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Nuclear Power — Mega trend Report

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Updated: May 6th, 2019

Introduction

The developmental milestone of the discovery of nuclear fission in the early 30’s paved way to the advent of nuclear power as a source of energy. Nuclear power is a clean (environmentally friendly) source of energy derived from uranium –a non-renewable mineral source. The global rate of energy consumption is on a direct proportional rise as the population and therefore, a similar increment in energy production is required.

This population will require the energy to power factories and homes, provide water and transport and facilitate infrastructure for health, education and nutrition. (Openshaw, 1986) Traditional energy sources i.e. fossil fuels and coal do not have the collective capacity to match this demand without causing significant environmental damage at a high cost and suffer rapid depletion.

Nuclear energy is quite reliable, produces less waste, efficient, less expensive and does not add to the climate change by green- house gas production.

However amidst the myriad of advantages attributed to nuclear energy, it also has significant negative attributes. As much as it does not produce significant waste, this waste has to be kept enclosed for long to allow the radioactivity to subside.

It is not such an easy task to keep it away from natural disasters such as earthquakes or floods, as the recent Fukushima nuclear disaster depicts. (Nuclear Energy Agency, 2008) In addition to this, a lot of finances have to be spent on safety of nuclear energy.

In line with my career as a power engineer, nuclear power would have a significant impact on my life, career and future in the following key areas:

Influence on Environment

Environmental issues: There has been a rise in the global concern over the climate change attributed to several factors with excessive green house gas production being a considerable contributor. The recent environmental changes such as drop in sea ice, progressive increase in sea level and the rise in global temperatures with intense heat waves can be attributed to climate change. (Nigel, 1984).

Fossil fuels and coal are major contributors of these gases and hence nuclear energy emerges as the appropriate substitute for clean energy production.

In fact, nuclear power has been shown to have net environmental benefits as it has no wastes in the form of gas, rather its contribution to the environment is the energy that it produces. (Nuclear Energy Agency, 2008) Catastrophic changes in climate can be a real and imminent danger and thus measures should be taken to focus on ‘clean’ forms of energy production.

Associated scenario and risks/ opportunities

Scenario: Imagine a production company would like to venture into using nuclear power to run their engines. The local community has concerns that the adverse effects that this new venture would expose them to, far surpass the positive attributes of the venture. They seek a court order to stop the company from pursuing the new venture and hence making the company not able to achieve their most efficient output.

As it turns out the community relied on misguided information as to the effects of nuclear power. The company did not also carry out a risk assessment as to its overall environmental effect and carry out general community education.

Risks Likelihood Impact Level of Risk Opportunities Likelihood Impact Level of Risk
1.Leakage of radioactive emissions.
2.Nuclear accident leading to an explosion.
3

2

4

5

12

10

1.New job opportunities
2.Reduced production cost.
3.Increased output by the company.
4.Reduced environmental levels of green-house gases
3

2

4

3

3

5

5

4

9

10

20

12

Likelihood: 1- unlikely; 5- Most likely Impact: 1- Negligible; 5- dramatic

The positive and negative attributes of nuclear energy should be made public to create awareness on its use and resources directed towards its use.

Influence on the economy

Global economy: Energy is at the core of global economic development as it is indispensable in relation to the various contributors of economic growth. The price of conventional sources of energy such as crude oil determines the global economic situation especially the cost of living, food and transport.

Renewable energy, if available, would have caused a significant economic over-haul for the better, but since this dream is still far-fetched, reliable and efficient non-renewable energy source is the only substitute. With an ever growing population, the fossil resources are decreasing at an alarming rate.

Economic development is faces the task of not only alleviating human misery but also creating conditions necessary to match the growing population. (Guyer, 1998) Nuclear energy emerges as the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ as it compensates for the deficits in using the conventional energy sources.

The International Energy Agency and the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) conclude: “our world cannot meet its expanding energy need cleanly- without a sharp expansion of nuclear energy”.

