Can Nuclear Energy Stop Climate Change?

Climate change has become a significant threat to the civilization on the planet. Global warming is a result of an increase in the consumption of fossil fuels for energy production. Recently, scientists and environmental activists have been advocating for utilizing renewable energy sources instead of traditional ones. The news comes as a shock to those actively fighting against nuclear power and the problems that come with it. We can slow down climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, such as methane, carbon dioxide, and nitrous oxide. 

In 2018, approximately 75% of total emissions took place through energy production by using fossil power. This energy is used for transportation, making things in industries, and household purposes. Currently, 84% of the world's primary energy comes from it. The remaining 16% of energy comes from energy sources such as solar, hydroelectric, wind, and nuclear power in combination. In other words, we rely heavily on fossil fuels to make everything together.

It takes considerable effort to make the transition from a conventional source. One of the methods to switch from it is to electrify various sectors.

Electricity is like magic. When something gets inserted into the socket, it starts functioning. From a heater to a car, everything can run on it. We can produce electric power using devices like solar panels, windmills, or even nuclear energy.

Most countries of the globe use fossils to generate electricity. In the past 20 years, global electricity usage increased by 73 %. Solar panels and wind turbines are becoming more popular, but the consumption of conventional sources keeps rising every year. Renewables are not able to catch up with the demand for new electricity. Hence the emissions are uncontrollable. The other alternative to fossil fuel is nuclear. It is non-renewable. But its greenhouse emission is tiny compared to burning stuff.

Youtube: Kurzgesagt

Production of nuclear energy has slowed down in the past couple of decades. Asian countries like China, India, and South Korea built new reactors. China leads with the production of 349 Twh of nuclear energy. On the other side, countries like Germany, Japan, and Britain have stopped producing it. In contrast, France produces 67 % of electricity from nuclear energy. Sweden uses 30% nuclear and 45% hydro to produce electric power. That means this source of energy can work at a massive scale.   

Because of the lack of investment and innovation in the last few decades, most of the world's nuclear reactors have pretty old technology and are very costly to replace. Nuclear reactors are expensive to build in Western countries because of the technical know-how involved. It takes a decade to construct it by the following government policies and increased regulatory constraints.

Russia, India, China, and South Korea have developed new reactors rapidly and cost-effectively. In western countries, the current generation from nuclear power plants is more expensive to build and maintain. There are also concerns about nuclear waste and fear of accidents.

We have designs of small reactors that take less time and money to start. There is the next-generation technology that can turn nuclear radioactive waste into new fuel. Such new ideas are constantly coming up, but they haven't yet taken off on a large scale. Some will argue that nuclear is dangerous and focus on renewables.


Challenges of using Renewables

The main issue that renewables causes are consistency and reliability. It is not always windy, and the sun does not always shine. Sun is not fully bright especially in the morning and the evening when human needs electricity the most. Variation between seasons makes it difficult to use. To make renewables reliable and overcome blackouts, we need massive storage capacities to store energy when the sun or wind is at its peak. This stored energy can be released when we need it. It requires lots of batteries or storage units. Currently, we don't have the technology to make the transition faster.


Nuclear energy is clean and non-polluting

In comparison to fossil fuels, nuclear is considered a clean energy source. It has zero emission. Power comes from fission. It is a process where the Uranium atom splits to produce energy. The heat produced will generate steam to run the turbine that will result in electricity.

ADS (Accelerator-Driven System) combines cutting-edge technologies developed at CERN: an accelerated proton beam focuses on a metal target, typically lead, in a process called spallation. The process releases neutrons that convert thorium into fission. Uranium233 nuclei can decay into other smaller nuclei, such as zirconium or xenon. Minimal radioactive waste is created. In a nuclear reactor, a tonne of thorium could produce a similar amount of power as 3 million tonnes of coal.

ADS for clean electricity at CERN


The land footprint of nuclear energy is negligible

This form of energy produces carbon-free power on less land as compared to any other source. It takes 1 square mile of land to produce 1kW of energy in the USA. According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, wind farms require 360 times more land than nuclear power plants to generate the same amount of energy. Also, solar plants acquire 75 times more space.

It takes 3 million solar panels or more than 430 wind turbines to produce the same quantity of power.


Minimum wastage

The power produced by nuclear energy is 1 million times greater than traditional sources. It is a clean fuel that creates very little waste than you might think. It is possible to recycle this waste. Also, some advanced reactors can work on used fuel. 


My Opinion

Any technology that can assist in rapid climate change can persuade. It is a very effective risk management strategy. We should see nuclear and renewables as partners, not as opponents. It is necessary to invest in both of them. We are uncertain that which will grow faster and solve our problems. Although it is expensive to use nuclear energy in the west, it will become affordable in the future. It will help in eliminating the use of fossil fuels.

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