Nuclear Energy


Fears of climate change-induced catastrophe have caused many to consider nuclear energy as a viable alternative to fossil fuels. There are increasing calls for U.S. nuclear energy policy to promote a major expansion of nuclear-generated electricity in the United States and abroad. Charles D. Ferguson argues that such thinking neglects the risks and costs of massive nuclear expansion.

Ferguson examines the potential contributions of expanded nuclear energy use. He balances these ...

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Fears of climate change-induced catastrophe have caused many to consider nuclear energy as a viable alternative to fossil fuels. There are increasing calls for U.S. nuclear energy policy to promote a major expansion of nuclear-generated electricity in the United States and abroad. Charles D. Ferguson argues that such thinking neglects the risks and costs of massive nuclear expansion.

Ferguson examines the potential contributions of expanded nuclear energy use. He balances these benefits against the risks of nuclear weapons proliferation, nuclear power plant safety and security, and disposal of radioactive waste. Ferguson recommends creating a level playing field for nuclear energy and other no- and low-greenhouse gas emission energy sources by factoring environmental, safety, and security costs into the price for each energy source. He also proposes a path for creating a less discriminatory nuclear nonproliferation system.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780876094006
  • Publisher: Council on Foreign Relations
  • Publication date: 4/1/2007
  • Series: Council Special Report
  • Pages: 52
  • Product dimensions: 11.00 (w) x 8.25 (h) x 0.11 (d)

Meet the Author

Charles D. Ferguson is a fellow for science and technology at the Council on Foreign Relations. He is also an adjunct professor in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and an adjunct lecturer at the Johns Hopkins University.

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Table of Contents


Preface Acknowledgements

1. Fundamentals What is energy, and what is power?
Is most energy that people use derived from nuclear energy?
What is the origin of nuclear energy?
What is radioactivity?
Why is ionizing radiation a health concern?
What is radioactive half-life, and how can knowing it help increase countries' security?
How much more energetic is nuclear energy compared to chemical energy?
Why has it been so difficult to commercialize nuclear fusion?
How was nuclear fission discovered?
What role, if any, did Albert Einstein play in the discovery of nuclear energy?
What is a fission chain reaction?
What is uranium, where did it come from, and how was it discovered?
What is plutonium, how was it discovered, and how hazardous is it?
Why can't nuclear reactors explode like a nuclear bomb?
What is the nuclear fuel cycle?
Why are certain activities in the nuclear fuel cycle called "dual-use"?
What are the various uranium enrichment methods?
What are the nuclear proliferation concerns of uranium enrichment?
What is the thorium fuel cycle?
How does a nuclear reactor generate electricity?
How many people's electricity demands could be supported with one large nuclear reactor?
What are the different types of nuclear reactors used for electricity generation?
Why were only a few types of reactor designs chosen for the present fleet of reactors?
What are the Generation IV reactors, and why are they considered potentially revolutionary?

What can nuclear reactors do besides generate electricity?

2. Energy Security and Costs of Building Power Plants What is energy security?
Is energy independence feasible?
Have countries ever been shut out of the nuclear fuel market?
Are many European countries too dependent on Russian energy supplies?
What role has nuclear energy played in reducing certain countries dependence on fossil fuels?

How could nuclear energy further reduce dependence on fossil fuels?
What countries use commercial nuclear power, and how much electricity do they obtain from it?
How many more countries may acquire commercial nuclear power plants?
How do the costs of nuclear plants compare to other types of power plants?
How can nuclear power plants be made more cost competitive?
Why is it difficult for the supply chain to keep up with the various forecasts of demand for new nuclear plants?
How many skilled people are required to build and operate nuclear plants?
Can nuclear power plant construction keep pace with the increasing demands for electricity?
Will the world run out of uranium and if so, when?
Why have some countries pursued reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel for commercial purposes?
Why did the United States decide to not pursue reprocessing, and will it revive this practice?