However, a nuclear disaster has adverse economic effects of global magnitude as is evidenced by the recent Fukushima nuclear disaster. Important determinants such as health risks involved and nuclear explosions can cause significant damage derailing the economy of a country.

Associated risks/opportunities

Scenario: Assume an insurance company is under pressure from its industrial customers using nuclear energy to include a policy covering nuclear accidents. The company is very skeptical about the venture as they cannot quantify the economic effect that a nuclear disaster would cause.

This makes them lose current and potential clients to the companies that are willing to take up the challenge. It becomes evident that the company’s hesitance was due to the misconception that is available concerning nuclear power, and hence they could not formulate adequate premiums to cover the policy.

Risks Likelihood Impact Level of Risk Opportunities Likelihood Impact Level of Risk
1.Company incurring significant financial loss.
2.Loss of business.
3

2

5

5

15

10

1.Expanded client base.

2.Increased returns on investment.

4

3

4

5

16

15

Likelihood: 1- unlikely; 5- Most likely Impact: 1- Negligible; 5- dramatic

Nuclear power and medical research

Medical research: Chronic medical conditions such as cancer have over the years troubled researchers for the quest for a permanent cure. Nuclear energy has come across as a new approach in medical research with radiation being used to treat disease and provide information on the functionality of an individual’s organs. (Nuclear Energy Agency 2008).

Currently, most of the diagnostic techniques use radioisotopes to facilitate imaging of various physiological processes. Conventional diagnostic techniques like x-ray are not as effective as nuclear energy in the concurrent imaging of bones and tissues. (Foreman, 1970).

Radionuclide therapy is one of the techniques that has been applied in cancer treatment and thus aiding medical research achieve significant development. Nuclear energy has transformed medical research as it has improved the characterization, visualization and quantification of cellular and sub cellular levels of biological processes. (Nigel, 1984)

Associated scenario and risks/opportunities

Scenario: A cancer patient has exhausted all her options in treatment of her disease. A medical research firm has come up with a new diagnostic and therapeutic approach for the cancer using nuclear energy. The research firm is in search for volunteers to assist them conduct feasibility as to the success rate of the new therapy.

The cancer patient is considering enrolling as a volunteer but has reservations about what the new therapy will predispose her to. The probability of her getting better hangs on the line due to ignorance, and thus a likely treatment option will not be given the opportunity to be put to use.

Risks Likelihood Impact Level of Risk Opportunities Likelihood Impact Level of Risk
1.Significant exposure to radioactive rays causing health problems.
2.Worsening of the medical condition.
2

1

4

4

8

4

1.Discovery of a new form of treatment.
2.Improvement of quality of health care.
3.Improved life expectancy.
4

3

3

5

5

4

20

15

12

Likelihood: 1- unlikely; 5- Most likely Impact: 1- Negligible; 5- dramatic

Effect on military defense

Military defense: A country’s rating as a force to reckon with is determined by its military strength. It is what defines a country as a superpower and hence the levels of authority. Many countries have directed tremendous amounts of resources towards improving their military might. The use of nuclear power in military defense has been a source of conflict for several years as it is an avenue for disaster.

This is based on events in history such as the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings that ended the 2nd world war with significant effects on humanity. (Morris, 2007) The mandate to use nuclear power for military defense is under a few ‘entrusted’ states which form the superpower states. As much as the above sentiments are true, nuclear power can be used in a positive way by the military. It can be used to:

  • Provide a permanent and clean source of energy especially in times of natural disasters and terrorist attacks which require military effort.
  • Propel various transport modes like ships and submarines. (Openshaw, 1986).
  • Improve the cost effectiveness of the military
  • Reduce the dependence on fuel resources and thus reduce environmental release of green-house gases.

Therefore, instead of focusing on the negative attributes of nuclear use by the military such as war heads and war equipment to gain political control, we should focus on improving the military using nuclear energy to better their output.

Associated scenario and risks

Scenario: Assume a country is facing a potential natural disaster like earthquakes or floods and its resources cannot match the expected damage. The military’s capacity to salvage the situation is not extensive, and the most viable option is to use nuclear power.

