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Nuclear Energy Could be Our Near Future

Nuclear energy is rapidly becoming the future of energy—and it’s time to be excited.

For years, there has been a hesitance within the United States and other countries to fully embrace nuclear energy sources. Until recently, the use of nuclear energy as a power source was on the decline.


So why haven’t we been moving forward with nuclear energy? The main concerns involve storing radioactive waste created during the process. Countries also cite cost concerns and apprehensions about environmental impact should core meltdowns, which can result in explosions and massive amounts of radiation, occur.


Two notable incidents globally highlighted the potential disaster implementing nuclear energy could cause. These incidents occurred in Fukushima, Japan, and Chernobyl, Ukraine.  


In Chernobyl, a power spike sent radioactive contaminants into the air– the resulting region becoming inhabitable. In Fukushima, a tsunami disrupted the plant resulting in meltdowns. The meltdowns not only destroyed parts of the plant but also dispersed radioactive contaminants into the ocean.


Nuclear incidents are not something to take lightly, for the effects of radiation exposure from nuclear fission are disastrous. At high levels, cells within the body are killed. At low levels, DNA mutations are incited within cells and those cells become cancerous. Stray radioactive waste, if not disposed of properly, will have detrimental effects on the human population.


As the U.S. restarts efforts towards increasing its use of nuclear energy, you may be wondering why as a country we are not more concerned. Is it possible that we just forgot or have chosen to ignore all the motivations we had to stop producing new plants in the first place?


The answer is no, we have not chosen to ignore the risks. We have taken steps towards eliminating the risk so that in the future we can use the resource without fear. Together, with private corporations, the United States government has been working towards making nuclear energy more stable and sustainable. The United States Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Nuclear Energy (NE) is dedicated to researching proper ways to store nuclear waste, focusing on protecting the environment and people.


The U.S. has been focusing on what we call Small Nuclear Reactors (SMRs). SMRs are smaller versions of Nuclear Reactors. X-Energy, a nuclear reactor & fuel design engineering company, and Dow, a sustainable science company, have joined forces with the DOE to create and implement meltdown-resistant fuel. Currently, there are plans to implement the new design at a plant in Texas.


Nuclear energy security measures in the U.S. have also made significant leaps. Organizations such as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) all ensure that nuclear energy use is fully monitored. After Fukushima, the NEI developed new safety nets that ensure more necessary equipment backups. Together FEMA and the NRC implement training exercises and evaluations while developing action plans targeting ways to improve protection. 


The U.S. is not the only country interested in investing in nuclear energy. France has in many ways been a trailblazer and success story when looking at nuclear energy and the world's future. Since the 1960s, France has been successfully using power plants. Since 2022, there haven't been significant threats to the environment or the humans that inhabit the ecosystems. The nuclear plants currently generate 70% of the country's energy. Their greenhouse gas emissions are a staggering 90% less than many other European countries.


However, to address the cost argument, France is currently wondering what to do with their aging plants. Nuclear power plants only last around 34 years. With a record number of their plants needing repairs, including a few new ones, the expense for upkeep is astronomically high. They have been working to develop an improved reactor that will not need as much upkeep. However, they have been experiencing construction difficulties. 


Around 30 countries are in various stages of building nuclear power plants. Even considering the cost, I believe it’s important to consider the positive impact of a drastic emission decrease across the globe. Nuclear energy as our future will mean clean energy that in turn, means a reduction of emissions with the side benefit of creating more jobs. I think that we should be excited about these developments. But of course, you have to ask yourself what you believe. Even with innovation, a risk may exist. What do you think? 


Acknowledgment: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author.


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