Nuclear power is an important solution to helping reduce CO2 emissions, and should be advocated for and not overlooked when trying to find solutions.
Nuclear power generates almost no CO2 when generating electricity and can help improve climate change. Although there are other ways of generating power that don’t produce CO2, they may not be as reliable or as practical as nuclear power. In a study by Michaelides and colleagues, “Impact of nuclear energy on fossil fuel substitution,” they looked at power generation in Texas and found that due to intermittency in wind power it takes almost 3 times as much installed capacity to generate the same annual energy continuously as nuclear power. Nuclear power is advantageous because it would reduce the power requirements of wind and solar as well as the needed storage capacity. Wind and solar power also take up significantly more space than nuclear power.
Although nuclear power is very fuel efficient it is not renewable and produces waste and needs uranium to operate, but there are effective solutions to handling this waste and cleaner ways to get uranium. Nuclear waste is radioactive but only a small amount of it is dangerous, and the dangerous waste is kept in secure containers. One solution to nuclear waste is deep borehole disposal which would be to put it in very deep holes in the ground where it would be safe. A 2014 study published by Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers-Energy by Beswick and his colleaguesfound that the technology for this is there but is not being used. Nuclear power plants need uranium which mining is environmentally damaging. A solution to these problems would be to recycle nuclear waste, by recycling nuclear waste less would need to be mined, decreasing the environmental impacts of uranium mining. It would also decrease the amount of waste produced. Although recycling would be environmentally beneficial it would increase the costs.
Building nuclear power plants is expensive but a possible solution would be to convert coal power plants into nuclear power plants. According to the US Department of Energy, “Investigating Benefits and Challenges of Converting Retiring Coal Plants into Nuclear Plants,” converting coal power plants could decrease the cost by 15% to 35% and 80% of coal power plants could be converted to nuclear power plants. They also found that regional economic activity could increase by $275 million and add 650 new jobs to the region.
Nuclear accidents do occur but compared to other accidents they do not cause as much harm. In a study by Strupczewski, “Accident risks in nuclear-power plants,” it was found that although coal, OECD countries hydro power, and natural gas accidents have less deaths per gigawatt electrical than older reactors newer reactors have the least out of all of them and oil, LPG, and non OECD countries hydro power had more than older reactors, and coal mining accidents had the highest deaths per GWe.
Nuclear power plants under normal conditions are much safer than other CO2 producing power plants. For example in 2019 the study “The health risk-benefit feasibility of nuclear power development” by Dai and colleagues estimated to amount of years of life lost and years of health life lost for 2020 and found that for an area using coal power was 501.0–1658.1 years would be lost but using nuclear power instead it would only be 0.44 days. Nuclear power under normal operation causes significantly less health impacts.
Nuclear power is important for stopping climate change because it does not produce CO2, it is reliable, and safe, although it is not enough on its own to fix climate change it is an important part in stopping it.
Grant Snow is a first-year student at Rochester Institute of Technology.
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