They are, however, incapable of doing so without consent from the countries overseeing the same. Their fate is thus at the mercy of another state. This would not be the case if they took proper measures to monitor the use of nuclear power without posing restrictions.

Risks Likelihood Impact Level of Risk
1.Nuclear disaster
2.Environmental release of harmful radiation.
3.Misuse of nuclear energy for political gain.
3
24
5
54
15
1016

Likelihood: 1- unlikely; 5- Most likely Impact: 1- Negligible; 5- dramatic

Response strategies

Response Plan for high-priority risks/opportunities associated with key areas mentioned above:

  1. New job opportunities: In line with my profession as a power engineer, nuclear energy would provide new job opportunities for those specialized in the field. However, it would also lead to the loss of employment for those operators of the traditional sources of energy.
  2. Leakage of radioactive emissions: One of the greatest challenges facing the general acceptance of nuclear energy is leakage of radioactive material to the environment. The fear is that it would cause profound health risks. As a power engineer, my main concern will be to institute stringent regulations governing the handling of waste from nuclear power plants.
  3. Nuclear accidents: This is a justified concern as there is an inherent risk of explosions as a result of failure to contain the energy from nuclear power. As an engineer, I would carry out a probability assessment as to the likely causes of a disaster happening. I would also work with nuclear plant owners to institute protective measures against a nuclear disaster.
  4. Misuse for political gain: It is important that the use of nuclear power remains limited to civil and economic gain. To do this, I would ensure that, as an engineer, the output from nuclear plants in the country is directed towards positive output and not personal gain.
  5. Financial impact: The use of nuclear energy would have significant financial implication depending on how it is put to use. As a professional, I would see to it that they carry adequate public education on the positive effects of nuclear energy such as reduced production costs and the environmental impact. This would ensure that it is used for economic gain.
  6. Health risk: Since it is possible for new nuclear dependent therapies to cause harm I would ensure they take the proper regulatory precautions before the therapies are put to use.
  7. Discovery of new forms of treatment: There is a high probability that the advances in medical research will have to incorporate nuclear research in developing new forms of treatment. To ensure that these new research methods would not cause further harm to humanity, I would incorporate oversight measures to regulate these research methods.
  8. Loss of business: To shield the likely users of nuclear energy the likely losses they would encounter if they ventured into it, I would carry out a widespread forum for creating public awareness about the positives and negatives of nuclear energy.

Summary report

Nuclear energy has emerged as a new, efficient, reliable and clean substitute source of energy from the traditional fossil fuels. It has thus attained the title of being a mega-trend. However, there seems to be a lot of misconception on its effects and side-effects. The effects it has on several human aspects such as environmental issues, global economy, medical research and military defense are wide and varied.

Major risks associated include nuclear accidents, environmental effect of radioactive emissions, misuse for political gain, financial implication and health risks. Priorities for action to counter the following include the creation of awareness as to its benefits and effects, instituting protective measures to counter these risks and stringent policies to govern its use.

The next five years will definitely see a shift in the use of traditional forms of energy into the use of nuclear energy due to the growing awareness of its benefits and the mounting pressure to reduce effects of global warming. A good example is the U.S. army which has incorporated its use in its future plans and other countries are gradually taking this new trend up.

The importance of nuclear energy could not be clearer than James Lovelock’s, World leader in the popularization of environmental issues, statement that “There is no more sensible alternative than Nuclear Energy if we really want to sustain our civilization”. (Foreman, 1970).

List of References

Foreman, H 1970, Nuclear power and the public, University of Minnesota Press, Minnesota.

Guyer, H 1998, Industrial processes and waste stream management, John Wiley and Sons, New York.

Morris, N 2007, Nuclear Power, Black Rabbit Books, California.

Nigel, E & Hope, C 1984, Nuclear power: futures, costs and benefits, CUP Archive, California.

OECD Nuclear Energy Agency 2008, Nuclear Energy Outlook , OECD Publishing, New York.

Openshaw, S 1986, Nuclear power: siting and safety, Taylor & Francis, Canada. Page of

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