This article looks into the hidden costs of nuclear power. This is a power source which is fraught with controversy. Some will argue that it is indispensable to a sustainable future, others say that it has no place in a sustainable energy mix.
As this series which looks into the hidden costs of driving, coal power and natural gas continues, it is important that we look into this controversial power source.
Again, we use the National Academy of Sciences landmark paper Hidden Costs of Energy as our point of departure.
In the U.S. and the UK nuclear accounts for over 20% of these countries energy needs. France, who have a very aggressive nuclear power strategy generate over 75% of their energy from nuclear power. Even at the lower end this is a major power source and its hidden costs should be investigated.
What is clear in the National Academy of Sciences literature review, is that damages associated with the normal operation of nuclear power plants are quite low compared with those of fossil-fuel-based power plants. This does however exclude the possibility of damages in the future from the disposal of spent fuel, which introduces some risks.
The main risks and hidden costs of nuclear power emerge in the lifecycle phase. Chief among these is that if uranium mining activities contaminate ground or surface water, this could expose the public to radon or other radionuclides through ingestion. However, these risks materialise in the country where the uranium is mined, not where the nuclear power plant is located.
One thing that the study made clear is that low-level nuclear waste does not pose an immediate environmental, health, or safety hazard. The process of storing it until it decays to background levels mitigates this risk.
The study also highlighted that for spent nuclear fuel, if full-cycle, closed-fuel processes that recycle waste and enhance security were developed, this could further lower risks.
The authors also point out that a permanent repository for spent fuel and other high-level nuclear wastes is the most contentious nuclear-energy issue. They recommend that considerably more study of the external cost of such a repository is warranted.
What you need to know
This article looked into the hidden costs of nuclear power.
What should be obvious, is that when nuclear power plants are operating normally, they introduce few hidden costs.
They do however introduce risks via the uranium mining activities and if the plants cease to operate in a normal way.
Thank you for reading,
By Barnaby Nash
Please share your thoughts in the comments section below or reach out to me on social media. Do you think nuclear power has a role to play in a sustainable future?