Every year since the dawn of the factory and the Industrial era, humanity has consumed more and more energy every year. Ever since the rise of coal in the late 1800s, the bulk of the energy need had been fulfilled with fossil fuels such as petroleum, natural gas, and coal, which have left a serious impact on our environment. Although there had once been widespread support for nuclear energy, accidents at various power plants throughout the years have led to major concerns regarding safety and a general setback to the integration of atomic power to the energy supply. Due to increasing prices, a finite supply, and negative environmental impacts, people have been searching for alternative energy sources to fossil fuels. Although solar farms, wind turbines, and hydroelectric dams have shown promising results in terms of energy production, renewable energy sources still fall short of being able to produce enough energy to satisfy projected power consumption; however, nuclear power has the capabilities and the technology to fulfill future energy demands. Renewable energy sources provide only 12% of U.S. energy production, and nuclear energy produces 21% of U.S. electricity while fossil fuels account for 66%: 41% coal, 24% natural gas, and 1% petroleum (“Primary Energy”). Although opponents of nuclear energy have argued that radioactive waste and accidents at power plants could have disastrous effects, the United States should increase the development of nuclear power because it is a clean source of energy that can reliably replace fossil fuel production, an extremely efficient source of energy that can produce electricity at far more effective rates than alternative fuel sources, and one of the safest sources of energy.
Humanity has had an undeniable impact on the environment, especially when it comes to pollution and the emission of greenhouse gasses. It is becoming increasingly apparent that there will need to be a shift towards more sustainable and more ecologically sound energy sources in order to prevent an environmental catastrophe. In 2015 greenhouse gas emissions had increased to unprecedented levels; carbon dioxide had risen past 400 parts per million which is significantly higher than the 278 parts per million of carbon dioxide that were in the air prior to the Industrial Age. To correlate with record-breaking carbon emissions, 2015 was also the warmest year on record (Mindock). Over the last two decades, the annual rate of rise in Global Mean Sea Level has been double the average rate of rise of the previous 80 years at 0.13 inches (Pattero). It is clear that current means of energy production are unsustainable. Scientists are alarmed by the current trends as well as their effects on global climate change because if trends continue at their current rate, severe consequences could devastate society in the forms of droughts, flooding, severe weather, etc. Most will attribute this rise in the carbon footprint to the world’s dependence on fossil fuels. Nuclear energy provides an attractive alternative that produces zero carbon emissions. According to Greenpeace founder, Dr. Patrick Moore, “Nuclear energy is the only non-greenhouse gas-emitting power source that can effectively replace fossil fuels and satisfy global demand (Moore).” There are a number of advantages that nuclear energy has over alternative energy sources. Nuclear power plants produce no carbon emissions. Nuclear power has the capability to produce massive amounts of electricity. Nuclear energy is not reliant on external conditions for production of energy, which makes it a reliable energy source. In the process of nuclear fission, no fossil fuels are consumed, which limits carbon emissions of nuclear power solely to facility construction and the transportation of nuclear fuel.
The predominant issues regarding nuclear power are the dangers of accidents, meltdowns, radiation, disposal of nuclear waste, and costs. Although popular opinion would lead one to believe that nuclear energy is a dangerous means of production, in reality nuclear energy is one of the safest energy sources available, and although the media suggests that nuclear energy has seriously affected the environment, not a single person has died due to the incidents at Three Mile Island or Fukushima (McKenna). The deaths that resulted from the nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl are relatively very low when compared to the number of deaths that result from the combustion of fossil fuels. It is estimated that more than 13,000 deaths every year are a result of the use of coal in just America (McKenna). The pollution in China is so severe that the People’s Republic suffers more than half a million deaths every year from fossil fuel usage alone (Conley). To be fair, nuclear meltdowns can have more effects than just death. Accidents can cause entire communities to relocate and severely contaminate the surrounding area with potentially lethal radiation. The other safety concerns regard the treatment of nuclear waste, and there are two methods in use at the moment. The first method is containment, which seals the spent nuclear fuel in specially designed containers for long term storage. The other method used is known as reprocessing, which allows the spent nuclear fuel to be used once more. Unfortunately, the United States does not possess the capabilities to reprocess nuclear waste, and there is also a fear in the U.S. that recycling spent fuel could lead to further weaponization of nuclear energy (Shughart). However, there have been no instances of reprocessing spent fuel leading to proliferation of nuclear arms.
