How Should We Manage Nuclear Energy? via BBC

The promise of the 1950s, that nuclear energy would supply practically all of our energy, has faded. What’s the future of the expensive, powerful, complicated energy source?


Nuclear energy has long struggled to convince sceptics, fearful of accidents and the long-term hazards of radioactive waste.

But these issues are now compounded with market forces currently favouring cheap fossil fuels, like natural gas, over the high cost of installing new nuclear power stations. Can atom-splitting keep up? Will nuclear energy survive the 21st Century?


It is a far cry from the hype of the 1950s, when promotional films about nuclear power told people that it might provide a practically endless energy supply. It could even routinely power ships, planes and trains – not just giant power stations supplying entire cities. It was a time when nuclear power was still being theorised as a large-scale energy source, but scientists already knew the power of nuclear fission. The possibilities seemed endless.

But today, in some places, it seems like nuclear just can’t catch a break. The Swiss recently voted to ban nuclear power plants and invest in renewable energy instead – a sign that in some markets at least, renewables are winning over the public.

And yet, many countries have by no means given up on nuclear power.

Some nations remain undeterred

This year, China plans to finish building five new reactors – and start working on eight more. France is still hugely reliant on nuclear since it provides roughly 75% of its energy. And the UK recently approved the construction of Hinkley Point C, a 3.2 gigawatt plant, which will be the country’s largest in terms of generating capacity.


The challenge of dismantling

And then there is the cost of dismantling a plant once it can no longer be used to generate electricity. This process, decommissioning, takes decades and has many of its own safety risks due to radiation and the complexity of the structures.


New reactor design?

Research into novel reactor designs continues, however. Another option is the Travelling Wave Reactor (TWR), which would use uranium that has not gone through the process of enrichment – which increases the proportion of Uranium-235 in the material – before it can be used in conventional reactors. In a TWR, a small amount of Uranium-235, which is able to undergo nuclear fission, is inserted within a mass of Uranium-238. Proponents believe that makes it a more efficient and more dependable energy source. The Canadian Nuclear Association is also pursuing this technology.


Spent fuel and radioactive power plant materials remain dangerous for thousands of years.

Many experts agree that deep geological repositories, into which tightly sealed containers of waste can be buried within concrete and rock, are the best solution. Finland and Germany are two countries pushing ahead with plans for these. But the long-term stability of such facilities has never been tested – which understandably can cause concern to those living near them.

Read more at How Should We Manage Nuclear Energy?

Related article: 

This entry was posted in *English and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply