Science

Should we invest in solar/wind energy or in nuclear energy for our future energy needs?

 
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WRITTEN BY
Apr 30 08:02 pm

Suzanne

Modern living and the progress of developing countries depend on the cheap, plentiful and reliable energy supplied by the fossil fuel and nuclear industries [1,2]. Nuclear power, in particular, significantly reduces greenhouse gas emissions worldwide while simultaneously meeting the increased energy demands of a growing world population and sustaining global development [3,4]. Though constantly smeared, nuclear energy is, in reality, a safe, reliable, and effective means of energy production that emits practically no greenhouse gases and produces manageable waste that does not harm the environment [5,6,7,8]. Regarding carbon emissions, client scientists continue to disagree on whether the increased presence of CO2 in the atmosphere is solely a man-made and negative effect [9,10,11,12], as there are a myriad of factors that go into something as complex as climate [13]. It’s too simplistic a view to lay all the blame on an ever-changing climate on carbon dioxide, a naturally occurring and essential chemical for all life on earth [14]. 

Conversely, solar and wind only provide energy on minuscule scales and are unreliable, weak sources of energy [15]. They only work while the sun shines and the wind blows. They cannot be stored or saved. They require vast amounts of money and space to operate and rely on additional fossil fuels not only to build their panels and turbines but also as a backup when they inevitably cease to provide the power needed during harsh seasonal months when sunlight and wind are scarce [16,17,18,19]. This is why, even with the help of government subsidies, no country has come close to being even 50% powered by renewable energy [20]. To continue enjoying the amazing standard of living we have today, we need policies that allow nuclear energies to continue without hindrance. 


Nalda

Coal fueled power plants have burdened our environment with airborne pollutants known to damage health. These plants also produce over 100 million tons of coal ash annually leading to polluted waterways and contaminated water supplies. However, the largest issue associated with coal-burning power plants is their carbon emissions, which are directly connected to global warming.

Clearly, we need to redirect our energy investments into options that don’t add to carbon emissions. Investing in a combination of wind and solar energy offers us the best solution to reducing carbon emissions from energy production without trading the issue of toxic wastes in the form of coal ash and air pollutants for that of nuclear waste. 

Although a small amount of carbon pollution is created during the process of manufacturing solar power panels and wind turbines and developing solar farms and wind arrays, these plentiful energy sources are themselves pollution-free. 

Nuclear power plants cast off huge amounts of waste. Although the majority of nuclear waste is considered “low level” waste, the International Atomic Energy Agency indicates that a nuclear reactor sufficient to power a city the size of Amsterdam (approximately 1000MW (e)) will produce around 30 tons of “high level” waste annually. This waste is highly radioactive, toxic, and extremely long-lived. It takes around 10,000 years for the radioactivity levels of “high level” waste to return to the levels it had when originally mined. [Sources: 1,2,3,4,5]

Fact Box

  • About 454 nuclear reactors worldwide supply power for 31 countries, representing around 10% of global electricity consumption [1]. 
  • In the U.S., nuclear generates 20% of all energy while having an average capacity factor of 92.3%, meaning it operates at full power 336 days out of the year [2].
  • The average US citizen is exposed to 300 millirem per year from varying sources of radiation, including cosmic radiation (sun rays), terrestrial radiation (radan seeping from the earth’s crust), and gamma radiation, as produced by microwaves and common medical x-rays. Those working inside and living near nuclear power plants receive 0.01 millirem of radiation per year [3,4].
  • 40% of Sweden’s electricity and over 70% of France’s electricity is derived from nuclear energy. France is currently the world’s largest exporter of nuclear-fueled electrical power [5,6].

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