Nuclear Energy Is Beneficial to Society
Debate Rounds (4)
Nuclear energy is beneficial in and of itself to society.
BoP is on pro.
Nuclear energy: "The energy released by a nuclear reaction, especially by fission or fusion."
Beneficial: "Producing or promoting a favorable result; advantageous." We will not be comparing nuclear energy to another form of energy or the propitiousness of energy itself.
Society: "The totality of social relationships among humans."
1. The first round is for acceptance.
2. A forfeit or concession is not allowed.
3. No semantics, trolling, or lawyering.
4. All arguments and sources must be visible inside this debate.
5. Debate resolution, definitions, rules, and structure cannot be changed without asking in the comments before you post your round 1 argument.
Debate resolution, definitions, rules, and structure cannot be changed in the middle of the debate.Voters, in the case of the breaking of any of these rules by either debater, all seven points in voting should be given to the other person.
Round 1: Acceptance
Round 2: Presenting all arguments (no rebuttals by con)
Round 3: Refutation of opponent's arguments (no new arguments)
Round 4: Defending your original arguments and conclusion (no new arguments)
Nuclear energy represents the longest-lasting, uninterrupted source of power the world has. Fossil fuels are fast running out and renewables need backup generators to run when energy is not being created.
"According to the NEA, identified uranium resources total 5.5 million metric tons, and an additional 10.5 million metric tons remain undiscovered - a roughly 230-year supply at today's consumption rate in total. Further exploration and improvements in extraction technology are likely to at least double this estimate over time." Of current known reserves, that's 230 years.
On top of that, other sources of uranium (such as seawater) and more efficiently built power points could dramatically raise that already large number. "...fuel-recycling fast-breeder reactors, which generate more fuel than they consume, would use less than 1 percent of the uranium needed for current LWRs." This means that these plants would run out of the current supply of uranium in 30000 years.
Even further, uranium is only one potential ore. Take thorium, for example. The Thorium Energy Alliance says, "There is enough thorium in the United States alone to power the country at its current energy level for over 10,000 years." Further, protactinium, radium, polonium, lead, bismuth, and radon could all be used as well.
What this adds up to is a tremendous supply of energy not just for today, but for the unknown demands of tomorrow. Between the different ores (many have multiple isotopes), it may be so that, at current energy consumption, we could sustain ourselves for 1 million years on nuclear fission reactions alone. Nuclear energy clearly has much greater reserves than fossil fuels, and energy that is always available, unlike renewables.
Not only is the amount of nuclear energy enormous, the way it is used is more efficient than other forms of energy.
For example, take power plant capacity factors. This considers actual energy production as a percentage of potential energy production at full capacity- "Nuclear energy facilities generate electricity 24/7 at an 86 percent capacity factor. This is more efficient than other types of energy - combined-cycle natural gas, with a 56 percent capacity factor; coal-fired at 55 percent; and wind at 31 percent." In other words, nuclear power plants produce energy more of the time than other forms of energy.
Further, let's now consider cost. Nuclear energy, per unit of energy, is the cheapest energy option that the world has. ""Production costs at nuclear energy facilities in 2012 averaged 2.40 cents per kilowatt-hour, cheaper than coal (3.27 cents) and natural gas-fueled plants (3.40 cents)." It also costs much less the renewable energy sources.
Here is a picture of the range and median costs of four types of energy:
Nuclear energy is cheaper and more efficient that other forms of energy, as it has a greater capacity factor and lower per unit energy costs than than other forms of energy, both fossil fuels and renewable.
I'm sure my opponent will talk about this, and I'll have much more to say in the appropriate rounds, but I can make a positive argument here.
Nuclear energy actually has very little effect on the environment. "Of all energy sources, nuclear energy has perhaps the lowest impact on the environment especially in relation to kilowatts produced because nuclear plants do not emit harmful gases, require a relatively small area, and effectively minimize or negate other impacts. In other words, nuclear energy is the most "ecologically efficient" of all energy sources because it produces the most electricity in relation to its minimal environmental impact. There are no significant adverse effects to water, land, habitat, species, and air resources."
Further, the amount of waste that is produced is greatly reduced compared to fossil fuels. "Because uranium contains many thousands of times more energy per unit of weight than fossil fuels, the waste from a nuclear power station is very small in volume and is fully managed and extremely secure at the nuclear sites." The small amount of waste can be stored safely in secure locations, and without harmful effect, unlike with fossil fuels.
