Mother Earth’s health is constantly under threat by pollution, and sure, we as individuals can do our little effort by being green, but our contributions are dwarfed by the constant stream of pollution caused by industrial progress. One of the biggest sources of pollution comes from the generation of electricity; a commodity so inseparable from human activity. This pollution is a runoff of the current methods of producing energy via coal burning. However, nuclear energy, a relatively new player in the energy industry, seem to be our best bid so far for “clean” energy.
Currently, most of our energy demands are met through the generation of electricity by burning coal which poses a multitude of environmental problem. For example, the mining of coal often produces acidic water that seeps into the ground, damaging plant life; or flows into streams, which leads to pollution to the point of them not being able to support fish populations.
Coal burning results in high emissions of carbon dioxide which contribute towards global warming and acid rain, both of which can cause dramatic shifts in our ecosystems as climates swerve out of balance; aside from that, coal burning results in tons of coal waste in the form of ash and sludge, which may contaminate drinking water.
The fact that the coal energy industry is poisoning our environment is oft-lamented; we can see efforts, such as the introduction of carbon tax laws, to end our reliance on this unsustainable source of energy. It is apparent that a new player needs to take centre stage in the global energy market—such an energy that can meet the demands of the people and stem the bleeding in our poisoned environment.
Perhaps, nuclear energy might be our solution.
Why must we consider the “radical and catastrophic” option of nuclear energy? What about solar and wind energy, those things are safe and eco-friendly right?
Alternative forms of energy, such as solar and wind, were once hyped as the new age of clean energy. But soon the industry ran into a brick wall. Simply speaking, these options can be considered as energy farming rather than energy generation, which means a large amount of land is needed to make them viable, leading less land being accessible to humans and nature. Additionally, these options are unreliable as they depend on fickle weather conditions. Would you risk a widespread blackout because of a cloudy day or because the wind isn’t blowing?
Our best bid to protect our environment is nuclear energy which has some obvious advantages over coal energy—a gram of uranium can produce 16 thousand times more energy than a gram of coal, which translates into small-scale mining for uranium ore, which in turn reduces mining-related pollution. Since nuclear energy isn’t carbon-based, its use isn’t marred by carbon pollution through the emission of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide.
However, nuclear energy is obviously not God’s perfect little gift to the world. Like everything there is a cost to be paid; one which is intimately tied to the environment is the fact that the usage of nuclear energy results in radioactive and extremely poisonous nuclear waste.
Currently our best long-term solution for this waste is to store it underground in an isolated and undisturbed location, which is, admittedly, not a good solution—although definitely better than the previous one which was to dump it in the ocean before such an act was outlawed. Other less environmental challenges faced by the nuclear energy industry includes nuclear weapon proliferation, reactor sabotage and accidents which are all extremely catastrophic in their own right. One such disaster can leave a large area uninhabitable for decades.
Over the last few decades, several devastating nuclear disasters involving nuclear reactor meltdowns displayed the magnified magnitude of otherwise small mistakes and lack of foresight. As a result, most of us go through life with a knee-jerk reaction stigmatising nuclear energy. Consequently, the innovations in nuclear reactor technology has hit a dead end since the 1970s. Even reactors built today were built upon ancient technology.
There is, in all of us, an innate desire to protect Mother Earth; maybe a sense of morality or responsibility, or even guilt. However, we wholly reject the notion of nuclear energy as Mother Earth’s saviour, maybe out of an idealistic desire for a riskless method. But, risk is part and parcel of any venture, no matter how menial. Risks demand to be taken; whether or not nuclear energy is the right risk to take remains to be seen.
Perhaps this is more of an ignorant stance borne out of crowd mentality. Most who oppose the idea of nuclear energy can only cite nuclear disasters and the usage of nuclear weapons as cons. They choose to stay uninformed about its potentials.
Evidently, the fear of nuclear energy is not without reason—conversely, neither is the advocacy for nuclear energy. Even though a perfectly safe form of nuclear energy might be nothing more than a pipe dream, we can’t afford to stop pursuing that dream; as demonstrated by Nature herself, a higher diversity in our energy source is a necessity for a strong foundation. The nuclear industry is a gateway for new exciting technologies that address the demands for a low-waste, high-efficiency energy source.
It might be our best long-term solution to the current environmental problems that are so intimately tied to our power-hungry race.
Mahmud Saahil is a student pursuing a Bachelors in Science degree at the University of Malaya. He is interested in philosophy and human nature, as well as it’s relation to science. Saahil is an on-and-off volunteer for the Rimba Project since late 2014.