The deep divide over nuclear power is nearly as old as its commercial use. The early dreams of its proponents have faded, whereas the high risks have remained, as well as the danger of misuse by military interests. Terrorism has introduced dramatic, concrete threat. Global warming and the finite nature of fossil fuels do not dispel the major safety issues associated with nuclear power. And the “accident-proof” reactor has remained an unfulfilled promise now for decades.
Artificial warming of earth’s atmosphere will surely pose one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century. But there are less hazardous ways to deal with this problem than by using nuclear power. Nuclear power isn’t sustainable, because its fissile fuel materials are as limited as fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas. Moreover, its radioactive by-products must be isolated from the biosphere for periods of time that defy human imagination.
Nuclear energy is not only a high-risk technology in terms of safety, but also with respect to financial investment. Without state subsidies, is does not stand a chance is a market economy. Yet companies will continue to profit from nuclear energy under special, state-controlled conditions. Expending the licenses of older reactors is an attractive option for operators – but disproportionally increases the risk of major accident. And there will always be regimes that view and promote civilian use of nuclear fission as a stepping stone to acquiring an atomic bomb. Moreover, as has been clear since 11 September 2001 at the latest, these vulnerable and very hazardous sites represent an additional target for unscrupulous and violent non-governmental forces. For this reason as well, nuclear power will continue to divide public opinion for as long as it remains in use.