Overall, when considering the amount of nuclear energy the Earth has (potentially over 1 million years worth at current capacity), the capacity factor it has from producing energy more of the time (unlike often interrupted renewables), the lower cost of nuclear energy per unit of energy, and the lessened strains on the environment, it is clear that nuclear energy is a good choice for society.
There are three major problems with the production of electricity in nuclear fission reactors: it is dirty, it is dangerous, and it is expensive.
According to Physicians for Social Responsibility, in the US alone "Each year, enormous quantities of radioactive waste are created during the nuclear fuel process, including 2,000 metric tons of high-level radioactive waste". In addition, "More than 58,000 metric tons of highly radioactive spent fuel already has accumulated at reactor sites around the U.S. for which there currently is no permanent repository." They go on to point out that "The production of 1,000 tons of uranium fuel generates approximately 100,000 tons of radioactive tailings and nearly one million gallons of liquid waste containing heavy metals and arsenic in addition to radioactivity."
In addition, the pit mines typical of uranium mining are massively intrusive, involving creating cuts in the earth's surface which can be miles long and up to a mile deep. These mines leave horrible scars on the landscape. They also leave waste in the form of tailings (crushed dust from the radioactive ore), which have a half life of about 80,000 years. What this means is that if we travel as far into the future as the total time humans have inhabited the earth, around half of the radioactivity which the wind has blown across the landscape and vegetation and into our waterways will still be there. As Gordon Edwards describes it: "as the tailings are sitting there on the surface, they are continually generating radon gas. Radon is about eight times heavier than air, so it stays close to the ground. It'll travel 1,000 miles in just a few days in a light breeze. And as it drifts along, it deposits on the vegetation below the radon daughters, which are the radioactive by products that I told you about, including polonium. So that you actually get radon daughters in animals, fish and plants thousands of miles away from where the uranium mining is done. It's a mechanism for pumping radioactivity into the environment for millennia to come". 
Mining the raw materials used to power nuclear reactors is dangerous in itself. Firstly, to the miners. "The most serious health hazard associated with uranium mining is lung cancer due to inhaling uranium decay products.....Many Native Americans have died of lung cancers linked to their work in uranium mines. Others continue to suffer the effects of land and water contamination due to seepage and spills from tailings piles." 
Of course, lung cancer is not the only side effect of radiation produced during the mining process. Edwards also refers to "two categories of human illness that everyone agrees can be caused by exposure to atomic radiation even at very low levels. They are (1) cancers of all kinds, and also (2) genetic mutations -- which can be caused right down to the lowest levels of radiation exposure." Finally, he adds "It has now been confirmed by the scientific community -- only in recent years, by the way -- that mental retardation is caused by radiation exposure in the womb."
Besides the mine workers, these symptoms most commonly appear in indigenous populations worldwide, as a great many uranium mines are located in remote areas, on native lands.
When most of us think of the dangers involved in nuclear power, we think of nuclear reactors. And when things go wrong with a nuclear reactor, the consequences can be mind boggling. Consider the "fallout" of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster:
"An estimated 220,000 people were displaced from their homes, and the radioactive fallout from the accident made 4,440 square kilometers of agricultural land and 6,820 square kilometers of forests in Belarus and Ukraine unusable. It is extremely difficult to get accurate information about the health effects from Chernobyl. Government agencies in Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus estimate that about 25,000 of the 600,000 involved in fire-fighting and clean up operations have died so far because of radiation exposure from the accident.(4) According to an April 2006 report commissioned by the European Greens for the European Parliament, there will be an additional 30,000 to 60,000 fatal cancer deaths worldwide from the accident."  Furthermore, "To this day, the sheep in Wales are unsuitable for human consumption because of contamination by one particular by-product of the Chernobyl accident called cesium-137." 
Nuclear reactor accidents are not as rare as some may believe. "Globally, there have been at least 99 (civilian and military) recorded nuclear power plant accidents from 1952 to 2009 (defined as incidents that either resulted in the loss of human life or more than US$50,000 of property damage, the amount the US federal government uses to define nuclear energy accidents that must be reported), totaling US$20.5 billion in property damages."  The worst of these have been Chernobyl, Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania, and Fukushima in Japan. I may elaborate with details of the latter two further on in the debate. Whilst not as catastrophic as Chernobyl, there have been serious consequences from both of these incidents.
