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Why is nuclear power so controversial?



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Photo: Rosel Eckstein /

Although nuclear power has a number of advantages, it also presents some very serious threats. The way that a society assesses the opportunities and risks depends on its priorities. When disaster struck the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan in spring 2011, the world was reminded of just how dangerous this type of power can be. Even though Japan is a highly advanced country, the plant operator was unable to get the situation under control quickly enough. But the risks associated with nuclear power are not just limited to human error, terrorist attacks and natural disasters. The uranium used to fuel the plants is becoming increasingly scarce, and mining it is extremely detrimental to the environment. Then there is the matter of storing the waste, one of the most serious problems with getting our energy this way. To date, only a few countries that use nuclear power have succeeded in finding repositories for their nuclear waste. All the rest still just have their waste in interim storage. In June 2011, concerns about nuclear safety led to a decision by the German government to prohibit building of any new nuclear power plants and to shut down all existing plants by 2022.

This question was answered by Dr Antonia Rötger, science writer in the communication department of the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin für Materialien und Energie.