Published on March 28th, 2008 | by Mark Seall


Lots More Nuclear Power – Good Thing or Bad Thing?

iStock_000002834051XSmall Nuclear power – an abundant source of carbon free energy, or a dangerous and expensive power source with huge risks to our health and environment?

Britain may not have much choice in this matter as its government seems determined to take the nuclear route in an effort to bring Co2 emissions in line with its reduction pledges and mitigate its dwindling North Sea oil and gas supplies.

Announcing plans to enter into a technology partnership with France, the UK government proposes replacing its 24 aging reactors – which currently provide 20% of the nation’s electricity – with a new set of nuclear power plants which will double Britain’s nuclear power generating capacity. In doing so, Britain hopes to become a “world leader in nuclear technology”, according to Energy Secretary John Hutton.

Whilst nuclear energy has at least one advantage in providing plentiful carbon free power, there are numerous objections, not least due to concerns over safety, long term handling and storage of radioactive waste and the potential distraction from long term renewable energy projects. Indeed, there are many complex arguments behind the nuclear question, a topic which cannot be succinctly summarised in a single blog post, and on which I must admit I lack a clear opinion.

Therefore I decided to call in some people who actually know what they are talking about.

Rod of Atomic Insights and Matt from TalkClimateChange have agreed to lend their expertise to this discussion in a currently ongoing debate on our discussion boards, which I am sure will provide the necessary depth of argument and cover the full range of pro’s and con’s.

We’ll be back with a follow-up post containing the highlights (and maybe a final opinion) from this debate next week. In the meantime, feel free to watch the debate or chime in with your views.

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38 Responses to Lots More Nuclear Power – Good Thing or Bad Thing?

  1. dale n says:

    Dear God in Heaven….when will we humans ever wake up and decide to look at long term solutions. Why do we trade one poison for another only to eliminate the eventual onslaught for now, and relegate it to another future generation. Go solar!! go wind! and let humanity live another epoch.

  2. igmuska says:

    Rubbish and hogwash…as the previous comment states: why replace the energy problem with an even bigger problem. Nuclear energy might sound glamorous, vogue and even chic but this is because the industry spent millions upon millions of dollars convincing the world that global warming is drowning polar bears. The reality is that they took this angle rather than considering safer, renewable energy resources and conservation.
    The other issue is as the oil wells dry up, the costs rise and are passed on the consumer who has no recourse.
    As a final thought that you can easily prove is that the uranium needed for the nuclear renaissance is mined in areas mostly located in Africa, Australia, and North America: all areas are found near or on Native American, Native African or Australian Aborigine land; thus presenting extreme hardship and deaths resulting from the uranium mining.
    Nuclear energy is not safe, nuclear energy will not replace coal, nuclear energy is not worth the nightmares it will cause.


  3. Macker says:


  4. Scott R. says:

    The newest third generation nuclear reactors are extremely safe and have very little waste. Fourth generation reactors improve on both safety and waste significantly including safe shutdown with no operators needed.
    Chernobyl was a first generation reactor and the meltdown was due to untrained technicians performing a dangerous ill-advised test. They had a small crew of which many were untrained coal miners. Many of the technicians working there objected to the test which involved shutting down the water pumps. The gamble failed and thus the meltdown. First generation reactors had very few of the numerous safety systems and protocols of modern reactors.
    Three Mile Island was a second generation reactor. A broken valve caused a coolant leak into an area designed for that purpose. A long chain of errors and misunderstandings led to a partial meltdown and the shutdown of the reactor. Despite the a long line of errors and misunderstandings the reactor shut down exactly how it was designed to do. No radiation leaked out into the environment and 0% increase in cancer was predicted to people living in the area. The safety systems worked and Three Mile Island continues to operate safely today. It was the first and only significant nuclear accident in American history.
    Since these disasters, the last in 1986, hundreds of nuclear reactors have operated safely and continuously with no major incidents. Nuclear power is a viable alternative to carbon emitting power plants and more people are harmed by fossil fuel burning plants.
    50,000-100,000 Americans die each year from lung cancer caused by particulate air pollution the biggest cause of which is coal-burning power plants in the midwest and east. Even taking the maximum predicted death toll from Chernobyl, we would need a Chernobyl-sized accident EVERY THREE WEEKS to make nuclear power as deadly as coal and oil already is.
    I agree that we need to develop energy sources such as wind and sun further and to get as much power as we can from clean sources of energy. But before we demonize nuclear power, let us take a good look at the facts and decide what is best with our minds and not our hearts.


