Although it has often received bad publicity, many people argue that nuclear power has a significant part to play in maintaining a balanced energy policy. It currently contributes to 29% of the UKs electricity generation and a great deal more in countries like France and Germany. Nuclear power generation does not contribute to air pollution and can therefore help to reduce acid rain and global warming.
Unfortunately, waste generated by the nuclear industry is radioactive and must therefore be disposed of with extreme care. The waste must be managed to present no hazard to humans or the environment. The radioactivity of waste however, will decay over time.
Radioactive waste resulting from practices involving radioactive substances is discharged into the environment from nuclear licensed sites and non-nuclear operators such as universities and hospitals. Discharges may be in the form of gases, mists and dusts or liquids.
All radioactive discharges in the UK are regulated under the Radioactive Substances Act 1993 to ensure that radioactivity discharged remains well within internationally agreed levels which are designed to protect both human health and the environment.
It is arguable whether nuclear power can form part of a sustainable energy policy. In many respects it is undeniably cleaner than fossil fuel generated power, and can be produced in significant quantities from a single location in comparison to renewable forms of electricity production. However, concerns about the radioactive by-products of nuclear power will always remain. Some environmental economists also believe that if the decommissioning costs of nuclear power stations were truly represented, the technology would simply be too uneconomic to run. At the very least, however, if it is to play a part in a future sustainable energy policy, priority should be given to the minimisation and proper disposal of radioactive waste.