The questions surrounding nuclear power have existed since it was first proposed as a viable energy source in the 1950s. Questions regarding safety and long-term stability have plagued the industry from the beginning. The facts were further addressed after a number of Russian nuclear submarines suffered disasters while at sea. When the Three Mile Island power plant suffered a partial core meltdown in 1979, just 12 days after the release of an anti-nuclear power film The China Syndrome, many Americans pressured government and industry to stop producing power plants in the United States.
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Nuclear power plants generate very little carbon dioxide, one of the chief components in greenhouse gases. According to a report published in June 1999 by the U.S. Department of Energy, the organisation concluded that nuclear power is the single most effective emission control strategy. The production of power using nuclear reaction would offset 700 million metric tons of carbon dioxide presently being created per year.
Nuclear power is fully capable of being installed at any time. The technology to construct nuclear power plants exists and is presently being utilised by a number of countries, most notably France, to produce high levels of electricity. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that 1 ton of uranium produces more energy that several million tons of coal or barrels of oil. This technology can be implemented over the course of a few years of construction time.
The number one problem regarding nuclear technology is the waste materials that are generated. This includes spent uranium rods as well as suits and tools that are irradiated during day-to-day use. These materials must be housed in safe complexes away from human reach or possible environmental impact. The EPA estimates that these materials must remain stored for at least 10,000 years. The long-term fact of this storage is thus far inconceivable by civilisation's standards. No one has attempted to keep objects safe for so long.
Although high security measures are in place to protect nuclear facilities, the expansion of the present infrastructure will pose a new threat to the safety of Americans. Nuclear facilities are a known terrorist target, along with nuclear storage facilities. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security states that a nuclear energy plant could not withstand an attack similar to the World Trade Centers on September 11, 2001. This would mean that radioactive elements, merely radiated gas at a minimum, would be released into the surrounding community.
Uranium is a rare element. This makes nuclear technology, in its present form, a non-renewable resource. While the amount of energy produced is high, French nuclear power officials estimate that there is only enough uranium on earth for the next 30 to 60 years at present consumption levels. This means that if the U.S. were to start building power plants, they would only be economical to run for a few decades at most.