  5. simon says:



    I don’t really think that we need to make and use more power, I think we could use vastly less and be happier without having to trade off between different ways of destroying the world. We could keep small amounts of power for things like medicine and lighting and forget about things like patio heaters and manufacturing crap we don’t need.

  6. Gavin Hudson says:


    Generally agreed.

  7. Amy says:

    so is it good or bad?

  8. johnny says:

    No computers. well considering you needed one to write this i thinkypur pratically contridicting yourself.
    More dancing you need to see a professinal

  9. lassy says:

    why is nuclear power so bad

  10. Josh says:

    Let me just state that a study conducted by the International Atomic Energy Agency in 2001 stated that known uranium resources could fail to meet demand as early as 2026. Combined with that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission found that more than half of America’s nuclear power plants failed to prevent a simulated attack on their facilities.

    So for those of you who are pro-nuclear, bear that in mind.

  11. Alla says:

    I think we only need energy for simple things light heat and travport.you can help it your self by taking a bus or train.turning of light’s when not needed and t.v computers ect…

  12. kkaaaaaaattttttttttt says:

    soooo bad ?

  13. Jess says:

    LOOK LONG TERM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Gosh stop thinking 2 years a head think 100’s maybe 1000’s if your brains are smart enough to do sooooooo

  14. Lili says:

    To Josh: Uranium is quite a common element. The main isotope of uranium used in Nuclear Power plants is U235, which constitutes 0.7% of the natural Uranium amounts. Thats why it might run out.
    The other natural uranium is U238, which is used in bullets, and in aircraft-making, as it has a higher density than lead.

    To every pro-nuclear energy thinker (scott R. in particular)

    By using nuclear energy, governments are always gambling with our and future generations’ lives.
    Not only is it immoral, but we do not have a choice in these debates.
    The risks for nuclear power are extremely high, and in a survey it was found out that USA has had 200-misses that would have been Chernobyl-sized, and even though there are small leaks, they ARE leaks, and cause others misery. These leaks are often covered up by governments, so as not to loose face in front of the rest of the world, of which a fine example is Chernobyl, where the accident was first covered up.
    Speaking of Chernobyl, if the major environmental, health and economical damage was that disastrous there, then make your brains chew on this.
    CHERNOBYL WAS NOT A WORST CASE SCENARIO!!! (It was only halfway up the scale).
    One of the worst case scenarios was in the movie or book China syndrome, where all the material overheated and burned through to China.
    To reassure you though I will say this. IT IS VERY with one trillion verys unlikely that this will ever happen.
    Another problem is the disposal of the radioactive waste, because one of the most efficient materials for blocking out the rays is either lead or reinforced concrete. The lead has to be at least 10-15cm thick to block the gamma-rays of a piece of radium half the length of your little finger, while the r. concrete has to be even thicker. Some of the spent material would take 10 THOUSAND YEARS not to be a threat to life. Of course that is if humanity doesn’t forget all about where they buried the waste, dig it up, and accidentally cause a global crisis.

    The last problem with nuclear energy I would like to point out is the cost. Not only does the building cost billions of whatever currency is in use, but what is often not calculated is the decommissioning costs, which can even exceed the building costs. The decommissioning has to be done to a very high standard so that no nuclear waste escapes the inner concrete block (of which I do not know the name but is supposed to protect us from the waste and minimalise leaks). The so-called inner concrete block cannot be removed, and will probably be fenced off for hundreds of years until there is no longer any danger.

    In conclusion I will add my own comment to nuclear power and the big ugly power plants.

    The power plants.
    I find it quite irritating that the damn things don’t LOOK dangerous, but if an accident happens, we STILL won’t know we’re in danger, while the rays spread like the black plague and kill us.

