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Nuclear Energy

Nuclear Energy

a nuclear power plant with a blue sky with white clouds.

Power Worth Investing In? 

By Matthew Peinado 

With the release of the 2022 International Panel on Climate Change report, the data is clear: the earth is rapidly warming due to human additions of greenhouse gasses into the ozone which will have disastrous effects on all living things. [1] With nearly 75% of greenhouse gas emissions coming from fossil fuel combustion, the need for a cleaner source of energy is dire. [2] 

Many have claimed that nuclear energy is an ideal replacement for fossil fuels. While fossil fuels like oil produce 970 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour of energy, nuclear energy only produces 12. [3] According to the United States Office of Nuclear Energy, “Nuclear energy is a zero-emission clean energy source.” [4] 

Additionally, nuclear power is very dense, both in terms of reactor size and the amount of uranium needed to power the reactor. A nuclear facility that is one square mile produces the same amount of energy as a 360 square mile wind farm. [5] As for uranium’s size, a one-inch pellet produces the same amount of energy as one ton of coal or 120 barrels of oil. [6] 

Today, nuclear energy accounts for nearly 19% of the United States’ total energy supply. [7] 

Kenden Staten, a sophomore nursing major, expressed his concerns about nuclear energy saying, “I like the idea that part of the energy is clean and it’s helpful that it can create so much energy, but the risks of a nuclear meltdown, the radioactive waste involved, and the amount of money it costs to effectively create energy doesn’t really outweigh the benefits in my opinion. I think there are much better options than nuclear energy production.” [8]  

Kenden’s concerns are all legitimate. According to Public Citizen, a nonprofit organization with the goal of fully educating consumers, there are serious problems with nuclear energy.  

Nuclear power has an “energy recovery time” of 10 to 18 years. The process of mining and refining uranium ore and building nuclear power plants requires burning lots of fossil fuels. It takes at least 10 years of the plant being active to offset the CO2 released during that process. In a world with a need for immediate emission relief, this is less than ideal. [9] 

Additionally, nuclear power plants create nuclear waste that scientists have yet to find a way to safely dispose of. Currently, the 20 to 30 tons of waste produced a year are held in temporary storage facilities. [10] Though experts have said an extremely deep pit could be used to safely dispose of waste, no such pits exist. [11] 

Nuclear power plants are also harmful to marine wildlife. According to an article from the Nuclear Information and Research Service, nuclear power plants take in and spit out one billion gallons of water from the ocean each day for cooling purposes. This water is released back into the ocean at temperatures around 25 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than the surrounding water, devastating the local ecosystem by killing microorganisms that make up the bottom of the food chain. [12] 

The system has a series of “prevention devices” to stop larger animals from getting sucked into the reactor. These animals are often trapped between the prevention device and the force of the rushing water, causing many animals to drown. Smaller animals that make it through the prevention devices are scalded by the heat of the water closest to the reactor and if they survive are thrown back out into the ocean with devastating burns. [13] 

One concern many have is that nuclear power plants are unsafe. Incidents like Chernobyl and Fukushima shocked the world and not only caused deaths but created areas that remain radioactive today. However, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute, “Nuclear energy is not only safe; the industry prides itself on maintaining the highest standards of safety.” [14] 

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Although incidents have caused devastation in the past, they are uncommon and as time and technology progress, nuclear power plants continue to become safer.  

Many, like Ben White, senior strategic communications major, are still concerned: “I think nuclear energy could be the future of everything as we know it. At the same time, Chernobyl makes me think that we should never mess with it.” [15] 

Nuclear energy has been marketed as a clean, efficient form of energy and a viable alternative to fossil fuels. However, it is not the most ideal solution. The long recovery time, nuclear waste produced, and destruction caused to wildlife should cause people to take a pause and consider whether the benefits outweigh the negative unintentional effects of nuclear energy.  

Kalani Kramer, a freshman nursing major, believes other renewable forms of energy should be pursued: “Nuclear energy has done a lot of good in displacing fossil fuels but I am definitely concerned about the waste problem. I would probably support the use of different sources of renewable energy for that reason.” [16] 

Windmills in a yellow wheat field.
Though they have their disadvantages, windmills are a far cleaner, safer form of renewable energy.

With wind and solar plants capable of being built more quickly than nuclear plants, being cheaper than nuclear plants, and able to be built with—according to the World Resource Institute—“minimal environmental impact, and often co-benefits,” they should be heavily considered in the renewable energy conversation. [17] 

References 

  1. Levin, K., Boehm, S., & Carter, R. (2022, February 27). 6 big findings from the IPCC 2022 report on climate impacts, adaptation and vulnerability. World Resources Institute. https://www.wri.org/insights/ipcc-report-2022-climate-impacts-adaptation-vulnerability  
  1. Where greenhouse gases come from. (n.d.). U.S. Energy Information Administration. https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/energy-and-the-environment/where-greenhouse-gases-come-from.php  
  1. Smoot, G. (n.d.). Which energy sources have the highest carbon footprint? A life-cycle assessment. Impactful Ninja. https://impactful.ninja/energy-sources-with-the-highest-carbon-footprint/  
  1. 3 reasons why nuclear is clean and sustainable. (n.d.). Energy.gov. https://www.energy.gov/ne/articles/3-reasons-why-nuclear-clean-and-sustainable  
  1. Ibid
  1. Ibid
  1. Frequently asked questions (FAQs). (n.d.). U.S. Energy Information Administration. https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.php?id=427&t=3 
  1. Interview with Kenden Staten, 5/5/22. 
  1. Nuclear power is not clean or green! (n.d.). Public Citizen. https://www.citizen.org/article/nuclear-power-is-not-clean-or-green/  
  1. Ibid
  1. What should we do with radioactive nuclear waste? (2019, August 1). The Guardianhttps://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/aug/01/what-should-we-do-with-radioactive-nuclear-waste  
  1. Licensed to kill. (n.d.). NIRS. http://www.nirs.org/wp-content/uploads/reactorwatch/licensedtokill/LiscencedtoKill.pdf 
  1. Ibid
  1. McPharlin, K. (2019, November 22). Is nuclear energy safe? Nuclear Energy Institute. https://www.nei.org/news/2019/is-nuclear-energy-safe  
  1. Interview with Benjamin White, 5/5/22. 
  1. Interview with Kalani Krame, 5/5/22. 
  1. McPharlin, K. (2019, November 22). Is nuclear energy safe? Nuclear Energy Institute. https://www.nei.org/news/2019/is-nuclear-energy-safe  
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