Finally, there is the issue of terrorism. The following report was filed only one week ago:
"Hamas terrorists launched three powerful rockets at an Israeli nuclear power plant on Wednesday " a terrifying escalation of hostilities in the increasingly violent conflict...Extremists from Hamas" fanatical Qassam Brigades boasted that they had launched the long-range, M-75 rockets from the Gaza Strip to the Israeli city of Dimona hoping to damage or destroy the reactor, about 47 miles away." 
Two of the rockets missed their target, another was shot down; but the consequences of a rocket destroying a nuclear reactor are almost unimaginable.
It is a myth that nuclear power is cheap. For a start, there is the cost when something goes wrong. "As of October 2012, approximately "9.4bn (1,335 bn yen) had been paid out in compensation as a result of the Fukushima accident and this is expected to double in the next year. At this stage the final cost can only be roughly estimated, but the utility company, Tepco, has suggested that cost for compensation and decontamination maybe in the order of "70bn" 
The costs of the Chernobyl nuclear accident can only be calculated with a high degree of estimation.... the magnitude of the impact is clear from a variety of government estimates from the 1990s, which put the cost of the accident, over two decades, at hundreds of billions of dollars.
But even ignoring the costs incurred by the failure of nuclear reactors, the cost of production is higher than would appear. In the UK "A pro-nuclear energy group is pressing the government to halt plans to order new atomic power plants because costs have been inflated leaving householders and businesses facing an enormous bill." Whilst in the US, "The first generation of nuclear power plants proved so costly to build that half of them were abandoned during construction. Those that were completed saw huge cost overruns, which were passed on to utility customers in the form of rate increases. By 1985, Forbes had labeled U.S. nuclear power "the largest managerial disaster in business history."
The industry has failed to prove that things will be different this time around: soaring, uncertain costs continue to plague nuclear power in the 21st century. Between 2002 and 2008, for example, cost estimates for new nuclear plant construction rose from between $2 billion and $4 billion per unit to $9 billion per unit" .
Throughout Europe, nuclear energy is being abandoned. "Sweden (1980) was the first country to begin a phase-out (influenced by the Three Mile Island accident), followed by Italy (1987), Belgium (1999), and Germany (2000). Austria and Spain have enacted laws to cease construction on new nuclear power stations. Several other European countries have debated phase-outs."
Nuclear energy is not safe, not renewable, not sustainable, and not affordable. Nuclear energy is not beneficial.
To begin with, I will give a quote I provided in the first round, "Because uranium contains many thousands of times more energy per unit of weight than fossil fuels, the waste from a nuclear power station is very small in volume and is fully managed and extremely secure at the nuclear sites." In other words, pro's first argument doesn't really present a problem. Sure, that amount of waste may seem like a lot, but in reality, it pales in comparison to waste from other forms of energy, such as coal-fired plants.
The only real consideration for nuclear waste is the radioactivity and the potential threat to life that it creates. However, the considerations are not important. "Storage ponds at reactors, and those at centralized facilities such as CLAB in Sweden, are 7-12 metres deep, to allow several metres of water over the used fuel comprising racked fuel assemblies typically about 4 m long and standing on end. The circulating water both shields and cools the fuel. These pools are robust constructions made of thick reinforced concrete with steel liners. Ponds at reactors are often designed to hold all the used fuel for the life of the reactor." Putting the nuclear waste deep underground presents an even safer, long-term option, and unlike my opponent's claims, isolates the radioactivity from the biosphere, and eliminates any potential adverse effects. "This immobilises the radioactive elements in HLW and some ILW and isolates them from the biosphere.""This method of disposal offers an assured means to isolate UNF-HLW and ILW over time periods sufficiently long to preclude any adverse impact on life on the Earth's surface. Repository plans generally allow for retrieval of nuclear waste, at least for an extended period of time. But the designs also provide for safe isolation even without human management."
As for statistical evidence of danger to the public, "Potential problems from accidents in transport of radioactive materials are largely neutralized by elaborate packaging. A great deal of such transport has taken place over the past 50 years and there have been numerous accidents, including fatal ones. However, from all of these accidents combined, there is less than a 1% chance that even a single death will ever result from radiation exposure. Probabilistic risk analyses indicate that we can expect less than one death per century in U.S. from this source."
Miners of radioactive materials are actually much safer than are popularly believed, especially with the internal and external regulation because of scientific findings, and the occupation can actually be considered safe. "The revised occupational exposure limit is 20 millisieverts per year averaged over five consecutive years... the weight of scientific evidence does not indicate any cancer risk or immediate effects at doses below ablout 50 millisievert (mSv) per year."