    It may not stink like coal and gas
    but if the radioactive mass
    would escape its dreary confines
    and spread like gas in mines.
    The world would say “Oh crap.”

    Excuse the poetry.

  15. amy says:

    Sooo is itt good or bad i need to no for my school fing lols?

  16. Brooke I am only 10 says:

    I think that it is a bad thing because it costs millions of dollars just to build a power plant and nuclear power is so dangerous. I know that it doesn’t emitt any CO2 and some people think it doesn’t contrabute to Global warming exept during the process of making the nucler power plant it does. And probably it might be better than burning coal but it still costs lives if it blows up, so instead of burning coal and building nucler power plants why not build a wind farm it might take up land but it helps the risks of global warmiing decrese,or even construct some solar panels.
    Because building wind farms and other renewable resources will help stop GLOBAL WARMING.All because of global warming
    And much, much more so thierfore power plants are bad and get renewable sources such as wind farms e.c.t

  17. shamee says:

    why dont the goverment turn to renewable sources?
    Seems the only decent they can do.

  18. Freshman Debater says:

    i have speant a considerable amount of time debating this topic, and therefore have quite a bit of knowledge on it. I have a question for everyone who opposes it: what do you suggest we use? alternative fuels cannot currently sustain an entire nation as large as the US. In order to make biodiesel or ethanol, you must use a LARGE quantatity of corn, grain, grass, or algae, and we dont have the amount of land necessary to grow all of it. Also, for those of you proposing solar or wind, it simply doesnt provide enough energy for all the cars, trucks, planes, boats, homes, business and other things we need power for. Yes, we ned to move to something other then oil, but our other alternative fuls simply wont do it. Nuclear, as i see it, is our best option.

  19. Jeff says:

    First of all, Freshman Debater, “for those of you proposing solar or wind, it simply doesnt provide enough energy for all the cars, trucks, planes, boats, homes, business and other things we need power for.”
    The only part of that sentence that made sense was the homes and business part. Cars, truck, planes and boats don’t run on electricity so nuclear wouldn’t help anyway.
    Fail # 1.
    Wind and solar maybe not be able to sustain the U.S. but neither can nuclear. I’m assuming your looking into the future and so nuclear is going to run out of fuel in 26ish years according to a post somewhere up there. The wind and sun aren’t disappearing for a looooong time.
    Fail # 2.
    You should spend more QUALITY time debating and/or researching this topic.

  20. Jeff says:

    *cars, trucks, planes and boats CAN run on electricity but not enough of them to make nuclear power necessary to power them.

  21. heyyyyy
    what r the
    bad things???
    i kinda have
    to kno this for
    a project im
    working on!!!

  22. maddy says:

    i think we should stick to solar energy GO GREEN

  23. bob says:

    hello and i agree with nuclear power so that if you need any more convicing then you should think about global warming!

  24. arlo says:

    Nuclear Facts

    Nuclear Resources: The 2026 deadline on Uranium reserves is grossly inaccurate. At current uranium usage with known reserves and at what is currently economically recoverable, there is at a minimum enough uranium to last for 100 years. Combined with the improvements in uranium extraction as well as reprocessing most text books estimate that fissionable materials can power the earth for the NEXT MILLENIUM!

    Safety: The first thing one must understand is that a nuclear reactor is not a nuclear bomb. A nuclear explosion from a nuclear reactor has never happened nor will it ever happen. They are by design not able to achieve this. What happened at Chernobyl was a steam explosion caused by overheating in the core. When a transient–an unexpected change in power occurs– within a reactor, control rods are inserted automatically within a fraction of a second and the nuclear chain reaction is shut down. The potential problem is that the radioactive fuel is releasing heat as it decays. Most of this energy in a power reactor is released over the first few days afer shutdown. The primary safety consern is the ability to continue to remove heat from the core during this time. TMI melted its core long after it was shut down because of a loss of coolant that was largely due to operators mis diagosing the problem. Modern reactor are designed to be inherantly safe in that they employ safety systems that use natural forces such as convection and gravity to keep the reactor cool for up to 72 hours without human intervention in the event of an accident. There is no truth in the China Syndrome of a reactor melting and burrowing into the core. And the disaster of Chernobyl would have probably resulted in nearly zero deaths if a containment building was actually surrounding the reactor pressure vessel which is required for all U.S. reactors. The regulations and safety assessments on nuclear power place the probability of a catastrophic nuclear accident as probable as the risk of a catastrophic asteroid impact.