Furthermore, nuclear energy is far more cost effective than alternative sources of energy. The majority of expenses in nuclear power stems from the construction and regulation of power plants, but the expensive start-up can be alleviated by concentrating on the operation of current nuclear plants as opposed to the construction of many additional plants (Nuclear Energy Institute). Nuclear energy, in coordination with solar, wind, and hydroelectric will be able to fulfill the future energy demands without the harmful consequences to the planet that fossil fuels threaten. In order to generate the base electric load of the United States with wind and solar farms, the government would need to spend over $29 trillion in development and infrastructure. To produce the same amount of energy using liquid fueld Molten Salt Reactors would cost $1 trillion (Conley). Not only are alternative sources of energy far more expensive than nuclear, they are far less efficient. According to Michael Conley, an economist specializing in the energy sector, “in North America, the media ‘capacity’ factor for wind is 35% (Conley).” Furthermore, due to the lack of effective energy storage, wind and solar farms still rely on gas to make up for inconsistencies in production. Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a member of the board at the company BrightSource, which built the solar farm in Ivanpah, CA went on to say the following.
We need about 3,000 feet of altitude, we need flat land, we need 300 days of sunlight, and we need to be near a gas pipe. Because for all these big solar plants – whether its wind or solar – everybody is looking at gas as the supplementary fuel. The plants we’re building, the wind plants and the solar plants, are plants (Conley).
Furthermore, renewable energy sources take up enormous amounts of land. A series of 50-story wind turbines along the Appalachian Trail, which stretches on for over 2,100 miles, would create no more electricity than four square miles worth of nuclear reactors (Alexander). International counterparts have realized the benefits of nuclear energy. 80% of the electricity produced in France is thanks to nuclear energy, and consequently France also ranks last in terms of carbon emissions for Europe. Russia is replacing its natural gas plants with nuclear plants. Around the world 55 nuclear reactors are currently under construction, but not a single one of those reactors are located in the United States (Alexander).
Nuclear energy has proven to be far more efficient, effective, and reliable than alternative sources of energy. Nuclear power can meet the energy needs of the future without the crippling greenhouse gas emissions and disastrous environmental repercussions tied to fossil fuels. Not only is nuclear energy more cost effective and reliable, nuclear energy is far safer than coal, with not a single death attributed to either Fukushima or Three Mile Island (McKenna). Essentially, humanity has a clean, powerful, and cheap source of energy at its disposal, one that is far more effective at producing electricity than its competitors, but chooses not to take full advantage of it and instead chooses to use an environmentally harmful source of power from the 1800s. It is clear that in order to meet future energy needs in ecologically conscious ways, nuclear energy needs to be at the forefront of generating power.
Alexander, Lamar. “Top 10 Reasons Nuclear Power Will Be the Key to America’s Energy Future.” The Hill. The Hill, 23 Sept. 2010. Web. 27 Feb. 2016.
Conley, Mike. “Let’s Run The Numbers: Nuclear Energy VS Wind and Solar.” The Energy Reality Project. The Energy Reality Project, 17 Apr. 2015. Web. 27 Feb. 2016.
McKenna, Phil. “Fossil Fuels Are Far Deadlier than Nuclear Power.” New Scientist. RELX Group, 23 Mar. 2011. Web. 26 Feb. 2016.
Mindock, Clark. “Climate Change 2015: Greenhouse Gas Emissions Break Records In Atmosphere As Global Warming Fears Rise, 100 Million Could Become Poor.” International Business Times. IBT Media, 09 Nov. 2015. Web. 27 Feb. 2016.
Moore, Patrick. “Mega Uranium Mining & Exploration in Australia: How Clean Is Nuclear Power.” Mega Uranium Mining & Exploration in Australia: How Clean Is Nuclear Power. Mega Uranium Ltd, n.d. Web. 27 Feb. 2016.
Nuclear Energy Institute. “Costs: Fuel, Operation, Waste Disposal & Life Cycle.” Nuclear Energy Institute. Nuclear Energy Institute, n.d. Web. 27 Feb. 2016.
Pattero, Andrea. “Sea Level Rise.” National Geographic. National Geographic, 3 Mar. 2010. Web. 28 Feb. 2016.
“Primary Energy Supply by Source, 2011.” Monthly Energy Review (2013): n. pag. U.S. Energy Information Administration. U.S. Energy Information Administration, 12 Jan. 2014. Web. 26 Feb. 2016.
Shughart, William F., II. “Why Doesn’t U.S. Recycle Nuclear Fuel?” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 1 Oct. 2014. Web. 27 Feb. 2016.