What are the disadvantages of nuclear power

Nuclear power plant

The first nuclear power plant was commissioned in 1954 in Oblinsk, Russia, with an output of 5 MW. Today, according to the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency), 437 nuclear power plant units are in operation and another 55 are under construction. Since the 1990s, the growth in the number of nuclear power plants has slowed significantly worldwide. In 2008 - for the first time since the 1960s - not a single new nuclear power plant was put into operation.

The public's skepticism towards nuclear power is based on its ultimately incalculable risks. Even before the devastating worst-case scenario, there is damage to people and nature. For example, the Sellafield reprocessing plant in England legally discharges thousands of tons of radioactively contaminated water into the Irish Sea every year. Measurements in the immediate vicinity compare the contamination with that of the Chernobyl restricted zone.

Another main reason for the worldwide skepticism about nuclear power, which is particularly developed in Germany, is the unresolved question of the final storage of nuclear waste. The fuel uranium235 lasts for about three years in typical power plants. The oldest third of the fuel elements is replaced every year. Spent fuel rods are still radioactive and have extremely long decay times - tens of thousands of years. So they cannot simply be disposed of, but must be stored under the highest safety regulations. In Germany there are currently only interim storage facilities, but no final storage facility for nuclear waste.

In Germany, phasing out nuclear power has been called for and discussed since the 1980s. In 2000, the red-green federal government, together with the major energy suppliers, decided to phase out Germany by around 2021 (regulation not based on time, but based on the amount of residual electricity, i.e. the amount of nuclear power that German nuclear power plants are still allowed to deliver). The running times of the German nuclear power plants are currently the subject of political debate again.

The discussion about phasing out nuclear power led to the formation of the civil society anti-nuclear power movement and contributed significantly to the founding of today's Bundestag party Bündnis 90 / Die Grünen. The demand for an exit received particular vehemence due to the serious accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 1986, one of the greatest environmental catastrophes in human history, with hundreds of deaths and a high number of serious health problems. Large parts of Europe were affected by radioactive radiation at the time, and large areas of Ukraine are still radioactively contaminated today. Proponents of nuclear power point out that the reactor type used in Chernobyl differs greatly from the reactor types used in Germany and is much more unsafe.

In addition to existing nuclear power plants, the German protest scene is primarily directed against the transport of nuclear waste. The Gorleben salt dome serves as an interim storage facility and should be tested for its suitability as a repository until these tests were stopped in 2000. In Germany, Gorleben is also synonymous with the vehement protests of the anti-nuclear movement.

Networked nuclear power plants

Uranium is a hundred times more abundant on earth than silver or gold. However, only the uranium isotope 235 comes into question for nuclear fission. It occurs only in very low concentrations in natural uranium (0.72%) and has to be enriched for energy production. One gram of fissioned uranium 235 releases an energy equivalent to the calorific value of 2.6 tons of hard coal. A maximum of 22.5 million kilowatt hours of electricity could be generated from one kilogram of uranium 235. Currently available nuclear fuel reserves could only last around 60 years, whereas global resources could last for centuries, albeit at higher raw material prices.