Is a nuclear-free world even possible?

Written by Ho Yung Cher

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Japan’s recent nuclear crisis has shattered confidence in nuclear energy all around the world. The sheer scale of the disaster has generated massive repercussions that saw governments such as Germany and Switzerland abandon nuclear energy, and people marching the streets of Australia, Japan and even India. However, proponents of nuclear energy argue that shutting down nuclear reactors will be damaging to the economy, and even increase carbon emissions. While their objections are understandable, I believe that doing away with nuclear energy will present a greater benefit to the environment.

Nuclear energy has always presented itself as an attractive and efficient power source for developing countries keen on reducing their carbon footprints. Developing countries such as Indonesia, Chile and Kazakhstan have plans to build nuclear reactors to fuel their proliferating energy consumption. With nuclear energy, they are able to reduce carbon emissions without compromising on economic growth, as it is only way in which such large amounts of energy can be generated cleanly. Thus, it would be difficult to replace nuclear energy with another equally efficient method of energy production.

Despite the many benefits presented by nuclear energy, critics are still wary of the potential hazards and other environmental problems posed. The recent Fukushima disaster is a materialisation of such fears. As a result, the Japanese government has decided to shut down all nuclear reactors, with Germany and Switzerland expected to follow suit. Although nuclear programmes pose a minimal hazard to the environment if run effectively, the truth is that most programmes are lax in their management, leading to a slew of radiation leaks in recent years. Nuclear energy is a double-edged sword. With high energy production and minimal carbon emissions, come tonnes of harmful radioactive nuclear waste, which will stay radioactive for millions of years.

Some say, decommissioning nuclear reactors are a step backward in reducing carbon emissions, but I personally feel that doing so will take countries further in their commitment to the environment. The switch to fossil fuels in lieu of nuclear energy to meet energy demands would inadvertently lead to increased carbon emissions, something that Japan has been working assiduously to avoid. Japan pledged to reduce carbon emissions by 25% before 2020, in accordance to the Kyoto Protocol. This would undoubtedly pressurise it to reduce its emissions, which can lead to the allocation of more funds for investments in renewable energy, a sector in desperate need of expansion in Japan. Furthermore, decommissioning nuclear reactors would also eradicate future recurrences of nuclear accidents and the generation of toxic nuclear waste, consequently propelling Japan towards a sustainable and greener future.

While developed countries previously built nuclear reactors as a show of technological prowess, many are beginning to contend with the problem of ageing plants built during the Cold War era. Since then, the political focus has shifted greatly from that of competitiveness to sustainability. As such, developed nations with the capability to invest more in renewable energy should seriously reconsider phasing out nuclear power, and diversify their energy sources.

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