3. Climate Change What is the greenhouse effect?
What is the difference between global warming and climate change?
What are the observed and forecasted effects of climate change?
What can people do to reverse excess global warming?
Why don't nuclear plants emit greenhouse gases?
Why does the nuclear fuel cycle emit some greenhouse gases?
How much greenhouse gases have nuclear power plants prevented being emitted that would otherwise have been emitted from coal or natural gas plants? How many additional nuclear plants would be needed to make a further major reduction in greenhouse gas emissions?
Have nuclear power plants ever been built as fast as would be needed to make another major reduction in greenhouse gas emissions?
Will global warming actually reduce the ability to use nuclear power plants to their full capacity?
Should nuclear power be considered a "clean" energy source for climate change agreements among nations?
What are the differing views among environmentalists on nuclear power?

4. Proliferation What is nuclear proliferation?
Which countries have developed nuclear weapons, and how did they do it?
How many nuclear weapons do the nuclear-armed countries have?
How much weapons-usable fissile material is available worldwide and where is it located?
Has a country ever completely dismantled or given up its nuclear arsenal?
What is the nonproliferation regime?
What is the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)?
What is the International Atomic Energy Agency, and what role does it play in preventing proliferation?
What are nuclear safeguards, and how have they evolved?
Are nuclear safeguards effective?
What is the Nuclear Suppliers Group?
Has commercial nuclear power ever been used to make nuclear weapons?
What can be done to prevent proliferation?
Can the nuclear fuel cycle be made more proliferation-resistant?
Can terrorists make nuclear weapons?
What can be done to prevent nuclear terrorism?

5. Safety What is nuclear safety?
How safe is safe enough, and what is safety culture?
What is the defense-in-depth safety concept?
What are the major types of nuclear accidents?
How is nuclear safety measured?
How safe are today's nuclear power plants?
Should a country choose one or at most a few plant designs instead of multiple plant designs, and what are the implications of such a choice?
What is the China syndrome?
How did the Three Mile Island accident happen and what were the consequences?
How did the Chernobyl accident happen and what were the consequences?
What happened to Soviet-designed reactors after the Chernobyl accident?
How did the nuclear industry form self-policing organizations?
Can the nuclear industry survive if another major accident occurs?
How long can nuclear power plants operate?
How can future nuclear power plants be made safer?
Can nuclear power expand too fast to keep plants safe?

6. Physical Security What is nuclear security?
What is a design basis threat assessment?
How are safety and security different?
Why would someone or some group attack a nuclear power plant or related nuclear facilities such as spent fuel pools?
Who would attack nuclear facilities?
What are the potential modes of attack or sabotage, and what has been done to protect against them?
What more can be done to strengthen security of existing and future facilities?
What military attacks have there been on nuclear reactors?
What can countries do to protect their nuclear facilities from military attacks?

7. Radioactive Waste Management What are the types of radioactive waste, and how are they generated?
What is the typical composition of spent nuclear fuel?
How long does the radioactivity in spent fuel last?
How hazardous is radioactive waste?
How much spent nuclear fuel has been produced?
What are the storage options for dealing with radioactive waste?
What is the volume of radioactive waste, how does this compare to other industrial toxic waste?
How vulnerable are spent fuel pools?
Does reprocessing reduce the amount of nuclear waste?
How do nuclear plants and coal plants compare in terms of radioactivity emitted?
How hazardous is the transportation of radioactive waste?
Why was Yucca Mountain chosen as the permanent repository in the United States, and what will be its fate?
Will delays in opening up permanent repositories for radioactive waste derail continued or expanded use of nuclear power?

8. Sustainable Energy Why is meant by a sustainable energy system?
What is a renewable energy source?
Is nuclear energy a renewable energy source?
Can nuclear energy contribute to developing sustainable energy systems?
Can renewable energies compete with nuclear and other base-load electrical power sources?

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