Zero-Carbon Energy Production:
BIO121 Environmental Conservation
Colorado State University Global
When it comes to a zero-carbon energy solution there is one that sparks the most controversy: Nuclear Energy. There is a reason for this, though; the pro’s and con’s of nuclear energy are both numerous. Many believe that nuclear energy is nothing but bad, bad for humans and bad for the environment. They also feel that nuclear reactors are dangerous because they use radioactive materials to operate. While all of this may be the case, I believe that nuclear energy is a great source of energy that will provide more positives than negatives. The United States needs to move to nuclear energy to realize its goals of reduced carbon emissions.
In the United States alone there are some ninety-six nuclear reactors in 29 states. These reactors generate nearly 20% of the nation’s electricity (Nuclear Energy Institute, 2020). They do all of this without producing any carbon emissions. They are able to do this because they run on uranium instead of fossil fuels. The advantages of nuclear power, as stated before, are numerous. Not only can it fight climate change but it is also a reliable source of production; it protects our air by not producing any pollutants (Nuclear Energy Institute, 2020); it protects our national security by providing power to our Navy; it creates jobs and can make the United States a leader in clean, sustainable energy (Nuclear Energy Institute, 2020)
The disadvantages of nuclear power are also numerous but very few are of real concern. Nuclear reactors are expensive to build, with a price tag around $4 to $9 billion. They also produce radioactive waste and there is no way to destroy that waste, instead it must be kept somewhere away from the public. Probably one of the biggest concerns is that reactors can become targets for terrorism. These issues all have potential solutions but it does not change the fact that they are still big issues.
So, if we do decide to implement more nuclear reactors, what would be the best way to do it? According to a report from MIT (Deutch, Forsberg, Kadak, Kazimi, Moniz, & Parsons, 2009) the use of nuclear power is expected to continually expand to meet the needs of our growing populations while minimizing the environmental impacts. In recent years, the United States Department of Energy has been developing multiple research and development programs that simulate and compare the different performance levels for different fuel types (Li, Brossard, Anderson, Scheufele & Rose, 2018). These R&D programs have been going on for quite some time but what has resulted is a stalemate in the U.S. waste management program due to the decline in public trust (Li, et al, 2018).
What needs to happen in order for the U.S. to move forward with nuclear energy is the gaining of trust by our political leaders. The best way to do this is through the use of “semantic network analysis” which helps describe the key concepts that are used in natural conversations (Li, et al, 2018). When more people are able to understand what scientists are talking about, they are put at ease because they can make sense of what is being said. Right now, there is not a lot of that going on. Better education regarding nuclear power is key to its success.
In addition to better education, there needs to be relevant examples of how nuclear energy is doing good in this world. When most people think of nuclear energy they think of Chernobyl or Fukushima and the events that occurred there. The accident at Chernobyl happened in 1986 and was largely due to a flawed design and inadequate personnel (World-Nuclear, 2020). The event at Fukushima in 2011 was not a man made error, but that of an unpreventable magnitude 9.0 earthquake (World-Nuclear, 2020). Since then, the world has learned much from these events and have not stopped countries, such as our neighbors to the North, from benefiting from the clean power source.
Ontario, Canada relies on nuclear power to provide them with nearly 60% of the country’s electricity. On a yearly basis, Ontario’s plants avoid about 45 million tonnes of CO2 emissions – an equivalent of taking nearly 10 million cars off the road (Canada Newswire, 2017). In addition to this, Canadians pay about 30% less for their electricity and the industry alone contributes $6 billion every year to the economy, supporting 60,000 jobs (Canada Newswire, 2017). This example alone should inspire many to reconsider expanding on American nuclear energy. If not, there is always the persuasion of knowing that we lack far behind the Russians in this industry, making them the world leader.
The immediate solution to becoming a competitive player against Russia and meet or exceed the levels of Canada is to mimic their strategies. Here in the West, we have not been able to capitalize on nuclear energy because of the market forces, the high costs associated with them, our political fluxuations and the negative social opinions associated with nuclear power (Moscow’s Nuclear Energy Advantage, 2017). Canada made the critical decision to put massive funding into not only building more reactors but restoring old ones to get them back online. The venture has cost them billions of dollars but has significantly reduced their impact on the environment while stimulating their economy (World-Nuclear, 2020). It was a risk, but one that has paid off for both countries.
In the end, nuclear energy is not without its flaws and there will be many obstacles that get in the way, but for what large scale project has that never happened? The value of this energy outweighs its disadvantages because we only get this one world and we have seriously damaged it. Nuclear energy is cleaner, produces no pollutants or greenhouse gasses and can be used for so many other ventures than just electricity. Overall, nuclear energy is the best chance we have at sustainable, zero-carbon emission energy and the best chance we have at repairing our environment.
Canada Newswire. (2017, October 27). Ontario’s Energy Plan Recognizes Province’s Nuclear Advantage. Canada Newswire.
Deutch, J., Forsberg, C., Kadak, A., Kazimi, M., Moniz, E., & Parsons, J. (2019). Update of the MIT 2003 Future of Nuclear Power (pp. 1-21, Rep.). Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology. doi:http://large.stanford.edu/courses/2012/ph241/schultz2/docs/nuclearpower-update2009.pdf
Li, N., Brossard, D., Anderson, A. A., Scheufele, D. A., & Rose, K. M. (2018). How do policymakers and think tank stakeholders prioritize the risks of the nuclear fuel cycle? A semantic network analysis. Journal of Risk Research, 21(5), 599–621. https://doi.org/10.1080/13669877.2016.1223164
Moscow’s Nuclear Energy Advantage. (2017). Stratfor Analysis, 1.
Nuclear Energy Institute. (2020). What Is Nuclear Energy? Retrieved April 20, 2020, from https://www.nei.org/fundamentals/what-is-nuclear-energy
World-Nuclear.org. (2020, April). Chernobyl Accident 1986. Retrieved April 20, 2020, from https://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/safety-and-security/safety-of-plants/chernobyl-accident.aspx
World-Nuclear.org. (2020, April). Fukushima Daiichi Accident. Retrieved April 20, 2020, from https://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/safety-and-security/safety-of-plants/fukushima-daiichi-accident.aspx
World-Nuclear.org. (2020, April). Nuclear Power in Canada. Retrieved April 20, 2020, from https://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/country-profiles/countries-a-f/canada-nuclear-power.aspx
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