Nuclear Power: renewable energy source of the future or recipe for catastrophe?
Updated: Feb 28
Nuclear power has been in debate since the first self-sustaining nuclear power plant went into effect in 1951. The debate has never been whether nuclear is an effective source of energy, it is if the drawbacks outweigh the benefits. Nuclear power can produce and deliver large-scale energy to huge populations sustainably and cost efficiently in the long run. However, negative stigma surrounding nuclear power is mainly centered around fear of catastrophic nuclear meltdowns. With more research and better design such dangers can be eliminated.
Let’s discuss the benefits of nuclear power. Firstly, nuclear power emits zero carbon waste, as we know is detrimental to climate change and global warming. Along with other zero emissions energy, nuclear is crucial in establishing an energy economy away from fossil fuels (objectively the worst in terms of carbon emissions) because solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, etc are not consistent enough to provide a sustainable energy source across countries. Compared to fossil fuel, nuclear power creates much more energy. 7 grams of uranium creates the amount of energy equivalent to 1780 pounds of coal or 3.5 barrels of crude oil. This makes nuclear power a highly efficient and sustainable energy source capable of powering cities when other renewables falter. While solar and wind excel at producing energy with minimal drawbacks, the energy is reliant on nature’s patterns in environmental change (their main drawback). Nuclear power can be sustained throughout those fluctuations, providing a safety net as a viable, renewable, zero emission energy source.
Secondly, nuclear power’s cost to build and sustain a plant is another considerable factor. While nuclear power plants are expensive to construct initially, they are self-sustaining and maintain use for 80 some years following its construction. The nuclear power industry also creates jobs, 500-800 per plant which supports communities financially. Opening up nuclear power plants through the country and even the world would support communities and the economy, something that will be needed as the shift away from fossil fuels removes jobs on that front. As a result of the high initial cost, poorer countries may be sidelined because they can’t afford to create a nuclear power plant. As a solution, nuclear energy can be stored and shipped to those countries like fossil fuels are. But richer countries investing in plants overseas is the best solution to make nuclear power accessible worldwide.
It’d be irresponsible to dismiss the risk that comes with nuclear power. Meltdowns contaminate the environment permanently, leading to deadly radiation poisoning, land damage, and expensive cleanups. Although, most meltdowns occurred in the 1950-80s when the technology was just developing and there wasn’t much research done on safety measures. Several more are because development of the plant was hasty with shortcuts and without enough time or money to ensure a safe nuclear plant. Today, we have better technology, and will implement regulations to make nuclear power plants safer to reduce the risk of a meltdown. Of course it is possible for accidents to happen regardless, but one outlying event does not come close to the environmental damage we will see if climate change continues. In fact, in Chernobyl, after the devastating meltdown of 1986, the natural environment is thriving. Scientists have documented a thriving ecosystem without humans and little evidence of radioactive effects on the wildlife. Some mutations are present, but nothing extremely detrimental, contrary to what was expected. The evidence does not explicitly prove radiation adversely affected the environment as hypothesized, so really, the effects on the environment aren’t as bad as stigmatized. In previous years, nuclear waste was buried or thrown in the ocean, two accident prone and dangerous locations. While these have caused radioactive leaks into their respective ecosystems, it is solely dependent on the careless disposal method. Now, keeping the fuel rods on site and away from the natural environment is an effective but fleeting solution. More resources should be focused on that because solutions will always be discovered in times of urgency. Better location planning and engineering can help contain potential radioactive fallout and reduce the risk to humans and their lifestyles.
Some argue the damages of nuclear meltdowns are simply not worth the risk, but what will our world look like in 20, 30 years if we don’t make the switch to renewable energy now? Fossil fuels will run out, global warming will be so extreme that communities across the world will be displaced and people will suffer. The only solution to preserving our future is to take action by targeting the most pressing problem—global warming and fossil fuel emissions. The longer we delay the implementation of nuclear power, the more we risk our future and being unable to curb our reliance on fossil fuels. Nuclear power is an amazing source of energy if used in tandem with other renewables, we as a society will never reach a 100% clean energy world/country without it.