Is nuclear energy safe and clean?

Nuclear energy is a clean energy source with no emissions. It generates energy through fission, which is the process of splitting uranium atoms to produce energy. The heat released by fission is used to create steam that spins a turbine to generate electricity without the harmful by-products emitted by fossil fuels. Let us exercise the utmost caution when we are presented with pro-nuclear opinions from experts and organizations that regularly work with stakeholders in the nuclear sector and that may be tainted by vested interests.

Nuclear energy has no place in a safe, clean and sustainable future. It is more important than ever that we move away from false solutions and leave nuclear energy in the past. When I was anti-nuclear, my main concerns were safety and waste. Later I learned that nuclear energy is only slightly less safe than wind, hydro and solar.

More importantly, it is much safer than any fossil energy, once air pollution and accidents are taken into account. There is a small group of scientists who have proposed replacing 100% of the world's fossil-fuel power plants with nuclear reactors as a way to solve climate change. Many others propose nuclear cultivation to meet up to 20 percent of all our energy needs (not just electricity). They advocate that nuclear energy is a “clean and carbon-free source of energy”, but they do not take into account the human impacts of these scenarios.

The following recommendations are addressed to countries that intend to conserve the nuclear power option. According to the scenarios of the World Nuclear Association and the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency (both nuclear lobbying organizations), doubling the capacity of nuclear energy worldwide by 2050 would only reduce greenhouse gas emissions by around 4%. In emerging and developing economies, particularly in China, the nuclear fleet will provide low-carbon electricity for decades to come. Nuclear energy advocates say nuclear power is still needed because renewables are intermittent and need natural gas as backup.

Since then, all reactors of this type have been updated to ensure these additional safety measures, and no new ones are being built. Nuclear power plants are some of the most complex and sensitive industrial facilities, requiring a very complex set of resources ready at all times to keep them operational. On the other hand, nuclear power has a very high capacity factor (often more than 90%), can be increased and decreased as needed to equalize the load, does not take up a large amount of space, is energy dense (meaning less fuel is used and a lot of energy is still produced), which for grid operators has much more technically sense. The good news is that there is no compromise between the safest energy sources in the short term and the least harmful to the climate in the long term.

A collapse in investment in new and existing nuclear plants in advanced economies would have implications for emissions, costs and energy security. Nuclear plants can help limit the impacts of seasonal fluctuations on renewable energy production and strengthen energy security by reducing dependence on imported fuels. At present, nuclear energy (along with renewable energies, in particular wind and hydro) is one of the most efficient sources for producing electricity without contributing to global warming. Basically, this means that among the sources of electricity production currently available, nuclear energy is among those that emit the least CO2 and pollute the atmosphere the least.

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Jerald Shiiba
Jerald Shiiba

Professional tv junkie. General zombie lover. Professional pop cultureaholic. Infuriatingly humble music scholar. Freelance travel maven.

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