The debate about matters nuclear

The debate about matters nuclear is with us again, to the delight of proponents, the dismay of opponents, and the bewilderment of many who are uncommitted.

Fossil fuels are currently the world's main energy source. As the global demand for energy continues to increase so too do the adverse effects of fossil fuels on the environment. The fact that nuclear power is increasingly being proposed as a solution (i.e. a replacement for fossil fuels) has led to a renewal of public discussion of the pros and cons of nuclear technology.

Inevitably, the nuclear energy debate arouses strong emotions and the opposing camps are once again sharpening their rhetorical swords to fight for the hearts and minds of politicians and the general public. This article is written in the hope of promoting informed debate and avoiding the sort of polarisation which makes rational discussion impossible.

As the following quote from the First Report of the Ranger Uranium Environmental Inquiry (1976), AGPS, p.6 illustrate, opposing sides are inclined to resort to over-statement to make their case:

We have found that many wildly exaggerated statements are made about the risks and dangers of nuclear energy production by those opposed to it. What has surprised us more is the lack of objectivity in not a few of those in favour of it, including distinguished scientists.

Contemporary examples suggest that things have not changed. An article in a recent metropolitan daily arguing the anti-nuclear case claimed that nuclear power was not a viable option because the world's supply of uranium would be exhausted in three years. Technical experts, however (p. 6), estimate that the current world supply of uranium is sufficient for 50 years and, if fast breeder reactors (which use residue plutonium as their energy source) come on line as predicted, this will effectively extend the energy supply to 200 years. Similarly, some sections of the pro-nuclear lobby have made as yet unproven claims about the effectiveness of high-level waste management.

There are many factors to be considered when weighing up the possible role of nuclear power in meeting the world's growing energy needs, for example, safety, efficiency, availability, economic viability and environmental impact. Other sources of energy (both actual and potential) need to be similarly analysed so that their advantages and disadvantages may be accurately compared with those of nuclear power.

In the current debate, the public must insist that all parties support their claims with adequate evidence. To play a part in this, lay people must have an appreciation of the basic technicalities and be able to evaluate what they read and hear as the debate unfolds. This Options Paper is intended as starting point. We hope it will also become a useful reference point for all those with a genuine interest in the pros and cons of nuclear power.

To download the Nuclear Power Options Paper, click here .

To download a one-page summary of the Pros and Cons of Nuclear Power, click here .

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