0044

(4) “Half-Death; The Future of Nuclear Energy.” The Economist, 15 Oct. 2015, http://nclive.org/cgi-bin/nclsm?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1728728494?accountid=9935

(5) Pfotenhauer, Sebastian M., et al. “Learning from Fukushima: Efforts to Explain What Went Wrong in Japan’s Nuclear Disaster are Doomed to Fail if They Seek to Separate the Social from the Technological, Recognizing that All Aspects of Sociotechnical Systems are Intertwined is Essential to Developing Wiser Technology Policies.” Issues in Science and Technology, link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A287392228/SCIC?u=nclive&xid=5343eefb

(6) Morrison, S., et al. “Repression-Sensitization and Response to Perceived Nuclear Hazard in People Residing Near a Nuclear Power Plant.” North American Journal of Psychology, https://search-proquest-com.proxy032.nclive.org/docview/197925895?pq-origsite=summon

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