World leaders struck a deal in the Paris Agreement 2015 to limit the global warming to 1.5°C from the pre-industrial temperature. As per a UN Emission Gap Report, to achieve this goal, the carbon emissions must reduce at least by 7.6 per cent each year starting from 2020 to 2030. Our energy needs have been increasing exponentially with burgeoning human population, rapid urbanisation and economic development. To mitigate the emissions — which are majorly a result of burning fossil fuels for power and energy — it has become imperative for us to explore and embrace renewable sources of energy, which are more environmentally friendly, safe and economically sustainable. Over the years, we have been observing a growing acceptance of solar and wind energy, however, we remain sceptical when it comes to including nuclear energy under our climate change mitigation plans owing to its public safety concerns.
Our current energy demands have hit an all-time high. With hydrocarbons resources getting exhausted day by day and climate change rearing its ugly head, experts suggest that relying on nuclear energy could be a great weapon against carbon emission and reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. However, the horrific nuclear accidents in the past have shaken the faith of the general public and government authorities of many nations in nuclear energy. In a recent survey done in the US, 49 per cent of the general public supported the inclusion of nuclear energy while other 49 per cent rejected the idea. In 2010, around 62 per cent of Americans were in favour of it. In the last forty years, the world has suffered three major nuclear accidents. Three Mile Island in 1979, Chernobyl in 1986 and the latest one was in 2011 at Fukushima, Japan. The Chernobyl incident claimed the lives of two workers on-site by the explosion and exposed thousands to radiation. A World Health Organisation review estimated some 4000 to 9000 deaths due to the radiation and associated diseases. In 2011, an earthquake which was followed by a tsunami hit Fukushima, Japan, triggered a series of reactor meltdowns which leaked radioactive materials in the land and sea. 1600 people died when 110,000 people were being evacuated.
From the mining of Uranium to the process of enrichment, to water bodies getting contaminated by radioactive waste — the entire nuclear energy production involves great hazards. People in the vicinity of the mining area have been affected by increased cases of diabetes and lungs cancer. There have been reported instances where people had been drinking water polluted by the water seeping out of the mines. It’s worth mentioning here that nuclear waste can remain radioactive over 10,000 years. Further, nuclear experts warn that the possibility of terrorist attacks on the nuclear reactors would wreak havoc and cause mass destruction.
Many countries have been abandoning plans to establish new nuclear plants and for the existing reactors, the phasing out has been in progress. This has been leading to more reliance on fossil fuels, which do not have such terrifying risks as that of a nuclear disaster. Scientists, however, opine that fossil fuels have even more sinister but quieter effects over us. One thing is clear, the acceptance of nuclear energy as a part of our climate action plan have made the people divisive. The resistance from environmental groups and dangers which can’t be dismissed, have halted the proliferation of nuclear energy. Unless the community feels safe and be ensured of a risk-free nuclear plant, the near future of nuclear energy seems questionable.