Wednesday, September 7, 2016

LD Sep/Oct 2016 - Prohibition of Nuclear Power - Background

Resolved: Countries ought to prohibit the production of nuclear power.


Before discussing Aff and Neg positions I feel it is necessary to provide a background information about nuclear power. As I said in the introduction and definition of resolutions terms, nuclear power is an alternative means of producing electricity other than the consumption of coal, oil or gas. Nuclear power is produced when the enormous heat released during nuclear fission, is used to generate steam or boiling water which then turns turbine-powered generators. It is the generators which ultimately produce the electricity. In conventional power plants, the burning of coal, oil or gas heats the water which spins the turbines. 

WNA (2016):
Nuclear technology uses the energy released by splitting the atoms of certain elements. It was first developed in the 1940s, and during the Second World War to 1945 research initially focussed on producing bombs which released great energy by splitting the atoms of particular isotopes of either uranium or plutonium.In the 1950s attention turned to the peaceful purposes of nuclear fission, notably for power generation. Today, the world produces as much electricity from nuclear energy as it did from all sources combined in the early years of nuclear power.

Despite the fact, nuclear fission was originally exploited for the production of powerful weapons of mass-destruction, that particular use has been limited to a small number of countries. However, the use of nuclear power plants for power production has spread to virtual every corner of the world.

WNA (2016):
Today, only eight countries are known to have a nuclear weapons capability. By contrast, 55 countries operate about 245 civil research reactors, over one-third of these in developing countries. Now 31 countries host some 447 commercial nuclear power reactors with a total installed capacity of over 390,000 MWe (see linked table for up to date figures). This is more than three times the total generating capacity of France or Germany from all sources. About 60 further nuclear power reactors are under construction, equivalent to 16% of existing capacity, while over 160 are firmly planned, equivalent to nearly half of present capacity.

For many countries, nuclear power is viewed as a viable, alternative source of electrical power which meets requirements for an inexpensive, clean and reliable source of power. It is inexpensive because the cost of fissionable material is not cost prohibitive for consumers, but more importantly, the cost is relatively stable and doesn't fluctate broadly due to market forces. It is clean because it does not produce large amount of greenhouse gases which harm the environment, and it is reliable because the plants are designed in such a way that power output can be easily increased or decreased to match the community demands for electrical energy. And, as WNA advocates, there is "clear need for new generating capacity around the world, both to replace old units which contribute a lot of CO2 emissions, and to meet increased expectations for electricity in many countries" (WNA 2016).

Nevertheless, despite the obvious advantages, nuclear power generation does have some serious downsides which has forced many countries to reconsider the utility of the form of power generation.

EIA (2015):
The main environmental concern related to nuclear power is the creation of radioactive wastes such as uranium mill tailings, spent (used) reactor fuel, and other radioactive wastes. These materials can remain radioactive and dangerous to human health for thousands of years.

Because these waste products are so dangerous, for such a long period of time, special regulations, precautions, and efforts are required to handle, transport and dispose of these items.

EIA (2015):
By volume, most of the waste related to the nuclear power industry has a relatively low-level of radioactivity. Uranium mill tailings contain the radioactive element radium, which decays to produce radon, a radioactive gas. Most uranium mill tailings are placed near the processing facility or mill where they come from. Uranium mill tailings are covered with a barrier of material such as clay to prevent radon from escaping into the atmosphere, and they are then covered by a layer of soil, rocks, or other materials to prevent erosion of the sealing barrier. The other types of low-level radioactive waste are the tools, protective clothing, wiping cloths, and other disposable items that get contaminated with small amounts of radioactive dust or particles at nuclear fuel processing facilities and nuclear power plants. These materials are subject to special regulations that govern their handling, storage, and disposal so they will not come in contact with the outside environment. High-level radioactive waste consists of irradiated or spent nuclear reactor fuel (i.e., fuel that is no longer useful for producing electricity). The spent reactor fuel is in a solid form consisting of small fuel pellets in long metal tubes called rods.

Because, the nuclear components of nuclear power plants are so inherently dangerous, the design and construction of nuclear plants are complex and costly with multiple, safety systems and strict operating procedures in order to reduce the risk of harmful materials leaking into the environment. The same kinds of costs and precautions are applied in the handling, transport and storage of nuclear waste materials. For this reason, generally speaking, nuclear plants have low, negative impacts on the environment. They are especially attractive in that they produce very, very low-levels of the so-called greenhouse gas emissions responsible for global warming.

On the other hand, no man-made system is perfect and no matter how well things are designed or built, systems still fail either through human error, natural forces or sabotage. These events can result in very destructive and damaging contamination of the environment, loss of life, and long-lasting harms.  In addition, the long-term need to dispose of nuclear waste in a secure, fail-safe way for thousands of years is a major concern which adds to the cost and viability of nuclear power as an energy source.

For access to the Pro and Con position (coming soon) and other information about Lincoln Douglas debate, click the Lincoln Douglas tab at the top of this page.


EIA (2015), Nuclear Explained: Nuclear Power and the Environment, U.S. Energy Information Administration, reviewed Nov. 12, 2015. Accessed 9/5/2016 at:

WNA, (2016), Nuclear Power in the World Today, World Nuclear Association, updated 2016. Accessed 9/5/2016 at:

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for this! It really helped me get a better idea on this topic. Keep up the good work!


Feel free to leave comments relevant to the topics and activity of competitive high school debate. However, this is not a sounding board for your personal ideologies, abusive or racist commentary or excessive inappropriate language. Everyday Debate blog reserves the right to delete any comments it deems inappropriate.