    Nuclear Waste
    First off, because the energy density of fission is so great, the amount of nuclear waste is actually quite small. All of the spent nuclear fuel for the last 40 for all U.S. reactos (which generated about 20% of U.S. electrical power) is about 56,000 tons and could fit on a football field only 10 feet high. Although that seems like a lot, in one year this country consumes 1.053 billion tons of coal.

    However a plan for the build up of nuclear waste must still be addressed. The two options are geological depository or reprocessing. Many people are concerened with the risks associated with storing fuel that is radioactive for thousands of years and the potential that overtime these products might somethow escape and contaminate the environment and second that some future relatives of ours would unearth it or terrorists would. First, most people aren’t aware that a natural fission reaction ocurred on earth underground in Oklo Africa about 1.7 billion years ago. Water seeped into a uranium deposit there an created a critical reaction several times. What’s important to note, is that the fission product plutonium that were created from this incident ( that had no protective barrier like a fuel cask would) moved only 10 feet in 1.7 billion years. Secondly the casks the spent fuel is stored in are virtually impossible for terrorist to open. They are extremely massive and require very heavy equipment and extensive time to move.

    On the reprocessing side, when nuclear fuel is “burned” in a reactor plutonium is also created. This also has the ability to fission and can be reprocessed–separated from the non useful products and made into another fuel bundle for the reactor. Reprocessing not only allows for more efficient use of materials and would increase the amount of power per unit of original fuel by as much as 10 times that of the current “once-through” cycle used in the U.S. Additionally, by reprocessing there is much less overall waste, and what is left at the end decays much more rapidly and would only need to be stored for a few hundred years. Many people express concern over weapons proliferation because when reprocessing occurs potentially, weapons grade material can be extracted. However, there are technological ways to reprocess without ever creating the potential for weapons grade material. Furthermore, the U.S. is the only major country with nuclear power that doesnot reprocess due to Federal law. France and Japan both reprocess.

    Cost: Yes it is true that nuclear power plants are very expensive to build and decommission. Currently a nuclear plant costs between 7-10 billion dollars to build. However that same plant produces 1000 MW of electrical power. South Carolina has decided to build two new nuclear plants a total power generation of 2000 MW. To produce the same amount of power as those two plants that sit on a few acreas of land, would require South Carolina’s entire coast to be covered with windmills several miles thick. The upfront cost of nuclear power is expensive but if the entire life cycle cost is acounted for, and one looks at it from a cost per unit energy basis nuclear is the most cost effective low greenhouse gas emitting solution.

    Nuclear: 2-3 cents/kWhr
    Coal: 2-3 cents/kWhr
    Gas: 6-7 cents/kWhr
    Wind 4-7 cents/kWhr
    Solar 20-30 cents/kWhr

    Additionally, nuclear reactors have the highest capacity factors meaning they are up and operational the most amount of time out of a year. Typical capcity factors are below.

    Wind farms 20-40%.
    Photovoltaic solar in Massachusetts 12-15%
    Photovoltaic solar in Arizona 19%
    Nuclear U.S. average 92%

    Environment: Release of radiation to the environment is virtually zero. Coal plants release more radiation than nuclear plants. The average annual radiation dose people receive is 360 mrem. Less than .1 mrem can be attributed to nuclear power or nuclear waste in any form. To put some perspective on that if you fly in an airplane once you are likely to receive about 3-5 mrem from the additional exposure because there is less atmosphere protecting you from the solar radiation.

    Greenhouse gasses. Nuclear is actually the lowest greenhouse gas emitting energy source per energy unit created with the exception of hydroelectric. The construction related CO2 emissions for creating the massive solar arrays or windmills needed to generate equivalent power to one nuclear plant exceed the CO2 emissions for the contruction of the nuclear plant.

    Hydrogen production. In the recent future high temperaturat gas core reactor will be able to provide not only electrical power generation but also processing heat that can be used to generated clean and renewable hydrogen for automotive and other small scale accidents.

