Most of us have heard of nuclear energy, but how much do you know about this form of electricity? When you’re presented with the words “nuclear energy”, some of the first images that may pop in your head might be of a nuclear bomb or of an energy crisis such as Fukushima or Chernobyl. If these are your impressions of nuclear energy, then you’ll be surprised to learn that, when it comes to carbon dioxide emissions and other air pollutants, nuclear energy is nearly equal to other renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar.
When it comes to nuclear energy, there are many advantages and disadvantages to consider. To help you better understand this energy source, this post will focus on the pros and cons of nuclear energy. But before we dive into these pros and cons, let’s first discuss what nuclear energy is.
What exactly is nuclear energy?
In simple terms, it is leveraging nuclear reactors that release their own energy in order to generate heat, which is then used in steam turbines to create electricity in power plants. This type of energy is used worldwide, and in fact, the United States is the greatest producer of nuclear energy, although due to its large size, only 19% of its electricity comes from this source.
There are many pros and cons of nuclear energy, both of which are important to understand in order for you to be able to establish whether you feel that this energy source could be beneficial for the future of our planet.
Pros of Nuclear Energy
1. Produces Low Pollution
- In comparison to coal, gas, and other electric-gerating plants, nuclear offers the lowest by far in greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), nuclear produces more clean-air energy than any energy source altogether and is responsible for producing 62% of all emission-free electricity in the United States
2. Low Cost
- Once they are up and running, electricity generated by nuclear plant reactors is far less expensive than coal, gas, or any other fossil fuel plant for that matter. Additionally, most nuclear power plants have an average life cycle of 40-60 years, which, when combined with the low operating costs, far outweigh the high upfront costs to build
- Unlike other renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar for example, which are dependent on weather conditions, nuclear energy has no such constraints and is unaffected external climatic factors. A nuclear power plant is able to therefore create a steady and predictable energy output
4. High Energy Density
- The amount of fuel required in a nuclear power plant is much smaller compared to those of other types of power plants. This is because the amount of energy released in a nuclear fission reaction is ten million times greater than the amount released in burning a fossil fuel atom (such as oil and gas)
5. Sufficient Fuel Availability
- Such as are fossil fuels, the uranium used to supply nuclear power plants is in limited supply. However, fossil fuels have a more limited lifespan than our uranium reserves, which are estimated to last an additional 80 years.
Cons of Nuclear Energy
1. Expensive Initial Cost to Build
- Construction of a new nuclear plant can take anywhere from 5-10 years to build, costing billions of dollars. As discussed in the pros of nuclear energy section above, nuclear plants are cheap and efficient for generating electricity while operating, so much of the initial upfront cost to build (and more) is recouped throughout the lifetime of the plant, but it’s understandable that some nations might be reluctant to pursue. Although the pros usually outweigh the cons, the cost can be a major deterrent for countries looking to build new plants
2. Risk of Accident
- Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and Fukushima Daiichi are disasters that nobody wants to experience ever again under any circumstances. However, accidents do happen. In all of these major nuclear incidents, it was human error or a natural disaster that led to the downfall of the power plants. To err is human, after all, and currently, there is no way to control or prevent natural disasters. Since nuclear energy is operated by humans, it’s unrealistic to expect that the possibility of an accident does not exist
3. Radioactive Waste
- Even though nuclear energy production doesn’t emit any emissions, it does produce radioactive waste that must be securely stored so it doesn’t pollute the environment. Although in small quantities, radiation isn’t harmful, the radioactive waste from nuclear energy production is quite dangerous.
4. Limited Fuel Supply
- Nuclear energy is not a renewable energy source. Uranium is in limited (although as aforementioned, currently abundant) supply. Even though it’s not a fossil fuel, the risk that uranium will eventually run out still exists. Whereas renewable energy sources such as solar and wind are in infinite supply, uranium has to be mined, synthesized, then activated to produce energy. This is a relatively expensive process
5. Impact on the Environment
- In addition to the waste that they produce, nuclear power plants create other impacts to the environment. For example, the mining and enrichment of uranium are not environmentally friendly processes. Although open-pit mining for uranium is safe for miners, the process leaves behind radioactive particles, which can cause erosion, and even pollute nearby sources of water
Now that you know a little bit more about nuclear energy and have familiarized yourself with some of the pros and cons of this energy source, we hope that you are able to responsibly make your own decision about whether you think it’s a viable choice for our future energy needs or not. If you’re interested in helping work towards a more sustainable future for our planet, be sure to learn more about Kiwi Energy and our eco-conscious energy and natural gas products today.