Nuclear-Free: Is it as good as it sounds?

fukushima

The debate on nuclear power has been raging for decades. Environmentalists have campaigned against it and citizens around the world have expressed concern over it. Is going nuclear-free as good as it sounds though?

At the beginning of 2011, Japan had 54 operational nuclear reactors. These reactors were providing nearly 30% of the country’s electricity. Then there was the Fukushima meltdown. This meltdown, while seemingly not as serious as people believed at the time, prompted Japan to shut down their nuclear reactors one at a time to raise safety standards. The last of these, the Tomari Nuclear Power Plant, was shut down recently and for the first time since 1970, Japan is nuclear-free.

Whether or not Japan will stay nuclear-free isn’t certain, but for other countries, it isn’t even a question anymore. In the wake of the Fukushima meltdown, Germany announced plans to phase out nuclear power by 2022 and replace it with renewable power such as wind or solar power; while in the U.S., a new nuclear plant hasn’t been built for many years. In fact, figures show that the trend toward nuclear power is dropping globally despite plans in countries like China and India to build new plants.

Not necessarily an environmental victory

Environmental groups have made their loathing for nuclear power clear over the years and some may see the shutdown of Japan’s last reactor as a victory. The alternative though could prove more hazardous to the environment.

Nuclear power is still the only carbon-free source of electricity to produce enough power to make a real impact on reducing carbon emissions. Without nuclear energy, Japan has been forced to use record amounts liquefied natural gas and petroleum despite the public doing their part with energy-saving measures. Currently it is thought that the country will produce an additional 180 – 210 million tons of carbon emissions compared to 1990, and still be facing serious energy sources over the summer.

Even Germany with their plans to introduce even more renewable energy to their already world-leading renewable energy sector, are building new coal plants to replace the carbon-free nuclear plants it is now intent on closing.

While this shift away from nuclear power is seen as a triumph for antinuclear supporters, is the move to carbon-based energy the best short term solution in a world with a growing concern for the effects of global warming?

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