    Summary: I’m not saying that nuclear is all we need. Like everyone I would love if all our power was renewable, and clean. I sincerely hope solar technology and battery technology continue to make breakthoughs so that it can truly fulfill our energy needs. In the near term, wind and solar are not nearly sufficient by themselves to meet our energy needs. And it is unrealistic, not practical, not feasible, to severely change our energy demand without reducing our population. Therefore, it makes sense that if we must fulfill our energy requirements with energy sources other than renewables then those sources should be of ample supply, safe to use, not harmful to the environment, and as cheap as can be. Nuclear power has resources to last the world for another 1000 years. It is safe, from everystep of the way safety is a key component to all nuclear engineering and operating. Through proper management of the fuel cycle it is among the least destructive forms of power generation, period. It is currently cheaper than coal to produce electrical power from nuclear power

  25. David says:

    wait hold on right there Dale n
    before you say something do you have ever learned nuclear power before because if you don’t know what is then don’t say it and to wind and solar it made be good for cars but what about planes how about we use hydrogen for planes sports cars, rockets and helicopters

  26. ben oldland says:

    yes published on the 28th march 2008 in in europe dosent make no sense im 6 years old and even i no that its not right u silly boys:)

    • sarah says:

      hey ben oldland i dont think ur actually 6 years old because the way you write and ur speach writing is not for a 6 year old! R u sure ur 6 or do u not know what age u are??? 🙂 xx

  27. Sierra says:

    So is it a good thing or a bad thing?

  28. Sierra says:

    so good or bad?

  29. shawn says:

    Are you kidding me. Im doing a research paper on this in school and many people dont realize how much we rely on nuclear power and matter. For instance there is a little piece of radioactive matter inside every smoke detector that is what detects the smoke in the first place. Secondly ever heard of nuclear medicine? You know like catscans and MRI’s? Those both help save lives and they both rely on nuclear matter and energy. So think twice before you say you dont want nuclear power. Plus gas and carbon and oil all puts more pollution into the air then nuclear power plants.

  30. james says:

    bull shit bull shit and bull shit lots more nuclear power?!?!?!?

    who gives a damn

    the world would be so much easier if we got on with our lives and wern’t constantly worring about ‘nuclear power’ or the ‘enviroment

    come onnnn!!!

  31. Emma says:

    Okay, well im doing a debate on this topic. there are lots of good and bad things about nuclear power.

    its good because it produces a small amount of waste.
    it produces little to none green house gases

    it is deadly
    it (uranium) will run out. just like coal and oil.

    We have KILLED the world. It is DYING. But what is worse is, its NOT OURS to destroy. It is Dying because HUMANS are to selfish to think of the affects they might be having, UNTIL ITS TO LATE. We really DO NOT have any right what so ever, to do anything bad to the enironment, EVEN IF THERE IS ONLY A SLITE CHANCE OF SOMETHING GOING WRONG.



  32. dmcfarland08@gmail.com
    Did someone actually mention China Syndrome? Never mind the fact that the fission products would become stuck in the crust, it couldn’t get past the center of the earth simply due to gravity.

    Nuclear Power does not contribute to global warming. In fact, with the CO2 scrubbers are added to the cooling towers like they want to, they’d help.
    Nuclear power radiation is not visible outside the containment vessel.
    Nuclear Power releases no toxins into the environment. The leaks that have occured were in the past.
    Nuclear power is good. Had you all done your research, you’d know that.

    If anyone is doing a school project or something, I can help out; I’m a Naval Reactor Operator. I can’t tell you anything classified, but I can tell you why Nuclear power rocks. Email me at any time.

  33. patrick says:

    you lot r tlkin a load of shitt who cares about this planet really!! get drunk get stoned do woteva jus GET A LIFEE!!!

  34. Blake says:

    We play god
    We think we are God
    We are not
    WE are our the destruction of the world and of ourself
    God forgive us for we are a young and have much to learn

  35. DarkerRiver says:

    yer i know what you mean but the could be another way england could et there power from like from wave power or wind power or solar there so many ways england can get our power from not just nuclear power

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