With many nations pioneering research on the effects of the natural gas and oil industries and their connection to climate change, the following question emerges: what power source should we turn to next? Research and funding have poured into alternative methods of providing energies that are cleaner, more efficient, and do not produce as much greenhouse gas. These include wind, solar, and hydroelectric power, to name a few. However, one type of energy that’s more rarely discussed and utilized recently is the method of nuclear reactors and nuclear power. It provides huge amounts of electric power to be used in houses, industries, and more. These function by heating up and boiling water into steam, which then turns a massive turbine. Following that, the energy generated from the rotation of the turbine is collected and then distributed. The most common fuel used currently is uranium, though others are used as well. Uranium is extremely energy dense, and even a small amount can power stations for extended periods. Solar panels function differently by collecting light and heat energy from the sun and converting it into electricity. One main appeal of solar is that it is essentially unlimited as the sun can provide power for the foreseeable future. Overall, despite that, nuclear energy is the most clean, safe, and powerful, making it the most feasible method to replace current natural gas and oil power plants.
Firstly, nuclear power plants provide much more power and act more quickly . They are also much more space efficient, requiring only an isolated plant to power the area versus a wide field of solar panels. Nuclear power plants can run at maximum efficiency for significantly longer periods. A study conducted in 2020 by the Office of Nuclear Energy, found that nuclear reactors in the United States ran at maximum capacity 92.5% of the year, compared to 24.9% for solar and 35.4% for wind. Even the second most efficient power source which was geothermal was only 74.3%.1Nuclear Power Is the Most Reliable Energy Source and It’s Not Even Close, (US Department of Energy, Office of Nuclear Energy, 2021) The consistency of energy production will be very beneficial because customers will not experience frequent blackouts, brownouts, or a lack of power to run daily tasks. In terms of raw numbers for energy, nuclear also comes out on top. The Vogtle Power plant, which is scheduled to finish on December 31, 2023, is projected to produce a staggering 21 million MWh per year, compared to just under six million MWh for a solar farm.2Solar Vs. Nuclear: Battle for the Best Carbon-Free Power, (Earth911, 2019) This means that it can provide power to larger numbers of people in households and businesses across a larger area than solar or wind. Accessibility to electricity is a highly relevant issue, especially for developing nations and countries looking to increase their power production quickly, thus nuclear energy proves the most viable option.
Secondly, nuclear power has had many advancements in safety and waste storage that minimize risks from improper disposal or possible leaks. Many people think of the Chernobyl disaster when asked about nuclear power plants. However, different protocols have been implemented since, and we have had the chance to learn from each experience, such as Chernobyl, Fukushima, and Three Mile Island. Despite these accidents, hundreds of other nuclear reactors over many decades have been functioning safely and effectively without meltdowns or breakdowns. Besides Chernobyl itself, no other nuclear plant accident has resulted in the deaths of workers or local citizens in the surrounding communities.3Safety of Nuclear Power Reactors, (World Nuclear Association, 2022) A chart representing deaths in accidents for different power sources had nuclear at only 0.03 deaths per thousand terawatt hours, compared to coal and brown coal which had 24.62 and 32.72 deaths per thousand terawatt hours, respectively.4Ian Tiseo, Mortality Rate from Accidents and Air Pollution per Unit of Electricity Worldwide, by Energy Source, (Statista, 2023) Nuclear waste is much less of an issue than people imagine it to be, as it can be safely stored and concealed in securely monitored locations that have a minimal impact on populations. However, this does come with the assumption that companies and industries will comply with safety regulations, and the possibility exists that some people will improperly and harmfully dispose of nuclear waste for cost-cutting or other reasons. In conclusion, nuclear is the safest energy production method by far compared to clean energy and fossil fuel sources.
Nuclear power has shown growing usage but it is still less discussed than more conventional renewable energy sources. In the US, Nuclear is the smallest source of energy generation overall, behind fossil fuels and renewable energy like solar. It sits at around 18% currently.5U.S. utility-scale electricity generation by source, amount, and share of total in 2022 (US Energy Information Administration, 2023) However, with more implementation and funding, it could grow to be a powerful and very beneficial source of energy for the US and around the world as well. The goal of widespread access to clean energy is closer than ever with new and developing nuclear power plants, which could herald a new era of clean power that reduces climate change, and push the world towards future technological advancements.