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[Feature] [20 Must-know GEI]14. Is nuclear power a clean energy source?

by Eco Generation | 23-09-2016 13:01 Comments 0 Comments recommendations 0 recommendations




20 Must Know Series-Title

14. Is nuclear power a clean energy source?  


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1. Is nuclear energy inexpensive and clean?

     Even after the Fukushima Accident, many people insist on the continuous use of nuclear power plants. According to those supporting nuclear power, it requires lower generation costs thermal power energy costs about $0.4 to $0.5 per kWh, while nuclear power costs about 20 to 30 KRW per kWh. Moreover, nuclear power produces very little carbon dioxide. It emits less carbon dioxide, which directly affects global warming, than thermal power.

     On the other hand, people against nuclear power have totally different ideas. First of all, nuclear power can never be an inexpensive energy considering the costs of construction are much more expensive than others, decommissioning costs when the plant’s useful life has ended, and the treatment costs for used nuclear fuel. As for insurance in case of nuclear power accidents, the government has already set the amount of compensation, which is considerably lower than the actual payment amount. However, considering the large amounts of compensation costs in case of nuclear power accidents, the economics of nuclear power is very low. 

     Additionally, they say nuclear power is not an environmentally-friendly energy. The process of power plant operations might seem to emit little air pollutants, especially carbon dioxide, unlike thermal power plants. They insist, however, that it is never a low-carbon or eco-friendly energy as a large amount of carbon dioxide is emitted during the construction of power plants, extraction and enrichment (increasing the concentration of fissionable Uranium-235) of uranium, and the processes of manufacturing and transportation of nuclear fuel.

     The biggest disadvantage of nuclear power is that safety is not guaranteed accidents at Three Mile Island (the US, 1979), Chernobyl (the former Soviet Union, 1986), Fukushima (Japan, 2011), and others have taught us that one single accident can cause massive damage no matter how our technology has developed, and we need to find safer energy sources.

     Can thermal energy and hydroelectric energy be alternatives to nuclear energy? It is true that construction of thermal power plants costs less and takes less time than nuclear power plants. It also enables bulk power production, while hydroelectric power has limited location requirements and power generation. Thermal power plants, however, have a serious influence on air quality, emit large amounts of greenhouse gases, and cause global warming and the resultant climate change by burning fossil fuels directly. In respect to radiation leaks and the resultant loss of lives and environmental destruction by nuclear power, they can be considered safer energy sources. However, as they contribute to the huge threat to human survival, climate change, they can never be ideal energy sources. Moreover, due to Korea’s high dependence on imports of fossil fuels, they become a financial burden, and their unstable provision can cause problems. 


2. When will we run out of fossil fuels?

     How much are fossil fuels used for thermal power generation buried in the ground? According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), there are more than 1.655 trillion barrels of technically and economically recoverable crude oil reserves in the world as of 2014. If it is assumed that there are no changes in reserves or production, we have only around 50 years of recoverable oil left, 112 years of coal and 57 years of natural gas. 
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     “The Stone Age did not end for lack of stone,” said Sheikh Ahmed Zaki Yamani, former oil minister of Saudi Arabia. He warned that the Petroleum Age would end way before petroleum has been exhausted. Mankind needs to end the era of fossil fuels before the current reserves are depleted. Fossil fuels are the main culprit of climate change. In order to prevent climate change, 80% of the fossil fuel reserves should remain underground. Nuclear energy is too dangerous to be an alternative. We need to urgently develop new energy sources that can replace fossil fuels just as bronze tools replaced stone tools.


3. Shadow of hydroelectric power.

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     What about hydroelectric power? Compared to thermal power, hydroelectric power is considered to be a relatively environmentally-friendly energy. It doesn’t produce pollutants as it uses water instead of fossil fuels in the process of power generation. However, it still has negative aspects, as constructing dams destroys surrounding environments and transforms ecosystems beautiful valleys are inundated, thick fog settles in, and the types and amount of fish decrease as fish swimming upstream are interrupted by dams. Moreover, a lot of people would lose their homes as dam construction can flood towns. If a dam collapses, it can be a massive disaster.

     Considering the efficiency of hydroelectric power, it is not the most efficient energy source. As it needs to be built in geographically appropriate areas, it requires high construction costs. It is also greatly affected by many factors such as rainfall and season, and there are only a few places proper for efficient power generation. Therefore, hydroelectric power can’t be a perfect alternative to thermal power or nuclear energy as well.


4. We don't have any alternative, then?

     As we saw in the above, traditional power generation methods such as nuclear, fossil fuels, and hydropower have huge negative impact on the environment and on humans. Therefore, we should pursue ‘highly-efficient and eco-friendly power generation’ which doesn’t cause climate change, threat to humans, and can generate power efficiently at the same time. These days, many households have adopted solar power and wind power which are the most well-known ways of eco-friendly power generation. Still, their efficiency is considerably low in comparison with traditional ways and requires further technical improvements. The more important issue is that we humans change our lifestyle to a more responsible ‘ energy saving’ mode. 



[Learn More!]

The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World (Daniel Yergin, 2013)
Daniel Yergin, a Pulitzer Prize-winner and an international energy expert, tells how the modern energy world has developed, how concerns over climate and carbon have changed energy, and how things will be changed in the future.

The Lie of Nuclear Power (Written by Hideaki Koide and translated by Kono Daisuke, 2012)
Koide Hiroaki, an assistant professor at Kyoto University Research Reactor Institute (KURRI), reveals the truth of the Fukushima accident. The book exposes the risks of nuclear power and encourages readers to reduce energy consumption.



Script by : Prof. Yoon, Sun-jin's Environment & Energy Lab
                Seoul National University
Illustration by : Kim, Jeong-kyeom



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