If you don’t watch Simpson’s reruns or live near a nuclear power plant, it’s possible that you don’t give nuclear energy much thought at all. Solar panels and wind turbines, which are currently popular, have cast a shadow over our old friend the nuclear power plant, which has been around for nearly seven decades.
Perhaps nuclear energy carries a negative connotation that is difficult to overcome. Many people are familiar with the disasters at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, and the recent Fukushima disaster may have reignited fears of a major nuclear fallout in the region.
Nuclear energy is not going away, despite the fact that people aren’t talking about it as much as they should. China, for example, has recently completed the construction of 30 new reactors, with another 20 reactors currently under construction.
Nuclear energy has always offered significant advantages, and as technology advances, the technology becomes even safer. Many aspects of nuclear energy, including fuel sourcing and improved safety, have seen significant progress in recent years thanks to the efforts of organizations around the world.
This article will provide you with five advantages of nuclear energy that simply cannot be ignored, whether you’re learning about it for the first time or revisiting the subject.
Advantages of Nuclear Energy
Switching from Fossil Fuels to Nuclear Power can Slow Global Warming
According to James Hansen of Columbia University, the nuclear reactors currently in operation in the United States have prevented the emission of 64 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas pollution. Because nuclear reactors currently provide 20 percent of the electricity generated in the United States, increasing the use of nuclear energy could result in a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
Yes, nuclear power contributes to the emission of greenhouse gases. When uranium is enriched for use in nuclear power reactor fuel, some additional greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere.
The development of nuclear power plants necessitates the use of fossil fuels. The production of steel and cement has an impact on the environment’s carbon footprint.
Despite this, nuclear power continues to rank on par with other environmentally friendly energy resources. In comparison to wind turbines and photovoltaic cells, nuclear power plants emit about 12 grams of CO2-equivalent per kilowatt-hour of electricity produced, which is comparable to wind turbines but less than photovoltaic cells, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory of the United States Department of Energy.
Nuclear Power is much better for Air Quality than Fossil Fuel Sources
Burning coal is one of the worst things we can do for our air quality, second only to resuming the practice of burning wood on a continuous basis. In addition to sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, mercury, particulate matter, and other pollutants, coal-fired power plants emit a wide range of other harmful chemicals into the atmosphere, including nitrogen oxides.
More nuclear energy would mean that electric cars would be powered by a more environmentally friendly source of energy. When you plug in your electric vehicle to the grid, you are only utilizing a fraction of the electricity generated by renewable energy sources at the very best. The remaining electricity is generated by coal, which has air quality impacts that are comparable to those of gasoline in the grand scheme of things.
The construction of nuclear power plants, the production of nuclear fuel, and the transportation of nuclear waste all contribute to the release of air pollutants. The generation of electricity from nuclear energy has no negative impact on air quality, and nuclear energy is a much cleaner source of energy than fossil fuels in general.
Part of the Community
Nuclear power plants necessitate the construction of water reservoirs, which can also serve as public recreation areas for the general public. Reservoirs frequently provide opportunities for boating and fishing, and many communities have built parks along the shores of these bodies of water to accommodate these activities.
It may be possible to alleviate public concerns about safety by providing recreational opportunities near power plants. In order to have faith in technology, it is sometimes necessary to have an up close and personal experience.
At first glance, cooling towers rising above the canopy of trees in a park may appear ominous. In time, they may become a point of pride for the community, a source of wonder at the wonders of modern technology, or something in between these two extremes.
Technology continues to improve safety and decrease risk of accidents
Nuclear power plant safety standards and technology are continually improving, lowering the risk of an accident occurring.
The International Atomic Energy Agency developed a scale to assess the severity of nuclear accidents. The scale is as follows:
The International Nuclear Event Scale (INES) measures the number of nuclear events that have occurred around the world (INES).
The most severe accident that has ever occurred on the INES is a level 7, and there has only ever been one of these. That was the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster in Ukraine in 1986, as you might have guessed.
The most severe accident in the United States occurred in 1979 at Three Mile Island, which was classified as a Level 5. The most recent global accident occurred in Fukushima, which was also classified as a Level 5.
According to a 2011 report by The Guardian, a total of 6 accidents have occurred in the United States (all minor and unrated except for Three Mile Island). Japan has experienced five accidents, while the United Kingdom and Russia have each experienced three.
To cut a long story short, many people were concerned that the frequency and severity of nuclear accidents would continue or even worsen in the wake of Chernobyl. That has not been the case, and let’s be honest: nuclear power plants are definitely near the bottom of any list of “major global hazards” when it comes to a major global threat.
We won’t run out of nuclear fuel any time soon.
The availability of nuclear fuel is an ever-changing target. According to the Nuclear Energy Agency, current consumption rates would allow the readily available fuel to last approximately 230 years at current rates of consumption (NEA).
By no means, however, is this the end of the story. Multiple technologies, according to a 2009 article in Scientific American, could come together in the future and provide enough fuel to last tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of years.
What’s the Catch?
Considering this, why doesn’t every community have access to a nuclear power plant? Nuclear power plants, on the other hand, come with a hefty price tag.
They also necessitate a lengthy permitting process in countries where regulations are stringent. Of course, this is all part of the expanded safety net.
It is important to consider public perceptions, and there has been a lack of confidence in the technology as a result of the numerous accidents that have occurred in the last 30 years. Better technology and continuous improvement are helping to improve safety while also reducing fear and anxiety.
However, the industry has grown to the point where it now supports 440 nuclear reactors around the world. These reactors are located in 31 countries and have a total potential energy production capacity of 390,000 megawatts (MW).
Because of these advantages, nuclear energy production will continue to grow and will provide a low-carbon, low-emission alternative to fossil fuels in the future.
Featured Image Credit: Rodrigo Gómez Sanz @ Flickr