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Nuclear Power Should Be the Future of Clean Energy

Updated: Mar 15

The developed world relies on a complementary mix of energy sources where fossil fuels remain the central energy provider. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the U.S. currently sources 19.7 percent of its energy from nuclear power, 19.8 percent from renewable sources, and an astonishing 60.6 percent from fossil fuels. 


As we tackle the climate crisis and move away from fossil fuels, we're presented with a choice on which type of low-emissions electricity should take over. One of our options is nuclear energy.


Environmentally, the impact of both renewable and nuclear energy sources is insignificant in comparison to fossil fuels, even though their manufacturing carries some adverse ecological effects. However, nuclear power plants are able to produce a higher rate of kilowatts per hour (kWh) per square foot in comparison to renewable energy sources. For reference, to match the energy produced per hour in one nuclear power plant, we would need 3 million solar panels. The land that would go into constructing and maintaining that many solar panels would require 75 times more space than a nuclear plant takes up, which would affect hundreds of ecosystems.


Economically, renewable energy sources are cheaper to build and implement in terms of direct costs. For example, solar panels cost $0.70 per kW and a nuclear power plant upwards of $5,500 per kW. Additionally, nuclear plants can take upwards of six years to build, which is a slow and costly process. There is a very clear, significantly larger initial investment in the building of a nuclear power plant. However, renewable sources tend to be intermittent and require more maintenance costs than nuclear power plants, which are designed to last twice as long. 


We currently do not hold the necessary infrastructure—capacitors, powerlines, batteries—to establish widespread renewable energy sources, which would thus cost trillions. Nuclear plants only require infrastructure that is already in place. Between cheaper infrastructure with faster results and a more expensive but sustainable and long-term option, nuclear energy always prevails. 


Socially, nuclear power has a bad reputation due to its use in weapons of mass destruction and its association with careless disposal methods. The nuclear disasters of Chernobyl, Fukushima and Three Mile Island have caused widespread ecological disasters and cost human lives. 


Nevertheless, in the 70 years that nuclear power has been used across 32 countries, the death toll includes no more than 32 people. For comparison, solar panels cause an average of 125 deaths every year. There also exist concerns about the toxic waste that nuclear power produces, but all the nuclear waste produced in the U.S. in the last 60 years would fit in one football field. This nuclear waste is safely stored under tons of concrete in sealed containers.


I believe that nuclear power is the future of green energy production in the U.S. and that further investments should be pursued. The U.S. still relies heavily on fossil fuels, which will be far more costly in the long term, especially considering climate change mitigation costs. Nuclear energy is the most effective solution for providing clean energy to large cities since it requires less land and is able to produce more reliable energy for longer periods of time.


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


Sources


Clark, Simon, director. "Why Nuclear Power Will (and Won't) Stop Climate Change." YouTube, 9 Sept. 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k13jZ9qHJ5U.


“Frequently Asked Questions (Faqs) - U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).” Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), Nov. 2021, https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.php?id=427&t=3.


Kazilbash, Sana. “What's the Death Toll of Nuclear vs Other Energy Sources? by Sana.” Engineering.com, 24 Feb. 2021, https://www.engineering.com/story/whats-the-death-toll-of-nuclear-vs-other-energy-sources.


“The Ultimate Fast Facts Guide to Nuclear Energy.” Energy.gov, U.S. Department of Energy, 2021, https://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2019/01/f58/Ultimate%20Fast%20Facts%20Guide-PRINT.pdf.

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