LD Sep/Oct ’16 – Nuclear power prohibition

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

Civilization is energy.

Whichever side of the resolution you’re on, this is the starting point for analyzing the topic. In (far) earlier times, what passed for civilization was run on energy in the form of calories – no towns or cities without a way of both centralizing people and getting them the energy/calories they needed to live and function there. In the last century, electricity has become critical to maintaining our current form of civilization.

The sides of the issue are pretty straightforward. On the Aff, there are two major risks from nuclear power. First is nuclear power plant contamination, be it accidental or intentional. Accidents can happen – there is always the danger of a nuclear facility being compromised. Chernobyl and Three Mile Island show both the major and minor ways in which that can occur; have the years since then shown us to be talented enough to avoid such a scenario again, or are we just lucky? Fukushima in Japan gave us another possible scenario – not so much a human failing as a natural disaster triggering circumstances beyond our human capabilities to handle. Regardless of the reason for the disaster, reading up on responses to Chernobyl and Fukushima should show similarities in how we handle the dangers of contamination.

With nuclear plants comes the risk of intentional contamination – nuclear terrorism. Most nuclear weapons nowadays are fusion-type hydrogen bombs (to use the old terminology); only a small percent are uranium-based fission bombs. Nuclear power plant fuel isn’t enriched nearly enough to work in a proper nuclear bomb, but power plants do present the opportunity for terrorists to get nuclear materials that wouldn’t trigger a fission reaction, but that would work fine as a contaminant in a ‘dirty bomb’ scenario (spreading nuclear material/contamination over an area, making it uninhabitable either in absolute terms or without a huge cleanup and decontamination effort (see: Fukushima).

The second major risk is waste disposal. With half-life figures for some nuclear materials measuring in the thousands of years, just how long can we keep nuclear waste safe? A half-life of 10,000 years would be the equivalent of humans keeping something safe from 8,000 BCE to the present. Realistic or not? As a species, we have a history of just dumping something wherever we can, and letting the people who follow after us deal with it. And, as with the first major risk, the issue is contamination – possibly leaving geographic regions in a condition where they could not be safely inhabited, or of nuclear waste being used intentionally in a dirty bomb. (It’s not just nuclear plants that would need to be securely guarded.)

The Neg side also has two major considerations. The most obvious is global warming – if we need energy to run our civilization, and carbon-based fuels aren’t a good idea because of the consequences of global warming, then all non-carbon energy sources must be considered. Even given the potential of wind and solar power, it is likely that, given the immediacy of the global warming problem, nuclear energy/power will need to be in the mix. If civilization is energy, and non-nuclear non-carbon sources can’t fulfill the current demand, would a reduction in energy result in a reduction of civilization?

The second major consideration has more to do with the responsibilities of countries/governments to their citizens. How many countries in the world are energy-independent (no need to import energy)? For those countries, nuclear power has long represented a means to guarantee a level of energy production to their residents without looking elsewhere, and without subjecting the country to the full implications of fluctuating energy markets. (See: France and Japan in particular. China is moving towards nuclear over coal to some extent – and Germany is reducing their nuclear power production.)

Sources for both sides: Hit the Extemp Files and Extemp Backfiles. The folders to look for are Global Warming, Energy Independence, and Nukes. (There is a Terrorism folder, but it has little to do with nuclear threats – with one major exception: Nuclear Nightmares, from 2002.) There will be information about Chernobyl in the Ukraine folder, from one of the anniversaries of the accident. Check the Japan folder for both anniversary articles and ones from when Fukushima’s meltdown occurred (backfiles).

 

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