As for genetic mutations, again, while the risk is there, the dangers and probabilities of receiving any adverse effects are small. "The estimated risk of permanent damage to a second generation (grandchild) individual is 0.02 cases per million Micro-Sievert [ or around 20 cases per million milli-sievert] of exposure." As can be seen, the dangers of working in radioactive mining, while larger than the average dose received by someone not working in the industry, is small compared to the doses needed for bodily abnormality.
But what of the dangers of working in nuclear reactors, or more importantly, the danger to individuals not involved in the nuclear energy process at all? The risks are much lower. "Despite popular belief, nuclear plants are relatively safe. For years, America's commercial nuclear energy industry has ranked among the safest places to work in the United States. In 2000, its industrial safety accident rate-which tracks the number of accidents that result in lost work time, restricted work or fatalities-was 0.26 per 200,000 worker-hours. By comparison, the accident rate for US private industry was 3.1 per 200,000 worker-hours in 1998... Even if you lived right next door to a nuclear power plant, you would still receive less radiation each year than you would receive in just one round-trip flight from New York to Los Angeles. You would have to live near a nuclear power plant for over 2,000 years to get the same amount of radiation exposure that you get from a single diagnostic medical x-ray." All and all, nuclear energy has a very low rate of potential danger to anyone involved or not involved in the process of its production. The radiation dose to the public is less than one milli-sieverts a year.
As for nuclear disasters, these are actually very rare. Only three major instances ever occurred, once of which (Three Mile Island) was fully contained, another (Fukushima) resulted in no deaths, and the other (Chernobyl) was more the result of major design deficiencies and bad safety measures in place with Soviet nuclear reactors. "These are the only major accidents to have occurred in over 15,000 cumulative reactor-years of commercial nuclear power operation in 33 countries." Overall, none of these is a case against modern nuclear power plants.
Finally, on terrorism, the chances (it's never happened) and consequences are very small. "But further (see Sept 2002 Science paper and Jan 2003 Response & Comments), realistic assessments from decades of analyses, lab work and testing, find that the consequence of even the worst realistic scenarios " core melting and containment failure " can cause few if any deaths to the public, regardless of the scenario that led to the core melt and containment failure."
Overall, coal plants cause 342 deaths per TW (terawatt, 10^12 watts), natural gas 85 deaths per TW, hydro 883 deaths per TW, and wind around 1000 deaths per TW (with regression analysis), while nuclear only causes 8 deaths per TW. It hardly seems appropriate to call nuclear the most dangerous of energy sources.
My opponent's first arguments rest on the three accidents mentioned earlier. Again, considering the amount of nuclear energy used over the years, that amount is small compared to damages to plants of other forms of energy, especially coal and hydroelectric (the latter of which requires the massive rerouting of capital).
As for actual power plant cost, my opponent has not considered my opening arguments, and I'm interested to see what he'll have to say in this round. I will simply make one point here. "Analysis shows that every dollar spent by the average nuclear plant results in the creation of $1.04 in the local community, $1.18 in the state economy and $1.87 in the U.S. economy." A big cost equals an even bigger gain.
The first of these is the amount of fuel available, and how long it could potentially last. The figures quoted here are so rubbery and based on speculation as to be pretty well meaningless. We are told that based on current consumption rates and current known supplies there is around 230 years worth of material remaining. This is fair enough. Then, we are told that using other sources of uranium, and other radioactive elements and isotopes that are not currently in use, and fission technologies that are not yet in production, the figure "could" be raised to thirty thousand years. That's a massive jump, and a lot of "ifs". Finally, Pro makes the claim that "it may be so that, at current energy consumption, we could sustain ourselves for 1 million years on nuclear fission reactions alone." This is a quantum leap from the thirty thousand quoted in the referenced article, and the source is not quoted. Pro, could you please provide the source of this claim?
Pro closes his argument by stating "Nuclear energy clearly has much greater reserves than fossil fuels, and energy that is always available, unlike renewables". Unlike the elastic figures and speculation about future technologies used by the nuclear industry to estimate there may be around 30,000 years worth of atomic fuel left, we know for certain that "The sun runs out of hydrogen fuel in its core about five billion years from now". Furthermore, since winds are caused by heating of the Earth by the sun, we know for certain without any speculation that there is five billion years worth of renewable energy left, regardless of how much is used.
According to Pro, "Nuclear energy is cheaper and more efficient that other forms of energy, as it has a greater capacity factor and lower per unit energy costs than than other forms of energy, both fossil fuels and renewable."
