Fukushima highlights risks of nuclear energy

By Diana Fung, German Swiss International School

Nuke power not long-term solution to global warming

By Diana Fung, German Swiss International School |

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A worker in Fukushima.
Photo: EPA

The radiation leak at the Fukushima nuclear power plant has displaced tens of thousands of Japanese people. The nuclear accident has spread fear across Asia, where people are worried about food contamination. Is nuclear power worth all this trouble?

Nuclear power provides about 6 per cent of the world's energy. It is often seen as a greener, cheaper alternative to fossil fuels, helping to combat global warming because of low carbon emissions.

As much as the nuclear industry would like us to believe it, nuclear power is not that green.

Taking into account the carbon emissions associated with uranium mining, transport, plant construction and waste storage, the industry emits much more carbon dioxide than it would like to admit.

In addition, countries have yet to find a solution for radioactive waste.

The claim that nuclear power is inexpensive is a myth: although the plants are cheap to operate, their construction costs are high. Despite government support for nuclear energy in the United States, no new reactors have been built in the country in the past 15 years. Proposed projects had been quietly scrapped as cost estimates tripled to US$10 billion per reactor.

Another reason why I oppose nuclear power is the risk of a disaster. There have been 33 serious nuclear accidents since 1952, with Chernobyl in the Ukraine considered the most devastating.

The Chernobyl disaster in 1986 haunted Europe for many years with radioactive contamination. Thousands of people have suffered from cancer directly linked to the radiation.

Although Hong Kong is far from the "danger zone", it has also been affected by the fallout. The government has banned the import of dairy products, meat and vegetables from Japan. Although governments say their nuclear reactors are safe, Fukushima shows accidents can happen.

So why do national leaders still support nuclear energy? It may be that nuclear energy offers an easier, more immediate solution to the rising energy needs than renewable resources.

Any investment in the nuclear sector is investment taken away from renewable energy, the real zero-emission solution to climate change in the long run.

Perhaps the benefits of nuclear energy are overrated. The costs are just too great.

We should shift our focus to improving energy efficiency and developing renewable energy resources.