Debate on Nuclear Energy

26 November 2020

This past Tuesday, November 24th, Students of KU Leuven (Campus Brussels) held a debate on the controversial topic of nuclear energy. Should Belgium continue to use nuclear reactors? Is it safe? Is it better for the environment? Here, we highlight the main arguments presented during the debate:

Arguments for Nuclear Energy:

Nuclear energy is a clean alternative to fossil fuels, with small environmental impact and almost no CO2-equivalent emissions. Energy generation is also more reliable than other renewable energy alternatives because it is not dependent on weather conditions, for example, sunshine or wind. 

Nuclear power plants require less land than solar or wind farms, and generate higher wattage per square meter than any other renewable energy. This efficiency and reliability makes it an attractive choice for a small country like Belgium.

Current standards in Belgium for nuclear power plants are extremely strict and nuclear waste can be managed properly, avoiding any risk of leakage. The mechanisms and design are very different from those of Chernobyl or Fukushima, and it is unlikely that any disaster of that sort will be possible.

Arguments against Nuclear Energy:

As witnessed in Chernobyl and Fukushima, accidents can be disastrous and long-lasting. People do not want to live near nuclear plants for health concerns. 

Nuclear energy requires constant mining activities because uranium needs to be mined to power the plant. Nuclear waste sites must continue to be maintained long after the plant has done its job. As more waste accumulates, the risks of leakage increases further. 

The financial costs of nuclear energy are also high and would take a very long time to pay off. In terms of land usage, an alternative like solar power does not necessarily require more land than nuclear power because solar panels can be installed on the roofs of houses and buildings.

Final Thoughts:

Electricity supply in Belgium remains a challenge with no ideal solution yet. In the long run, nuclear power is not the only answer. Solar, wind, and hydropower are certainly options. Coal and fossil fuels should be phased out (ideally). But when continuing with the nuclear exit, how should Belgium meet its energy demands and what is the right mix? Issues like how realistic the risk of a nuclear disaster really is, its environmental feasibility, or its economic advantages will continue to remain central in the discussion of nuclear power. It is still not easy to find reliable resources about this technical issue and a lot of the available information may be cluttered or difficult to comprehend.

This debate was co-organized by Green Office Campus Brussels and Debate Club Campus Brussels as one of several activities by KU Leuven students to raise awareness on sustainability in Belgium.

Thanks to our debaters! – Helena Baeyens, Yen Han Lee, Bianca Melodia, Maria Orudzhova, Joshua Hopkins, Zain Ullah, and Alhamd Sheikh

Thanks to our judges, chairs and host! – Veerle de Ridder, Angelina Kuneva, Monica Heng, Jari Vermeulen, Michal Smilauer and Pascale Maas