Wednesday 9 May 2012

Persuasive Essay on Nuclear Power

I know nuclear power is much in the news right now because of the recent accident in Japan, so many teachers are assigning persuasive essays on the topic of nuclear power. I've had two inquiries recently through my form for asking questions about essays. Here are some ideas for other persuasive essay topics. One student, in Illinois, asked "im writing a paper on why nuclear power plants are bad but im having trouble stating my points can you help me."

 I'd have to start by teaching him/her to write "I'm" instead of "im." Next, use a question mark.

So I decided to write a little sample persuasive essay. I thought this might be useful for those who are looking to find out how to structure a persuasive essay. The structure is pretty basic. You put in some of the arguments for your thesis; you put in some of the arguments against your thesis; and then you explain why the for arguments are better than the against arguments. Read through the sample persuasive essay to see how I do this.

First this sample persuasive essay needs an introduction. Visit my Five Great Ways to Write an Introduction page for some ideas on how to begin this essay. What follows is the body of this sample persuasive essay. By "sample" I mean: Don't copy this and hand it in as your work. These are some ideas for you to research and document. I could be full of s**t when it comes to reasoning about nuclear power. Get some quotes from experts to back up these statements.

But seriously, I can give many reasons to be opposed to nuclear power. But in a persuasive essay, you have to consider both sides. So let's look at the reasons why some people believe nuclear power is a good solution to the growing need for energy.

Reasons for nuclear power

Nuclear power creates no greenhouse gasses. The amount of CO2 has almost doubled in the atmosphere since the beginning of the industrial revolution. Most scientists today believe that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is trapping heat and slowly causing the average global temperature to rise. Since heat is really a form of energy, the increased energy in the atmosphere is experienced by us not only in the form of higher temperatures, but also as more severe storms and extreme weather events. These are generally bad things. Burning coal and oil adds to greenhouse gasses. Nuclear power is a means of using the energy of radioactive decay, and thus does not burn coal or oil.

The sources of oil that we are using today are often either in difficult to reach places, such as undersea, or in the high Arctic. The oil extracted from these places is expensive. Oil from the middle east, or other places around the world may be a source of money for governments that are anti-democratic or corrupt. Oil from Canada's tar sands may have other environmental costs. Increasing the development of nuclear power may reduce the use of oil from all these sources. Unlike oil, uranium can be sourced in North America, bypassing the possibility of sending money to potentially unfriendly or unpleasant governments.

Reasons against nuclear power

Now that's about all the good stuff I can think of for nuclear power. In my opinion, there are many more reasons to be against nuclear power than to be for it. Before I specifically look at why I don't think the two arguments supporting nuclear power are valid, I will look at other arguments against nuclear power.

Nuclear power is not safe. In just over 30 years three major accidents have caught the world's attention. The most recent, Japan's Fukushima's reactor, is still ongoing. We do not yet know how many have or will die as a result of this disaster. But at Chernobyl, in 1986, hundreds died, and thousands were affected by radiation. The thing about radiation is that there is no safe level.

That doesn't mean we can be absolutely safe. We are exposed to radiation every day. Every place on the planet has natural background radiation. Radioactivity produces energy waves not unlike light waves from the sun. However, some forms of energy waves produced by radioactivity can pass through our bodies. Most of the time, this is harmless, but occasionally, an energy wave passing through a body can hit a strand of DNA, damaging the DNA. In some cases, this can cause the cell to become cancerous. Even sunlight can do this.

But obviously, the more someone is exposed to radiation, the more likely they are to suffer some bad consequences, like cancer. Therefore increasing the radioactivity in the air or water as a result of even tiny leaks from a nuclear power plant will increase the risk of people getting cancer. Often we can't even identify which people were harmed by a radioactive leak; all we can say is that statistically, the cancer rates went up.

Nuclear power is not economical either. Since the costs of a nuclear accident could be so high, insurance companies will not insure a nuclear power plant. Therefore the only organization that can insure a nuclear power plant is the government -- us. We are the insurers of all the nuclear power plants in our country. (Doesn't matter which country you live in.) The government of Japan will have to pay for all the cleanup and damages from the Fukushima accident. They are already raising taxes. The nuclear power industry is already subsidized; government grants, loan guarantees, and other incentives make nuclear power cheaper than it would be if the real costs were calculated. The costs of storing or disposing of wastes are not calculated either. Nuclear waste can be toxic for up to 240,000 years. It must be kept from leaking into the environment for that long. This is an unimaginable time scale from a human perspective.

Greenhouse gasses

Now, let's look at the greenhouse gas issue. Yes, it is true that nuclear plants do not use fossil fuels to generate electricity, as do coal plants, natural gas plants, or oil burning plants. But why not measure the CO2 produced during the many years it takes to build a nuclear power plant? Why not calculate the greenhouse gasses produced by mining, refining, and transporting uranium? These are substantial, as well.

A final thing that should be pointed out when writing about nuclear energy is about who is promoting it. Nuclear power is promoted by very big corporations. It is a very centralized form of energy production. Alternative energy sources are naturally more widely distributed. No one alternative source can answer all of the energy needs the way that oil or nuclear have tried to. Whether you are talking about solar power, wind power, geothermal power, tide power, or small hydroelectric projects, decentralized energy systems are more democratic because they don't require such vast concentrations of capital to come into play. It should be clear that if democracy is really our highest value (and aren't we constantly asking our young people to give up their lives to defend it?) then democracy in energy production should be our model.

What does this need to be a proper essay? For one, it needs some original research. Don't quote me, I'm just a grumpy old anti-nuclear activist. Get some solid statistics from actual organizations that have done research on nuclear power. A persuasive essay must be ... well, persuasive. And it needs an introduction and a conclusion. Here are some suggestions on ways to write a conclusion.

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