Published on December 10th, 2018 | by Sponsored Content0
Does The World Need Nuclear Power? Let’s Discuss It!
December 10th, 2018 by Sponsored Content
Last month, we talked about the online platform Kialo* and how it is being used to host and facilitate crowdsourced debates on topics as diverse as plastic pollution, whether EVs are better than gasmobiles, the ethics of animal cloning, and whether or not the Muppets Christmas movie is the best Christmas movie ever. You’re welcome and I’m sorry for that last one.
Continuing this deep dive into both the unique topics themselves as well as the unique online debate platform that Kialo represents, we’re going to look into nuclear power. Nuclear power is polarizing, with advocates citing the terawatt-hours of electricity with nearly zero carbon emissions generated. They argue it is one of the only scalable roads that can steer the world away from the current trajectory of human-caused catastrophic climate change.
On the other side of the auditorium, critics cite the unsolved problems of nuclear waste disposal, containment and security, and the potential for catastrophic disasters like the world has experienced in Fukushima Daiichi in 2011 and Chernobyl in 1986. Also, new nuclear is just far more expensive than new renewables now.
Enter Kialo. A user has presented the question “Do we need nuclear power for sustainable energy production?” as the topic for debate. Note that there is no distinction here between new nuclear power plants and existing nuclear power plants, an important differentiator.
Arguing for nuclear power as a key solution in the world’s search for sustainable energy. One contributor proposes that all of the uranium the world would need to generate power for the next 5 billion years could be extracted from seawater, with a Stanford article cited as the source. That’s the first time I’ve heard of this and I love learning, so I dug into the details of the debate.
Uranium From Seawater
One contributor provided a link to a brilliant piece over at Stanford.edu that explains how the feat can be achieved. “[The] concentrations are tiny, on the order of a single grain of salt dissolved in a liter of water,” said Yi Cui, a materials scientist and co-author of a paper in Nature Energy. “But the oceans are so vast that if we can extract these trace amounts cost effectively, the supply would be endless.”
Unfortunately, the process has not proved to be the silver bullet for uranium supply — “efforts to extract that critical ingredient for nuclear power have produced insufficient quantities to make it a viable source for those countries that lack uranium mines.”
That seems to snub the point, though it is worth being informed, in my opinion. It’s a nice reminder that while most decisions must be made based on the current state of technologies, all it takes is one breakthrough in the right area for a technology to move from the completely unsustainable column over to the “damn, that business right there is the future!” column.
Nuclear Is Safer Than Fossil Fuels
In any debate, it is not usually the things we already knew (or thought we knew) coming into the discussion that make big impacts. It’s the things that catch us off guard and enlighten, inform, or correct our points of view that move the conversation forward, and that’s what I love about Kialo. It’s like looking behind the curtains on a debate at a university or on a panel of global experts, except that it is a completely open debate that anyone and everyone can participate in.
In this nuclear debate, there’s a reminder that many, many millions more people have died due to fossil fuel electricity generation than have died from nuclear power. Yes, it is difficult to impossible to quantify specifically how many people have died as a result of fossil fuel-fired electricity generation and the same can be said of nuclear. The best estimates on both sides of the fence, however, argue that nuclear is far safer on a deaths per terawatt-hour basis than even solar, which suffers from installer deaths caused by installers falling off of the roof.
A point not yet thrown into the discussion on Kialo is that unsubsidized new nuclear power is approximately 2–6× more expensive than unsubsidized new wind power and 3–5× more expensive than unsubsidized new utility-scale solar. Generally speaking, it just doesn’t pay to invest in new nuclear power plants rather than new solar or wind ones, and put another way, $1 million invested in renewables could create much more electricity than $1 million invested in nuclear power.
In fact, that same study shows electricity from new wind power capacity is nearly as cheap as electricity from existing nuclear power capacity.
That said, would retiring nuclear power plants in some regions lead to more electricity from coal and natural gas? Would that be sensible? Surely, there’s no “one answer fits all locations” winner here.
Constructive Debate Is Hard To Come By
The debate about nuclear power will surely continue as opinions vary from country to country, from state to state, from city to city, and from person to person based on numerous factors, education level, emotional connection, and political affiliation.
Kialo facilitates debate by not only hosting the content and providing a productive platform for discussion, it also allows users to rate the impact of each of the claim as they take them in. This allows the crowd to weigh in on each argument to show which holds the most weight.
Dive into the debate about nuclear power over on Kialo then come back here to let us know what, if anything, you learned. Educational is foundational and the more we can all help our fellow mankind learn about the options we have at our disposal to avert the disastrous effects of catastrophic climate change, the more likely we are to come out of this at the end of the day with about the same number of humans, plant and animals as we went in with.