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Nuclear Power: A Stepping Stone to Cheaper and Cleaner Energy

Nuclear Power: A Stepping Stone to Cheaper and Cleaner Energy 

In recent years, heads have turned to an increasingly pressing issue, global warming. Thus,  policymakers and CEOs of oil companies such as Chevron, Exxon Mobil, and BP started to  invest into renewable energy, nuclear power plants, and carbon capture. While solar and wind  power can offer extraordinarily high marginal utilities and low-cost per kWh, solar and power  have capacity factors of 25% and 35%, respectively. On the other hand, nuclear has a  capacity factor of about 93%, which means that nuclear power plants produce maximum power  for 93% of the time during the year, which is up to 1.5 times more than natural gas and 3.5 times  more than solar. 

Advantages 

In the United States, nuclear power produces more than 50% of the nation’s emissions-free  electricity and now, the Department of Energy is researching and developing new reactors that  can offer an overall improvement to nuclear technologies by increasing efficiency and reducing  nuclear waste after use. In contrast to coal and natural gas, the carbon emissions from nuclear  power are only produced by its construction, maintenance, and mining for fuel. Thus, switching  to nuclear power would radically reduce carbon dioxide emissions compared to its fossil fuel  counterparts. Furthermore, nuclear power ironically releases less radiation into the environment  than any other major energy source. In fact, coal releases the most radiation because burning it  produces a residual waste called fly ash, which has uranium and thorium from the earth’s crust. 

Nuclear Accidents 

While nuclear power has its advantages, every power source has its disadvantages as well. In the  public’s eye, the risk of accidents is a point to make when it comes to production of nuclear  power because of the large-scale accidents of Three-Mile Island, Chernobyl, and more recently,  Fukushima Daiichi. However, according to the U.S Nuclear Regulatory Commission, in TMI’s  nuclear accident, about 2 million people received an average radiation dose of 1 millirem about  the usual background dose, whereas the exposure from a chest X-ray is 6 millirem and the  average radioactive background dose is between 100 and 125 millirem per year. Thus, while the  reactor took significant damage, the accident had negligible effects on people living near the  reactor. 

Regarding Chernobyl, the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic  Radiation, or UNSCEAR, stated that evacuees received 30 mSv, 1 mSv for other residents of the  USSR, and .3 mSv for the rest of Europe. To put this in perspective, a full-body CT scan delivers  10-30 mSv and the average U.S resident receives 1 mSv of radiation per year. Only the disaster  relief workers, workers at the plant, and residents who continued to live near the plant or were  not evacuated had serious effects on their health, including either death from acute radiation or  thyroid cancer. Finally, in the aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi accident, according to the  Atomic Energy Agency, none of the residents living in the vicinity of the plant had their health  negatively affected by the accident and all the children tested for thyroid gland exposure showed  results within safe limits.

Nuclear Waste 

A major issue of producing nuclear power is the disposal of highly radioactive reactor fuel waste  and how to recycle the waste to extend the productivity of nuclear power for years to come. 

In the U.S, fuel waste is safely stored in spent fuel pools or in concrete and steel dry casks at a  reactor or at decommissioned reactor sites. The world’s third largest deep geological repository,  the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), stores radioactive waste in a thick deposit of salt that  extends from New Mexico all the way to Kansas. Thus, the world can easily store its nuclear  waste for the next several hundred years. 

Hybrid Energy Systems 

While solar power has the lowest cost per MWh according to a report by Lazard, nuclear power  can produce an enormous amount of power nearly every day of the year. Thus, nuclear  power can be used as a baseload, meaning that its operation has little variation in output and can  be reliable to meet the high demands of consumers, especially at a time when technology is  improving rapidly and requires more energy. As a result, people ought to use solar and wind  power when they are more efficient, i.e., using solar during the summer and wind during the  winter. 

Recent Developments 

Now that global gas prices have soared over the past year, organizations such as the EU and  the UNECE are now seriously considering energy alternatives, including nuclear power. While  some members in the EU such as Germany want to exclude nuclear energy from its goal of  carbon neutrality by 2050, France, where 70% of its electricity is from nuclear power, is pitching for greater use of nuclear power in the future. 

Recently, on November 22nd, the UNECE officially  recognized nuclear power as the lowest carbon electricity source in a new report that studied the  UK’s newest nuclear power projects, Hinkley Point C and Sizewell C. Evidently, while nuclear  power is not a practical energy source to completely receive energy from, it is an  excellent steppingstone to begin the world’s path to cleaner and cheaper energy to meet the  massive demand of electricity for the future. 

Written by Martin Min 

Sources 

https://www.wsj.com/articles/gas-crisis-prompts-fresh-proposals-from-eu-11634129005 https://www.energy.gov/energysaver/hybrid-wind-and-solar-electric-systems https://www.energy.gov/ne/articles/nuclear-power-most-reliable-energy-source-and-its-not-even close 

https://www.nrel.gov/news/program/2020/nuclear-renewable-synergies-for-clean-energy solutions.html

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