This argument is just not true, as typically, figures quoted by nuclear energy producers look only at ongoing production costs, and ignore massive initial setup costs - for example $10 billion to construct a reactor, and clean up costs of up to hundreds of billions of dollars (as discussed in my round two argument) when something goes wrong.
"Cheap" atomic energy is based largely on massive subsidies: "Despite more than $150 billion in federal subsides over the past 60 years (roughly 30 times more than solar, wind and other renewable energy sources have received), nuclear power still costs substantially more than electricity made from wind, coal, oil or natural gas. This is mainly due to the cost of borrowing money for the decade or more it takes to get a nuclear plant up and running."
Furthermore, private sector investors recognize that nuclear is not an economically viable energy option for the future: "Nowhere [in the world] do market-driven utilities buy, or private investors finance, new nuclear plants." Only continued massive government intervention is keeping the nuclear option alive."
In summary, as Time Magazine eloquently puts it: "private capital still considers atomic energy radioactive, gravitating instead toward natural gas and renewables, whose costs are dropping fast. Nuclear power is expanding only in places where taxpayers and ratepayers can be compelled to foot the bill."
This is where the pro nuclear lobby have to stretch the furthest. According to Pro, "Nuclear energy actually has very little effect on the environment".
Perhaps Pro should try convincing the Navajo people, whose lands were used for uranium mining from 1944 til 1986, of that. It is no coincidence that "Risk of lung cancer among male Navajo uranium miners was 28 times higher than
in Navajo men who never mined". In addition, "Rates of birth defects in babies born to Navajo women living in uranium mining areas in New Mexico and Arizona between 1964 and 1981 were 2 to 8 times the national averages, depending on the type of defect."
Or perhaps he should try convincing the Scottish farmers of the "minimal" environmental impact of nuclear power generation: "The direct consequences of the accident [Chernobyl] were felt in Scotland until 2010 when the last of the agricultural restrictions put in place following the catastrophe were lifted". But it isn't over yet. Even today, 28 years after Chernobyl, "the country could still face contamination from the world's worst nuclear accident if the 1,600-mile exclusion zone around the now defunct power plant goes up in flames.
The forests have been allowed to grow wild and unmanaged since the tragedy almost three decades ago and have continued to absorb contamination still evident in the area.
Raising temperatures and lack of rain have now created a serious risk of a massive blaze, which could rage on for several days and have far-reaching consequences.
Lack of resources mean spotting and putting out flames before they burn out of control is near impossible although a core group of volunteers is trying to do their best.
Scientists in Scotland agree the prospect of redistribution of contaminated particles is "very real"".
The radioactive half life of products used in nuclear power generation ranges from tens of years to millions of years. Radioactive products which are left laying on the ground (tailings), or buried under the ground or ocean leave an environmental legacy that could last well beyond the life expectancy of the human race.
And now I'd like to consider some additional arguments raised by Pro in round three:
Firstly, we have this rather odd statement: "The only real consideration for nuclear waste is the radioactivity and the potential threat to life that it creates. However, the considerations are not important".
Hopefully, this represents an unfortunate choice of words, and not really a total disregard of the many tens of thousands who have already died or will die as a result of accidents which have already occurred in the nuclear industry.
Concerning storage of nuclear by products, various solutions are being explored globally; but no permanent solutions have been implemented. One pro-nuclear source admits: "Currently, no country has a complete system for storing high level waste permanently".
Regarding transportation of nuclear waste, Pro states that "elaborate packaging" reduces the chance of a catastrophe to almost none. It would be interesting to see the "probabilistic risk analysis" on which these figures were based, but it is not essential, because the argument ignores the most significant factor - the potential for terrorism. As I pointed out in round two, this month has seen the first recorded instance of a deliberate attack on a nuclear reactor. Particularly with the increasing use of drone technology, the potential for an attack on radioactive materials during transport is a very real, and very frightening possibility. And no amount of "elaborate packaging" will be effective against a missile attack.
The remaining arguments from Pro in this round seem to be, in the main, denials of plain facts on the dangers of radioactivity from the nuclear industry. For example:
- "Miners of radioactive materials are actually much safer than are popularly believed".
- "As for genetic mutations, again, while the risk is there, the dangers and probabilities of receiving any adverse effects are small."
- "As for nuclear disasters, these are actually very rare"
- " " core melting and containment failure " can cause few if any deaths to the public, regardless of the scenario that led to the core melt and containment failure."
