One of the greatest advancement in the free world is that of nuclear power. According to Squassoni (2009), about 17% of the global energy is generated from nuclear reactors. The United States generates the third of all the nuclear power in the world. Initially, it appeared to be the best solution for sustainable energy in the United States (Squassoni, 2009). That perfect substitute to both fossil energy and hydroelectric energy relied on limited resources. The supporters of nuclear power argue that the regulatory measures in place are enough to guarantee safety. The US Department of Energy (2013) proposes additional reactors in the United States to usher in a new era of nuclear power generation plants. However, Nuclear energy is not a safe or a viable source of alternative energy for the United States due to the current predicament of dealing with nuclear waste. The use of nuclear energy to generate electricity is proving to be a threat to the environment. Nuclear power may be clean; however, the process of creating it generates harmful wastes that are currently stored in 131 different locations across 39 states in the US. The effects nuclear power will bring about as a result of its adoption and continued use will create more harm than good in not only the US but also the entire world specifically to nations who rely on US for support and emulation.
The first threat to the environment occurs in the transportation of the nuclear waste to the storage areas. The nuclear waste is transported using special casks that prevent any radiation. However, despite the assurance from the regulatory bodies, the threat of radiation leakages to the environment is quite high. The increasing energy demand in the United States will require more reactors. Increasing the number of them in the United States will present new challenges of transporting the waste to the storage facilities for instance government regulation and health hazards to individuals who take part in the transportation. Ash (2011) notes that since the 9/11attack, the public has been weary of the threat terrorists pose during the transportation of nuclear waste. An attack on the transportation trucks will cause severe damage to the environment and to mankind.
However, the US Department of Energy and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) insist that the process of transporting nuclear waste follows strict regulatory standards of safety (Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 2015). All the transportation equipment undergoes extensive tests to ensure the public and the environment is not put at risk. The NRC argues that for the last 40 years, the United States has witnessed thousands of safe nuclear fuel transportation (Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 2015).
In the course of transportation, there has been no case of radioactive leakages even in case of accidents. Squassoni (2009) reports that even with the 3500 transportation accidents since the year 1971, there is no case of radioactivity in the United States. Therefore, the same measures of safety will apply in case of more reactors in the country.
Despite the assurance on transportation safety, there is still the likelihood of a single accident or terror attack occurrence that would create a catastrophic emergency. Drew et al. (2002) cautions that the numerous regulatory and safety measures in place are not a hundred percent free of risk. There is always the possibility of a serious radioactive leakage that would affect thousands of people near the area. Therefore, the claim of having safe theoretical and legal protective measures may crumble when a real-life transportation catastrophe occurs.
One of the biggest challenges facing the disposal of spent nuclear fuel is finding a suitable site. According to Ewing and Macfarlane (2002), the Nuclear Waste Policy Act Amendments of 1987 ruled out several locations as a suitable permanent repository site for nuclear waste. Consequently, the government resorted to Yucca Mountain because it was consistently ranked as the site that possessed the best technical and scientific characteristics to serve as a repository . A report by the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects points to several dangers of having Yucca Mountain as a nuclear waste deposit site. First, the mountain is located only a hundred miles away from Las Vegas, and eighteen miles away from Amorosa valley, an agricultural area inhabited by around 1400 people.
The location of the Yucca mountain neighboring areas reported to have active seismic movements (The Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects, 2002). Therefore, there is a high possibility that in the event of a strong earthquake, the nuclear waste in the region would affect the neighboring population.
The data available on the safety of Yucca Mountain from independent regulatory bodies such as The Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board contradicts the arguments of the Department of Energy. Ewing and Macfarlane (2002) explain that all scientific evidence indicates that Yucca Mountain is not the appropriate location to have high-level nuclear waste deposit. However, due to political decisions aimed at speeding up nuclear power expansion, the selection of Yucca mountain was made to look good despite all the odds. Ewing and Macfarlane (2002) believe that the US government wants the Yucca Mountain project to work by devising ways to overcome the safety challenges. In essence, the dangers of radiation leaks exist, but the government seeks to use rhetoric to convince stakeholders on the importance of the project.
Those who support the Yucca mountain nuclear waste repository program insist that the risks are not alarming as stated by the opposing views. According to the Department of Energy (2001), Yucca Mountain is capable of holding large deposits of nuclear waste without any risk. The topology of the mountain ensures that all activities at the nuclear waste deposit site are beyond the reach of the public. The DOE believes that claims of seismic movements in the area near Yucca Mountain do not offer a threat to nuclear waste radiation. The storage casks for the nuclear waste are designed to withstand severe external shocks including fire and earthquakes. On the issue of transportation, the DOE agrees that there is always the risk of a terror attack. Therefore, the government is ready to offer armed military escort during the transportation of the nuclear waste (U.S. Department of Energy, 2013). The same security will be present around Yucca Mountain to ensure the nuclear waste repository is safe from attack.
The current challenges facing storage of nuclear waste in Yucca Mountain indicate that it may be impossible to sustain nuclear waste in the future. The population of the world is increasing and so does technology that threatens the security of nuclear waste deposit sites (Ash, 2011). As much as the government intends to secure the country’s energy supply, the issue of safety must be a priority. In the next 50 years, a project such as Yucca Mountain may become obsolete and the demand for more energy will definitely place the government in a dilemma on whether to continue with nuclear power generation or look for a safer alternative.
This paper has shown that nuclear energy is not a safe or a viable source of alternative energy for the United States due to current strategies for dealing with the transportation, storage, and future safety of nuclear waste. Because there are no known safe disposal strategies for nuclear waste, nuclear energy cannot be seen as a safe or viable alternative energy source for the future. It would be easier to look for a sustainable alternative today and save future generations from the trouble of facing radioactive pollution from the nuclear waste repositories.
Ash, J. (2011). Radiation or Riots: Risk Perception in Nuclear Power Decision Making and Deliberative Approaches to Resolving Stakeholder Conflict. Politics & Policy, 39(3), 317-344.
Drew, C., Grace, D., Silbernagel, S., Hemmings, E., Smith, A., & Griffith, W. et al. (2002). Nuclear Waste Transportation: Case Studies of Identifying Stakeholder Risk Information Needs. Environ Health Perspect, 111(3), 263-272.
Ewing, R.C. & Macfarlane A. (2002). Yucca Mountain. Science Compass. 296(1): 659-660
Nuclear Regulatory Commission, (2015). NRC: Transportation of Spent Nuclear Fuel. Nrc.gov. Retrieved 28 September 2015, f
Squassoni, S. (2009). The US Nuclear Industry: Current Status and Prospects under the Obama Administration. Nuclear Energy Futures Pape r No. 7.
The Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects, (2002). A Mountain Of Trouble: A Nation At Risk Report On Impacts Of The Proposed Yucca Mountain High-Level Nuclear Waste Program. Office of the Governor.
U.S. Department of Energy, (2001). Yucca Mountain preliminary site suitability evaluation (Report No. DOE/RW-0540). North Las Vegas, NV: Author.
U.S. Department of Energy, (2013). Strategy For The Management and Disposal of used Nuclear Fuel And High -Level Radioactive Waste.