Debate concerning the use of nuclear power has divided many scientists, leaders, and countries ever since the establishment of the world’s first nuclear power plant, the Obninsk Nuclear Power Plant in the Soviet Union. The destruction and havoc wreaked by a failed nuclear power plant has been well documented with the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant disaster in 1986, and the more recent Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in 2011. Highly publicized disasters such as these have bred many skeptics and have even resulted in many countries, such as Germany and France, moving away from nuclear power. The anti-nuclear movement has even gained traction in Mongolia, with several demonstrations following the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. Is nuclear power as dangerous as it is perceived to be? Or are we losing out on the many benefits that it can bring by focusing on the opinions of outliers?
While negative perceptions of nuclear power tend to be overblown, there are many legitimate concerns that are valid. In contrast to other sources of energy, such as coal, nuclear power has a very small margin of error. Very careful and coordinated management of a plant is required. Small, seemingly innocuous errors can have massive consequences for both the population and the surrounding environment. This is evidenced most clearly by the Chernobyl disaster, which resulted in the surrounding area becoming uninhabitable. Even barring disaster, nuclear power plants produce nuclear waste which needs to be safely stored, and as of right now, there is no guaranteed way of securely storing nuclear waste. There is also the matter of cost; nuclear power plants cost billions of dollars to build and maintain. There is an argument to be made that, as of right now, Mongolia is not ready to build and safely maintain a nuclear power station.
As mentioned, the risks of nuclear power plants tend to be overblown and exaggerated. The fact of the matter is, nuclear power is relatively safe. According to the World Nuclear Association (WNA), “The nuclear industry has an excellent safety record, with some 14,800 reactors with years of operation spanning five decades.” According to authoritative United Nations figures, the Chernobyl death toll is currently 56 (31 workers at the time, more since the accident, and nine deaths from thyroid cancer). There were no deaths or cases of serious radiation poisoning resulting from the Fukushima accident. Currently, as reported by the WNA, there are over 440 commercial nuclear power reactors operable in 31 countries, with a total capacity of over 390,000 MWe. About 60 more reactors are under construction. They provide over 11 percent of the world’s electricity as continuous, reliable base-load power without carbon dioxide emissions. The key point to note here is “without carbon dioxide emissions”. This is especially important in Mongolia, where air pollution levels have reached toxic levels. While going nuclear will not immediately fix the pollution problem, it will help to lower the cost of electricity in the long run and will create a long-term, sustainable source of power.
Looking at the feasibility of a nuclear power plant in Mongolia, if managed properly, nuclear power could be a very reliable and safe source of energy. Delving deeper into the world’s two major nuclear disasters, the Chernobyl disaster can be mainly attributed to poor management, and the Fukushima disaster was caused by the tsunami that struck Japan in 2011. Mongolia is relatively free of the risk of any major natural disasters, and it is likely, that in the event of a nuclear power plant being built, the government would be accountable for its management. If the government reaches a decision to go nuclear, there is no doubt that huge amounts of research will go into a plant before it is built. A feasibility study would be conducted, which would determine the best location for the plant. The location would most likely be outside of UB and would not fall on any fault lines or vulnerable areas.
Mongolia already has massive reserves of uranium. Geological studies cited in the Red Book suggest that Mongolia’s uranium resources could be 1.39 million tU. This means that uranium would not need to be imported and could potentially be enriched domestically. Russia has already expressed their support for a nuclear power station being built in the country, and the Nuclear Energy Agency has tentative plans for developing nuclear power by 2021, using either Korean reactors or Toshiba 4S types. Three sites being considered are UB, Western Mongolia, and Dornod Province. In mid-July 2009, after consultation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, Parliament passed a Nuclear Energy Law to regulate the exploration, development, and mining of uranium, and to give the state a greater degree of ownership and control of uranium resources.
Going nuclear, while also simultaneously pursuing renewable energy such as solar and wind, is the most beneficial route in terms of energy. With our current technology, renewable sources of power do not produce enough energy and are not sufficiently reliable. Statistics show that nuclear energy is not nearly as dangerous as perceived, and looks to be the future of energy. As the world works to move away from coal and strives to decrease carbon emissions, Mongolia needs to be on the right side of history and get a head start.