All of these claims are contradicted by facts that I have raised in round two. Rather than refute them again here, I will refer to them in the last round when I summarise our respective cases.
And finally, on the subject of economic viability, Pro cites an article by the Nuclear Energy Institute in saying: " "Analysis shows that every dollar spent by the average nuclear plant results in the creation of $1.04 in the local community, $1.18 in the state economy and $1.87 in the U.S. economy." A big cost equals an even bigger gain". Again, this claim by a major interest group is simply smoke and mirrors. It refers to the yearly "economic output" from a typical nuclear power generator, and claims it to be in the order of $470 million dollars per year. Yet what is not factored into this is the cost to construct the reactor in the first place. Even allowing for only $8 billion dollars which is claimed in the article, this gives an interest bill alone (at a modest 5%) of over $400 million dollars per year, which virtually wipes out all profits made. In comparison to this, renewable energy sources have negligible construction costs and vastly lower operating costs.
The 30,000 year figure comes from fast-breeder reactors, which create their own fuel through a process called a breeding reaction. In one example, uranium-238 (the stable, and therefore currently unusable, isotope of uranium) is bombarded with a neutron, creating a uranium-239, which goes through two beta-decays to plutonium-239, which is another fissionable material. Uranium-238 is much more abundant than uranium-235. "...the non-fissionable uranium-238 is 140 times more abundant than the fissionable U-235." So this means that 140 times more fuel can be generated than with uranium-235, and this is where the 30,000 figure comes from.
The 1 million year figure comes from a rough estimation of all the fissionable materials available plus the amount of breeder reaction product fissionable material. Again, there are many different fissionable isotopes and many other atoms able to make a fissionable material through a breeder reaction. Further, there are unconventional extraction methods, such as from seawater. "...the extraction of uranium from seawater would make available 4.5 billion metric tons of uranium"60,000-year supply at present rates." It seems possible that there are 1 million years worth of fissionable and potentially fissionable materials on the Earth, and likely that the number at least closely approaches it.
But after 1 million years, we will surely a purely sustainable source of power (nuclear fusion?), and renewables currently are no where near sustainable. For example, to be sustainable in solar, one would have to cover 1% of the Earth in Silicon solar panels. The surface area of the Earth is around 510 million square miles, 1% of which is around 5.1 million square miles, which is about half the size of the US, and this assumes that the area will be sunny 100% of the time. In addition, you'd have to create storage areas and power distribution centers, which are currently beyond our capacities (solar energy can only be used locally). Similar problems accompany wind, and hydro harms the environment horribly. Overall, renewables are not sustainable at this moment. We have to find some other source for the time being and nuclear has the longest-available supplies.[Google search of surface area of the Earth and US]
It is true that the capital costs to build a nuclear power plant are high, but when the price per unit energy is considered, it is a good investment. Here is a graph that breaks down the cost of nuclear, gas, coal, and wind energy into different categories, including start-up costs:
"The relatively high capital cost of nuclear power means that financing cost and time taken in construction are critical, relative to gas and even coal. But the fuel cost is very much lower, and so once a plant is built its cost of production is very much more predictable than for gas or even coal." This is once of the problems with investment in nuclear power, which I will explain more in depth later.
Nuclear is competitive in operating and management costs because of the low cost of fuel compared to fossil fuel power plants and because of the low cost of operating and management itself for renewables. Fossil fuels also have to contend with carbon taxes, increasing the costs of the energy they produce.
Overall, "August 2003 figures put nuclear costs at EUR 2.37 c/kWh, coal 2.81 c/kWh and natural gas at 3.23 c/kWh (on the basis of 91% capacity factor, 5% interest rate, 40 year plant life). With emission trading @ EUR 20/t CO2, the electricity prices for coal and gas increase to 4.43 and 3.92 c/kWh respectively." The OCED study mentioned that everywhere, nuclear power is cheaper than wind energy as well. The problems with solar were already mentioned. This graph shows costs for major low-carbon energies; it is clearly lower than (on average) all other forms of renewable energies:
So why the decline in nuclear power investment? It has to deal with start up capital. Ellen Vancko, nuclear project manager for the Union of Concerned Scientists, says that, "They [investors] can buy them much more cheaply than they can build them." Nuclear power plants are currently still profitable after they have been built, and they depreciate in value, making it better to upgrade old ones than build new ones. New, appliable technologies don't look profitable yet. There will come a time when building new nuclear power plants will become profitable again. Take the breeder reactors mentioned earlier. "Breeder reactors, which will become more economical in 50-100 years, will eventually appear and eliminate all supply issues." Overall, the decline in investment in nuclear power is not a sign of its inefficiency, and it will rise again.
