Germany deactivated its final three nuclear power facilities last week, becoming the country nuclear-free for the first time in 62 years. While such decisions are rightfully the responsibility of the German government and electorate, it appears to be a hasty decision in the face of a changing climate caused by humanity’s insatiable consumption of carbon-based fossil fuels.
And Germany is not alone in this. Following the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011, numerous countries began to phase out nuclear power reactors, citing nuclear safety concerns and long-term nuclear waste storage. While these are genuine issues, let’s take a high-level look at energy and nuclear power generation’s potential role.
We must admit a few things in any discussion about power. The first is that our technological society requires power to thrive, and this demand is continually increasing. A second point is that power created by the combustion of fossil fuels permanently harms our ecosystem. Carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels are warming the earth, with serious environmental and geopolitical repercussions. Taken together, these two realities indicate that civilization requires rising sources of energy that generate the least amount of carbon.
Annual global energy production was approximately 88,000 terawatt-hours (TWh) in 1980 and is expected to increase to 176,000 TWh in 2021, more than doubling in four decades. Energy sources have altered only slightly during the last 40 years. In 1980, fossil fuels provided 80% of the world’s energy. It was 77% in 2021. Nuclear energy increased from 2% to 4%. The remainder was produced utilizing traditional biomass as well as renewable energy sources such as sun, wind, geothermal, and hydropower.
The story is not the same everywhere. In Germany, for example, a big investment in renewables is yielding significant returns. When yearly German power generation in 1990 is compared to 2022, there is a slight rise in energy consumption: 550 TWh (1990) vs. 570 TWh (2022). However, energy sources have shifted considerably. When the percentages from 1990 to 2022 are compared, fossil (64% vs. 46%), nuclear (29% vs. 6%), and renewables (6% vs. 44%) are found. The remainder comes from various sources.
As a result, we can see that Germany is making great progress toward a greener future. The government should be commended for taking the threat of climate change seriously.
Even a proactive country like Germany, however, still obtains over half of its energy from fossil fuels, with nearly half of that carbon-based energy coming from burning lignite, a particularly inefficient source of fuel. While all fossil fuels emit carbon dioxide when burned, lignite emits more carbon dioxide to produce the same amount of energy as other fossil fuels. Even if they achieve their target of generating 80% of their energy from renewable sources by 2030, that still leaves 20% for fossil fuels. Wouldn’t it be preferable to generate power from carbon-free nuclear power plants?
Nuclear energy opponents raise safety and cost concerns. Nuclear power is more expensive than other sources in various ways. Cost comparisons, on the other hand, can be difficult. Costs encompass more than just the fuel and personnel required to generate electricity. It covers the expenses of constructing power facilities and, in the case of carbon-based fuels, the hidden cost of damage from increasingly destructive storms induced by a warming globe.
The regulatory process for constructing a nuclear power facility in the United States is lengthy and cumbersome. A plant in the United States can take a decade or more to develop, whereas a similar plant in Japan can take five years from start to finish. The disparity is primarily due to the substantially longer regulatory review in the United States. This is exacerbated by the fact that American plants are frequently distinct from one another. Construction expenses can be reduced by streamlining the process and using a common reactor design. Of course, nuclear power facilities create no carbon dioxide, and even the carbon emissions required to harvest the fuel are minimal.
Solar and wind power are excellent prospects, and we should pursue them aggressively. The sun, however, does not always shine, and the wind does not constantly blow. These green technologies necessitate energy storage – literally. Nuclear power facilities may operate at any time of day or night, on windy or calm days.
Nuclear power generation is not a silver bullet. It is not without risk. We must address the issue of nuclear waste storage. The Yucca Mountain repository in Nevada was a viable alternative, but public uproar forced its cancellation. Experts agree that the best option for storing nuclear waste is an underground facility that is “geologically stable,” meaning it is not prone to earthquakes or other types of disturbance. The majority of radioactive waste degrades quickly, however, others degrade more slowly. In 100 years, the hazard is significantly decreased, and even more so in 1,000 years. The Yucca Mountain repository was meant to be significantly more durable.
America requires such a facility, and the government and nuclear industry should begin their quest for an appropriate location to store the indisputably hazardous waste generated by nuclear power generating. Furthermore, modern nuclear power plant designs produce less waste than previous designs, and additional advancements should be pursued.
One thing we do know about mankind is that it will continue to expand, resulting in increased energy demand. Nuclear energy should be a significant part of humanity’s energy destiny.
Nuclear power is often considered a vital part of the fight against climate change. This is because it is a low-carbon energy source that does not produce carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases during operation. Nuclear power plants do not emit air pollutants such as particulate matter and sulfur dioxide, which can have detrimental health effects.
In addition to its low carbon footprint, nuclear power is a reliable and predictable source of electricity. Unlike wind and solar power, which are subject to weather conditions and can be intermittent, nuclear power plants can provide a steady supply of electricity regardless of weather conditions.
Many countries have included nuclear power in their strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change. For example, France generates more than 70% of its electricity from nuclear power, which has helped the country to reduce its carbon footprint significantly.
However, nuclear power also poses risks and challenges, such as the potential for accidents, the safe storage of radioactive waste, and the high cost of building and operating nuclear power plants. As such, its role in the fight against climate change is a topic of ongoing debate and discussion.