There’s something about the idea of nuclear power plants creating nuclear energy that brings out the chills in most people.
They have visions of Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Three Mile Island, and Chernobyl.
But are they right to do so?
Or is nuclear energy our best alternative to fossil fuels and is it sustainable?
Or do we need to look to other energy sources for our energy supply in the long term?
Are Nuclear Power Plants Sustainable?
Yes! Nuclear energy is completely sustainable! That’s because there’s plenty of the raw material for nuclear fuel, uranium, laying around and the energy technologies used to release energy from uranium are eco-friendly too!
And while people’s memories may be full of harsh images of the nuclear power plant industry – the truth is that it’s actually very safe.
Chernobyl was old technology, as was Three Mile Island for that matter, long since superseded when making plants and Fukushima? That was human negligence regarding the disposal of waste – an issue that is easily preventable in the future.
Is Nuclear Energy A Renewable Energy?
Sustainable energy and renewable energy are not the same things.
You can check out our guide to is renewable energy sustainable for a more detailed explanation but this is the short version:
In order for energy sources to be considered renewable energies, they must be easily replenished. So, for example, solar is constantly replenished by the sun. Wind power generation is also renewable as you cannot exhaust the wind. The same goes for hydroelectric.
Unfortunately, current uranium enrichment facilities involve taking uranium from the ground, and then that uranium is destroyed in the nuclear energy production process. However, there is an almost unlimited resource of uranium that we should be able to tap into if we used more nuclear energy.
That is seawater. There’s enough uranium in seawater to power all of humanity’s needs until the sun explodes, by which point, we probably won’t care too much if it’s renewable or not.
Is Nuclear Power A Zero-Emission Technology?
Not only is nuclear energy renewable, potentially, but it’s also clean energy.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is keen to point out that it’s a zero-emission clean energy source, in fact.
The way it works is that you split the uranium atom (a process called nuclear fission) and the nuclear energy industry uses the energy released to heat water to make steam. The steam spins turbines which in turn generate electricity.
The steam then condenses back into water. Electricity generated in this fashion cannot contribute to climate change as there is no carbon dioxide or natural gas produced.
It also reduces the amount of air pollution around the nuclear energy sector as none of the other pollutants associated with fossil fuel electricity generation are produced, either.
How Much Footprint Is Required For Nuclear Energy?
According to the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) – it takes roughly 360 times as much land area to produce the same amount of electricity using wind farms and 75 times the land area using solar farms as it does to use nuclear fission.
If you want to visualize that – a 1,000 megawatt nuclear reactor requires about 1 square mile of land. A wind farm needs 360 square miles and a solar farm 75 square miles to make the same amount of electricity!
That means you need 3 million solar panels to generate 1,000 megawatts!
Does Nuclear Power Create A Lot Of Waste?
No. Though nuclear electricity does produce some radioactive waste, it doesn’t produce very much of it.
According to the NEI, in the United States over the last 60 years, the sum total of all the industry’s waste could be placed on a single football field to a depth of no more than 10 yards!
Interestingly, much of this waste can be recycled and reprocessed too – though it’s worth noting that the United States and most other nuclear-using countries don’t currently do this (which is why there was waste laying around to be spread about by a tsunami at Fukushima – something that Japan definitely won’t allow again).
In fact, it’s possible that sustainable development of these power-generating facilities could lead to plants that operate burning nothing but used nuclear fuels!
Nuclear is a fully sustainable and potentially renewable form of energy.
It’s highly efficient and very low cost too. It poses no significant risk to human health and nuclear reactors can rely on a fuel supply that cannot be exhausted by future generations.
It may be the best sustainable energy source of them all and perhaps, we should all encourage our governments to build more nuclear plants if we want to enjoy a similar standard of living into the future?
If you’re concerned about the use of energy on this planet – we would urge you to check out some of our solar energy facts and our guide on ways to save energy at home. We can all contribute to making the world a more sustainable place to live in.