The ethical and environmental issues revolving around the use of nuclear power were analyzed in an ethical context. Each aspect was analyzed from a historical and present day perspective. It was concluded that the public health and environmental risks outweigh the economic benefits based on Code 1 of the IEEE Codes of Ethics.
An Ethical analysis of the Environmental and Economic Aspects of Nuclear Power
Nuclear power plants provide 17% of the world’s electricity. In the United States , there are more than 100 nuclear power plants which supply 15% of the electricity used nationwide.1 But how exactly is nuclear power created? Nuclear reactors use enriched uranium rods as fuel and produce heat via nuclear fission. Basically, neutrons collide with the nucleus of the uranium atoms, resulting in the atom splitting in half and releasing heat. That heat is created within the nuclear reactor. Furthermore, there are two types of nuclear reactor designs: the boiling water reactor and the pressurized water reactor. In a boiling water reactor, water is fed in through a feedwater pump. That water is pumped into a boiling water reactor which heats the water via nuclear fission and transfers it to a turbine. The turbine thrusts the water back to the feedwater pump and powers a generator that provides electrical power. On the other hand, in a pressurized water reactor there are two sources of water: cool water brought in by a feedwater pump and recycled water impelled through a primary loop. The feedwater pump propels cool water into the steam generator for heating. Recycled water is pushed into the steam generator as well and nuclear fission occurs which heats the cool water. After being heated the water from the feedwater pump becomes steam and is transferred to a turbine. That steam turns a turbine which; consequently, turns a generator. Electrical power is then created as a result of the generators.
There are several reasons nuclear power was instituted as an electrical alternative which are the following: traditional means of energy are being rapidly depleted, energy produced for the amount of fuel used is the highest available, cost of producing nuclear power is better than oil or gas, does not contribute to the greenhouse effect, nuclear power generation produces the least amount of waste compared to other major energy production processes, and it produces huge amounts of energy from small amounts of fuel.2 In contrast, nuclear power is not renewable due to the fact it uses the natural element uranium, maintaining the safety of plant workers and the environment is extremely expensive, and nuclear power plants pose numerous safety risks regarding the leaking of and disposal of radiation.
Although nuclear power has several advantages in the short run, the long run is unethically risk prone due to the possibility of plant meltdowns, unsafe radiation exposure to the public and the environment, exhaustion of uranium deposits, and problematic disposal methods of radioactive materials.
1 Brain, Marshall. “How Nuclear Power Works.” June 1, 2005. Retrieved from the World Wide Web: < http://people.howstuffworks.com/nuclear-power.htm >
2 “Why Use Nuclear Energy.” June 1, 2005. Retrieved from the World Wide Web: < http://www.calpoly.edu/~cm/studpage/jmcgarva/NUCPOER2.html>.