Nuclear Energy as an Alternative to Fossil Fuels

This past week the hashtag #AdvancingNuclear was trending on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook as “Third Way [hosted] the second annual Advanced Nuclear Summit on February 21, 2017 in Washington, DC.” This was a conference about the future of nuclear energy in the United States and how to expand nuclear energy. Personally, I’m a huge fan of nuclear energy and I think it should have a place at the table when talking about green energy or alternatives to fossil fuels. I want to preface the rest of this piece by saying that I did a lot of research of nuclear energy, but most of that information came from and The Nuclear Energy Institute’s Website  which are both heavily biased towards the positive parts of nuclear energy. I’m also personally biased when it comes to nuclear energy so this article will definitley have some bias behind it. That being said, I do understand the concerns of increasing nuclear energy and I’m going to try to address that concern as well.

When it comes to the positives of nuclear energy, advocates for nuclear will talk about three main factors: 1) How much energy nuclear creates, 2) Nuclear energy is consistent, and 3) That nuclear energy is or should be considered a green energy source. I’m going to break down these three points and talk about them. First how much energy does Nuclear create compared to fossil fuels and green energy sources such as solar energy or wind energy? Well Nuclear Matters makes the claim that “A single uranium pellet, slightly larger than a pencil eraser, contains the same amount of energy as a ton of coal, three barrels or oil, or 17,000 cubic feet of natural gas.” They also go on to say that Nuclear is the most efficient energy source with 92% of the energy generated going on to become actual electricity that powers stuff like our homes. That is a lot of energy produced compared to fossil fuels and nuclear power plants are able to produce energy more efficiently than any other power source we have available to us. When it comes to powering the United States and finding a source to replace fossil fuels like oil and coal, its important to find a source that requires a small amount of fuel and is highly efficient. Nuclear energy fulfills both those requirements.

The next thing is that nuclear energy is a consistent source of energy. In order to get power to everyone across our complex energy grid, we need energy producers all over the country working at all hours of the day and night to meet the demands of day and night, city and country, and increases in winter and summer. It is a very demanding job for energy sources. Something like a coal power plant is consistent because it can produce energy and day and night and all seasons as long as the workers consistently give fuel to the power plant. Green energy like solar and wind aren’t always consistent because some days its cloudy and other days the wind isn’t blowing hard enough to move the turbine. Even though these alternative energy sources are green and renewable, which are both positive things, but not necessarily consistent which can make it hard for them to supply power for the whole power grid all the time. Nuclear energy, on the other hand, can supply power consistently as long as the nuclear power plant has the nuclear fuel to turn into energy similar to feeding coal to a coal plant. This allows energy to be produced as well as the amount be controlled when the need for energy fluctuates.

The last point that completes the nuclear energy trifecta is that nuclear energy should be considered a green energy because it produces zero carbon emissions into the sky. This is a huge concern because our country is trying to get away from the fossil fuels that put carbon dioxide and chemicals into the air. This creates smog, worsens air quality, and is connected with Global Warming. Nuclear energy reactors do not create carbon dioxide or put chemicals into the air. However, there is a big concern with nuclear waste and how it is stored. Since nuclear energy does create radioactive waste, lots of people refuse to categorize nuclear energy as a safe and green alternative to fossil fuels. So basically it boils down to people agreeing that nuclear energy produces no carbon dioxide, but not agreeing whether that’s enough to consider them a “green energy.” Another huge concern with nuclear energy is a lot of people perceive nuclear energy plants as dangerous and they don’t like the idea of a plant that could potentially spew radioactive waste being in their neighborhood.

I do believe safety and the storage of nuclear waste are both concerns that deserve to be discussed and these also serve as nuclear energy’s biggest hurdles going forward. (Here is a Wikipedia article about Nuclear Safety and Security) I think a lot of the time invested in getting out “nuclear’s message” is focused on the safety and security of nuclear power plants which I see as a valid use of their time. People need to be reassured before nuclear energy expands across the United States. I think a lot of this concern can be diminished if the people building the nuclear power plants use the best technology and ensure that there are dozens if not hundreds of different safety persuasions put in place that have to go wrong before the public is any time of danger. If the public can be reassured that they are going above and beyond in the construction and that the likeliness of a meltdown is almost nonexistent, that will do a lot to get people on the side of nuclear energy.

I believe we have the technology and engineering genius to build nuclear power plants that are safer than any other energy producer out there. The companies behind the plants just need to put in the money and hard work to build and maintain them without cutting corners. That’s where the distrust comes from. Honestly if you look at the three major nuclear disasters in the history of nuclear power, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima, there were definitely mistakes made which we have learned from going forward. As the World Nuclear Association puts it, “There have been three major reactor accidents in the history of civil nuclear power – Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima. One was contained without harm to anyone, the next involved an intense fire without provision for containment, and the third severely tested the containment, allowing some release of radioactivity.” They also go on to say that “These are the only major accidents to have occurred in over 16,000 cumulative reactor-years of commercial nuclear power operation in 33 countries.” which I think is a valid argument. Out of all the nuclear power plants in the world operating safely every day, we’ve only had three disasters. Now these disasters are bad, don’t get me wrong, but the record on nuclear energy points towards it being a safe alternative to fossil fuels.

So there’s my view on nuclear energy. Personally I’m a big fan and I hope that nuclear energy is expanded across the US alongside things like solar, wind, and hydro. So what do you think? Leave me a comment below on nuclear energy or anything else related to alternative energy sources. Thanks for reading!


Reminder: Keep all discussion civil and on topic. I do not want to shut down free speech but I will if the speech is hateful and/or not-constructive. Thank you.

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