My opponent's mining studies are old and are the result of bad mining practices. Since then, the safety of miners has increased dramatically. I won't repeat the quotes I provided in the last round, as they speak for themselves. However, I will add, "The maximum dose received is about half of the 20 mSv/yr limit and the average is about one tenth of it." If you remember my last round arguments, the instances of cancer only rise after 50 mSv per year, which miners don't even get close to reaching.
Using Chernobyl as an argument against nuclear power is sloppy. Chernobyl was the result of extraordinary circumstances, none of which have to do with the safety of nuclear energy. "The April 1986 disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the Ukraine was the result of major design deficiencies in the RBMK type of reactor, the violation of operating procedures and the absence of a safety culture." Chernobyl was not the result of dangers inherent in nuclear energy generation, but rather in easily correctable errors in operation and management. Apart from Chernobyl, there has been no accident even remotely close to this magnitude.
What I meant by "important" is not that the considerations are irrelevant no matter the cost, but that the costs are very low Once again, nuclear energy causes fewer deaths than any other form of energy. If my opponent is holding out for some major catastrophe that dwarfs Chernobyl, then he will probably be disappointed as safety measures continue to rise, plants become cleaner, and more effective (i.e. more power for less material) plants come. The chart ins source 11 shows even more forms of energy and their respective death risks, and as can be seen, nuclear has the lowest of them all. On top of that, deaths are projected to decrease even further with the new generation of power plants. "All new builds must be Gen III and higher, with passive redundant safety systems, and all must be able to withstand the worst case disaster, no matter how unlikely." I'm not sure why my opponent keeps arguing about the deadly risks of nuclear power when I've pointed out several times it's safety record.
As for nuclear waste disposal, my opponent forgot the rest of the quote. "...but many have plans to do so in the next 10 years. There are a number of well-developed proposals from the USA, Sweden, Finland and France for the disposal of long-lived radio-active waste. All the proposed disposal techniques employ multiple barriers, as discussed above, to isolate the waste from the biosphere for at least 100,000 years. [And by then, the radioactivity would have deteriorated]" This happens well in nature, such as with the Oklo reactor.
On the potential terrorist threat, the way nuclear reactors are designed is strong enough to prevent a general terrorist attack. In the very unlikely case that the containment chamber, there would not be any immediate effects, and the site could be contained before any long term effects would occur. "The study of a 1970s US power plant in a highly-populated area is assessing the possible effects of a successful terrorist attack which causes both meltdown of the core and a large breach in the containment structure " both extremely unlikely. It shows that a large fraction of the most hazardous radioactive isotopes, like those of iodine and tellurium, would never leave the site... The extent and timing of this [if it does leak] means that with walking-pace evacuation inside this radius it would not be a major health risk."
Nuclear energy is cheap, safe, efficient, and its potential is great. Overall, it represents a very good option for energy, and the time that we have the sufficient materials, we will certainly have found something else, maybe even sustainable nuclear power.
A number of matters have been considered, but essentially most of the disagreement has been concerning two issues - whether nuclear power is financially viable, and whether it is safe. If the answer to these questions is yes, Pro has made his case. If the answer is no, then we have to conclude that atomic power is not beneficial.
Is nuclear power financially viable?
Pro has provided several graphs which look quite impressive, yet fail to tell the true story. The LCOE figures presented in round two appear to show nuclear power in a favorable light compared to all other sources, and yet as I have pointed out, there is no indication that they take into account the massive subsidies and post-production costs which falsely lower the apparent cost per unit of production.
The two graphs Pro presents in round four do claim to include startup costs, however the very significant costs associated with decommissioning of the reactor at the end of its life do not appear to be factored into the equation.
In round 4, Pro quotes Ellen Vancko of the Union of Concerned Scientists in support of his case. Unfortunately, the source of the quote is not given, and I am unable to match the quoted text using Google search. But there is no worse source that Pro could possibly quote on the subject. Ellen Vancko and her organization have published some of the most detailed and scathing criticisms of the financial viability of nuclear power to be found anywhere. I will finish my critique of Pro's arguments on this topic by reproducing a little of what a press report which announced the release of their 146 page study of the topic has to say on the subject:
"...subsidies have supported every stage of the nuclear fuel cycle from uranium mining to long-term waste storage. Added together, these subsidies often have exceeded the average market price of the power produced." It goes on to say "The cost of this technology continues to escalate despite billions in subsidies to both existing and proposed plants. Instead of committing billions in new subsidies that would further distort the market in favor of nuclear power, we should focus on more cost-effective energy sources that will reduce carbon emissions more quickly and with less risk".
