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Nuclear Energy

Nuclear energy is an issue for heated debates worldwide nowadays because there are both advantages and concerns about its use. Of course, major disasters such as Chernobyl and recent Fukushima are a weighty argument that critics use to insist that nuclear plants are potentially dangerous. However, in the light of planetary issues such global warming and climate change caused by carbon dioxide emissions, is there a more adequate solution than nuclear energy? I believe that the official data and analysis provided by researchers in the field demonstrate that there is no better option than nuclear energy to deal with global ecological challenges. This opinion can be supported by the fact that no other approaches would allow to reduce carbon dioxide emissions sufficiently.

First of all, as analysis shows, there is no alternative to nuclear energy so far.  Carol Browner, Director of the Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy, claims in her article that electrical industry is the reason for about 40 percent of carbon emission that the nation is responsible for (Browner, 2014). Yet, this does not refer to nuclear power plants, which are almost free of this kind of emissions. At the moment, the share of nuclear energy in the US electricity industry constitutes about 19 percent, which means that emissions are potentially lowered. The data that the state official provides are impressive: “In 2012… existing nuclear energy plants prevented 569 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from being emitted into the atmosphere, which is roughly equal to the carbon dioxide emissions from 110 million automobiles.” (Browner, 2014) It should be also taken into account that nuclear energy makes up about 64 percent of all energy in the US, which reveals a remarkable fact: the capacity of other alternative sources of energy cannot fully satisfy the needs of reducing carbon dioxide emissions so far.

The abovementioned point is important when arguments of nuclear energy’s opponents are considered. Indeed, nuclear power is not the only way to change the trend of climate change. There is no doubt about the fact that such types of energy as hydro, wind and solar, as well biofuels might be a more ecological alternative as a low-carbon solution. However, if a realistic approach is taken, it is impossible to ignore the discovery that these types of energy are not available continuously and in all places, so it is impossible to treat them as the only source of electric power for the world the level of consumption of which is so high. Moreover, it is going to be twice as much by year 2050, even taking into account that efficiency of power plants will grow. As Neil Hurst comments, “Wind and solar are intermittent and cannot provide “baseload” power.” (Hurst, 2012) In their turn, biofuels require that certain materials are available all the time, which reminds the dependence on fossil fuels today. Therefore, no single source of energy can cover the needs of the planet. Thus, it would be wrong to promote any one of them exclusively, even the most ecologically friendly one. Moreover, in this respect, nuclear power looks as the most reliable one among low-carbon sources of energy.

Calculate the price

Further on, when considering the relevance of energy suppliers, it is impossible to avoid discussing economy alongside ecology. This question is crucial because governments worldwide need financial resources to meet their goals of reducing carbon emissions. It is true that wind and hydro power are the least costly, so they have to be used but, as it has been already discussed above, their availability and hence reliability is limited. In its turn, nuclear power goes next in the rating of the cheapest sources of energy being more expensive than “low-cost” ones but cheaper than the most expensive ones. It is not a secret that it takes from 40 to 60 years for the investment into a nuclear power plant to become profitable. In this respect, plants based on fossil fuels and natural gas are cheaper in a short run (if carbon dioxide emissions are not discussed). However, this investment is worth doing because it has a number of advantages. As researchers point out, the price that consumers have to pay for nuclear power does not depend much on the cost of the fuel for the plants. In other words, there is more predictability about the cost, and the level of volatility is lower than for other sources of electricity (Kadak, Meserve, Todreas, &Wilson, 2014).  Besides, notwithstanding the higher initial investment, the further cost of electricity production is lower than that of fossil fuels. Even though the cost of gas can fall at times, this volatility is its drawback, too. So, combined with its stability and reliability, nuclear energy looks the optimal option to be used worldwide for the sake of reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

Finally, opponents of nuclear energy often focus on the aspect of safety, exemplifying their concerns by tragic accidents like Chernobyl and Fukushima. However impressive these examples are, it is impossible to ignore the fact that they are tragic exceptions. At the same time, the current picture of using nuclear power is quite illustrative: “Worldwide 432 reactors provide electricity to 32 nations. Sixteen nations receive over 25% of their electric energy needs from nuclear power safely and reliably without CO2 emissions that threaten our planet.” (Kadak, Meserve, Todreas, &Wilson, 2014) The abovementioned accidents have not passed in vain as scientists constantly work on improving safety standards and developing new, safer technologies of reactors and cooling mechanisms. It is also known that measures have been taken since September 11, 2001 to make nuclear plants invulnerable to terrorists’ attacks. Furthermore, active efforts are made globally to manage waste repositories effectively, and as reports tell, today’s keeping waste is absolutely safe and strictly regulated. All these and other factors are an argument in favor of keeping nuclear power at humanity’s disposal. When discussing the potential of alleviating emissions by means of nuclear power, it is important to realize that it is not finite at all, and there is space for improvement. As researchers point out, introduction of new technologies into the industry will even raise the significance of this energy source: “Non-electrical applications of nuclear energy, such as heat, potable water and hydrogen production, could be developed, and these applications could enlarge significantly nuclear power’ s contribution to GHG emission reduction.” (International Atomic Energy Agency, 2013)

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All in all, there are sufficient reasons to believe that nuclear power is an important factor in reducing carbon dioxide emissions that cause climate change. With the goals that governments set in improving the situation, it is unwise to ignore any of the options that can help doing so. Moreover, the provided research proves that combination of different sources has to be used since other alternative low-carbon sources of energy such as hydro, wind and solar plants do not have enough capacity and stability to ensure that the task is fulfilled. The share of nuclear plants should remain high enough to satisfy the growing power needs of the world. Taking into account that efforts are made to work on safety and waste repositories, I believe that nuclear power plants are essential in the world’s economy and ecology nowadays and are crucial in reducing the effect of climate change.