If you have not caught the recent news, the UK government has given the go ahead for Hinkley Point C, the first nuclear power station to be built since 1995. Considering the plethora of stations built in the 70s and 80s, why did a power source with such massive potential get dropped like a poisoned apple.
When it was first discussed as a power source, nuclear power seemed like every superpower’s dream. It had the potential to produce unbelievable amounts of energy and if handled correctly, was very safe. It also had the pleasant side effect of minimising the amount of plutonium and uranium being weaponised in the wake of the cold war, and removed the military monopoly on nuclear research.
The first working nuclear reactor emerged in 1951 in Arco, Idaho and produced 100 KW of power – not a huge amount but it was early days. By 1954 the first power plant was opened in the USSR, followed by the first commercial reactor in 1956 in England, which produced 50 MW initially and 200 MW at full capacity. By 1973 Nuclear power produced 250-300 gigawatts of electricity worldwide, a phenomenal amount of power. So what caused the slowdown in building these power stations?
For a start, there were severe safety concerns. The destruction of Hiroshima and Nagaski was testament to the awesome power of a nuclear explosion, and understandably many members of the public did not approve of having that much potential destruction nearby. There were also concerns among the scientific community about what to do with the nuclear waste that was an inevitable by-product of the process. On top of this, there were concerns of potential nuclear terrorism and accidents in the process. These fears were realised in 1979 with the Three Mile Island accident. Thankfully there were no injuries, but already demonstrations occurred all over the world. Then Chernobyl happened.
The Chernobyl disaster is still causing havoc today with thousands of children being born with radiation poisoning, and it is feared that the Fukushima disaster in 2011 will have similar long term effects. So why is it coming back? Dangerous though it is, Nuclear power does not emit greenhouse gases and makes for a decent temporary solution to the issue of providing electricity. Now the focus is more on developing fusion power stations, which has a much greater power output and is much safer than the old style fission reactions used in Nuclear power stations currently.