Is nuclear power safe?
In round four, Pro makes the statement "I'm not sure why my opponent keeps arguing about the deadly risks of nuclear power when I've pointed out several times it's [sic] safety record". The reason I keep arguing about it is because the safety record Pro is suggesting is a fabrication of atomic energy interests, and pro appears to have swallowed it hook, line and sinker.
Let's look at Pro's claims one by one:
* Three Mile Island was "fully contained"
This was indeed the official line from the power plant operators and the early studies. But "A new analysis of health statistics in the region conducted by the Radiation and Public Health Project has, however, found that death rates for infants, children, and the elderly soared in the first two years after the Three Mile Island accident in Dauphin and surrounding counties." How could this be? Well, this same article also reports disturbing events well away from the supposedly "contained" disaster area, including:
"Jean Trimmer, a farmer who lived in Lisburn, Pa. about 10 miles west of TMI. On the evening of March 30, 1979, Trimmer stepped outside on her front porch to fetch her cat when she was hit with a blast of heat and rain. Soon after, her skin became red and itchy as if badly sunburned, a condition known as erythema. About three weeks later, her hair turned white and began falling out. Not long after, she reported, her left kidney "just dried up and disappeared" -- an occurrence so strange that her case was presented to a symposium of doctors at the nearby Hershey Medical Center. All of those symptoms are consistent with high-dose radiation exposure." This and many other experiences have become the subjects of more than one book.
* Fukushima resulted in no deaths
This is perhaps the most brazen lie of all to come out of pro-nuclear groups. It has been observed that "lower levels of radioactivity take time to result in cancer and other illnesses - that there is a 5 to 40 year 'incubation period'". It is not yet four years since the Fukushima disaster, so the worst is still to come.
Quoting the same article, here are a few more estimates and observations:
Dr. Chris Busby, scientific secretary of the European Committee on Radiation Risk predicts "a death toll of more than a million".
Arnie Gundersen, a former nuclear industry senior vice president, has said: "The health impacts to the Japanese will begin to be felt in several years and out to 30 or 40 years from cancers. And I believe we're going to see as many as a million cancers over the next 30 years because of the Fukushima incident in Japan."
Dr. Helen Caldicott, a founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility, is also quoted:
"The accident is enormous in its medical implications. It will induce an epidemic of cancer as people inhale the radioactive elements, eat radioactive vegetables, rice and meat, and drink radioactive milk and teas.
As radiation from ocean contamination bio-accumulates up the food chain ... radioactive fish will be caught thousands of miles from Japanese shores. As they are consumed, they will continue the the cycle of contamination, proving that no matter where you are, all major nuclear accidents become local."
* Chernobyl was the result of major design deficiencies and bad safety measures
Chernobyl's meltdown occurred in 1986. Fukushima was 25 years later, in 2011, just three and a half years ago. This demonstrates that in spite of the supposed vast improvements that have been made, disastrous failures still can occur, threatening hundreds of thousands to millions of lives with each event.
The supposed safety record of the nuclear industry is based on denials and cover-ups, not on fact.
Pro has made several references to the cost and safety of nuclear power compared to old technologies such as fossil fuels. There is little point in debating any of this, as we appear to be in agreement that fossil fuels should be a thing of the past.
The choice, then, comes down to nuclear energy or renewables, such as wind and solar. Of these, not only has nuclear only survived for over fifty years because of massive subsidies and ignoring hundreds of billions of dollars in costs due to accidents, but the costs of production are continually rising, and the demands on the public to subsidize these facilities are becoming intolerable.
In contrast, the cost of solar PV has plummeted over a 30 year period "from $22 dollars in 1980 down to under $3 today"  (2010 figure). According to the same source, "battery prices are dropping exponentially too".
With far less propping up from the public purse than nuclear has received for decades, renewable energy technologies such wind and solar power can become cheaper than both fossil fuels and nuclear. And they can achieve it with minimal scarring of the landscape, and without leaving a radioactive legacy that will last long after humans no longer inhabit the planet.
As I have referred to before, countries across Europe are turning away from dirty, dangerous nuclear energy - it is just not worth the risk to our planet or our people. Nuclear energy is not beneficial.
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