Nuclear energy is considered clean energy. However, there is some debate on whether nuclear energy is actually renewable. In the United States, there are currently 98 operational nuclear power facilities. This accounts for around 20% of all power generated by the US. In this article, we’re going to go over the pro’s, con’s, and whether or not nuclear energy is actually renewable.
How Nuclear Power Plants Work
Nuclear energy is from a process called fission that involves the splitting of uranium atoms. When a uranium atom is split, it boils water. This releases steam which is then converted into electricity by a turbine generator. It’s a little bit more complicated but think of nuclear power plants like high-tech tea kettles.
Nuclear power plants do not release carbon. Out of all of the carbon-free electricity generated in the united states, nuclear power accounts for 56% of that. There is
Is Nuclear Energy Renewable?
I mentioned earlier that there is a debate on whether nuclear energy is renewable or not. Nuclear energy itself is a renewable energy source, but the specific uranium needed is not. Some states classify nuclear energy as renewable, but the reasoning is muddy.
Arizona for example, this state classifies nuclear energy to be a renewable resource. Arizona is home to the largest nuclear plant in the united states and exports tremendous amounts of electricity to California. So why is nuclear energy classified as renewable in Arizona? Profit.
States that make a lot of money from nuclear power plants tend to classify nuclear as renewable.
Nuclear Waste Dangers
Although nuclear energy is carbon-free, it’s not entirely clear. As nuclear power plants create electricity they also create nuclear waste. This radioactive waste is a danger to living organisms and the environment if not disposed of correctly.
These hazardous byproducts remain intensely radioactive for 10’s of thousands of years. This can pose a threat to future generations if not disposed of correctly. The issue of nuclear waste is a moral one. Some people argue that future generations will have the technology and the ability to dispose of the waste when they have to. On the other side of the argument, they’re saying that since our generation is the one reaping the rewards of this byproduct, we should be disposing of it in a manner that will last 20,000 years plus.
What is Nuclear Fusion?
Nuclear fusion is a process, where energy is produced by smashing together light atoms. This is the opposite reaction of fission, where heavy uranium atoms are split apart. Fusion is how the sun and all other starts create light, heat, and energy.
Humans are currently trying to replicate what the sun does here on earth. If we are able to figure out nuclear fusion, this would solve all the worlds power needs. Energy would be cheap, clean, and abundant.
Is Nuclear Energy Sustainable?
Nuclear energy is sustainable. If we just used existing uranium from mines, as well as burning existing spent fuel in fast reactors, this would provide enough uranium to power the world for thousands of years. It’s important to remember that sustainable and renewable don’t mean the same thing.
Pro’s of Nuclear Energy
- Carbon-free energy source
During the process of creating nuclear energy, there are zero carbon emissions.
Unlike solar & wind, nuclear energy can be consistently created.
We currently have enough uranium to power the world for thousands of years.
- Nuclear has the ability to meet the worlds energy needs
Nuclear energy has the capability of powering the entire world. Nuclear doesn’t depend on the sun, the ocean, or even wind. It’s consistent energy whenever we need it.
- Nuclear fusion technology could solve all the worlds energy problems
Although for now, nuclear fusion is science fiction, it’s not entirely outside the realm of possibilities. If we do find a way, this will provide cheap and clean power to everyone across the globe.
- Cheap kilowatt-hour
In 2011 nuclear power had the lowest electricity production cost at $2.10 per kilowatt-hour. Compare this to coal which had an average cost of $3.23 per kilowatt-hour and natural gas which had an average cost of $4.51 per kilowatt-hour. Nuclear power is a cheap reliable source of power.
Con’s of Nuclear Energy
- Transportation dangers
When nuclear waste is transported there are some risks involved. If a transport truck carrying nuclear waste were to get into a bad accident, we might have a serious radioactive problem on our hands.
- Nuclear waste dangers
Nuclear waste remains highly radioactive for hundreds of years. Most of this waste transmits radiation and high temperature. This means that it will consume any compartment that holds it. If nuclear waste were to leak into the ground it could cause some serious damage to the environment and all living organisms in the area.
- Nuclear accidents
Although nuclear accidents are rare, they do happen. Like we’ve seen in Chernobyl and Fukushima there is not very much room for error. If there is a nuclear accident the entire surrounding area basically becomes an uninhabitable dead-zone.
The uranium needed to produce nuclear power is a finite resource. We do have the ability to power the world for a long time, but it’s important to remember that the supply will run out one day.
- Expensive to build, and maintain.
Nuclear power plants produce an extremely low electricity production cost. They are very expensive to start up though. On top of that, since there is little room for error with nuclear power plants a lot of money must be dedicated to maintaining and making sure everything is done safe and correctly.
- Target for terrorism
Nuclear energy is extremely powerful. If this power falls into the wrong hands it could wipe out all life on this planet.
In Conclusion (opinion)
Nuclear energy is a great way to generate carbon-free sustainable power. However, we need to be taking every precautionary measure necessary to ensure the safety of ourselves and future generations. We have already seen what has happened when we go the “younger generations will figure it out” route. We are in the midst of a climate crisis because of not worrying about the future.