Carbon-Free Nuclear Power
Carbon-free nuclear energy is an essential component of America’s energy security and clean energy program of reducing carbon emissions in order to reduce global warming.
Fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas) power 60% of the electricity produced in America, emitting 5,000,000 tons of carbon dioxide. Nuclear energy produces 20% of the electricity and emits 0 tons of carbon dioxide.
Ninety-three nuclear reactors in fifty-six plants are located in twenty-eight states. The average age of the reactors is thirty-nine years. Currently, there are only two nuclear reactors under construction in America in Vogtle, Georgia. Twenty-three reactors are shut down or are in various stages of decommissioning: Illinois (9), Pennsylvania (8) and South Carolina (7) lead the nation in number of nuclear reactors.
Carbon Free Nuclear Energy Advantages
The Biden Administration is cautiously embracing nuclear energy to meet its green goals. The administration’s climate advisor, Gina McCarthy, states nuclear power reactors are “absolutely essential” in meeting Biden’s climate projections of a net-zero carbon economy. Congress passed an infrastructure bill which devotes $8.5 billion to fund advanced nuclear reactor development, funding of small modular reactors (SMRs), and financially compromised existing nuclear plants.
The most reliable of all energy sources is nuclear energy. It is available 24/7/365 and does not depend upon sunshine, wind, water levels, or fossil fuels. The wind does not always blow and the sun does not shine at night. Maintenance and downtimes are minimal with nuclear energy. A small quantity of uranium powers nuclear energy. Uranium is a plentiful mineral throughout the world and the U.S. It is easily and securely transported.
A solar panel farm kills thousands of birds, requires 450 times the land area of a nuclear power plant and is effective only when the sun shines. Wind farms also require large tracts of land, kill thousands of birds and provide intermittent power. Battery storage technology for renewable energy is not capable of providing sufficient and sustainable electricity to meet society’s needs. The primary source for solar panels and windmill blades is China.
Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) are safer and less costly than large conventional nuclear fission reactors. They are designed and manufactured in modules at a plant and transported to a site. This reduces cost and speeds up construction time.
Nuclear fission reactors power all nuclear plants today. Fission occurs when one atom is split into two resulting in the release of energy. Future nuclear reactors will be powered by fusion which combines and fuses two atoms into one atom releasing energy and leaving little radioactive waste. At present there are no working fusion reactors because of the inability to control the process. Advanced computer models and other technologies will soon make a laboratory model into an industrial-size reactor.
Nuclear energy offers over 150,000 steady, high-paying jobs and is a significant source of local tax revenue. Technological spinoffs enrich America’s industrial base and improve daily living. By reducing air pollution, nuclear energy saves millions of lives. Nuclear radiation fights cancer and sterilizes medical instruments and food packaging.
Nuclear reactors are the safest of all energy sources, there have been no known deaths from nuclear accidents in the United States. The Navy has utilized nuclear power since the launch of the submarine USS Nautilus in 1954. Currently the entire U.S. submarine and aircraft carrier fleet are powered by nuclear energy. Sixty-five year later, there have been no safety or health issues raised by the Navy’s nuclear energy use.
Nuclear Power Disadvantages
All the nuclear waste ever produced in the U.S. can fit on a single football field in 50-foot-high solid stack containers. Coal plants generate the same amount of waste every hour and its disposal/storage is a serious environmental issue. Natural gas methane flaring and mining of rare earth metals for solar panels and windmills are also serious environmental issues.
Fear is a powerful emotion. A phobia is an unreasonable fear of something or a situation. Nuclear energy and the resulting waste should be feared but not unreasonably. Fear of nuclear energy in a military weapon is a reasonable and justified fear. But fear of nuclear energy in producing electricity is unreasonable -- effectively “nuclearphobia.”
Environmental, green and progressive organizations, with annual budgets of over one billion dollars, promote green energy and oppose nuclear energy. Excessive lawsuits and regulations discourage nuclear energy development. The risks of nuclear energy are greatly exaggerated and the risks of renewable energy are minimized or not even mentioned. A significant portion of that billion dollars, in conjunction with an active membership, has a significant impact on public perception and political action.
Nuclear energy is the safest, cleanest, and most reliable of all energy sources. For a carbon-free future and a growing industrial civilization, nuclear energy is an absolute necessity. Currently eighty-five percent of the world’s energy is provided by fossil fuels. It is impossible for wind and solar power in the near future to totally replace nuclear and/or fossil fuels. An intelligent combination of energy conservation, renewable energies for local low-intensity applications, and nuclear energy for large-scale electricity production, are the only viable methods to meet future civilization energy needs.
Laurence F. Sanford is a Senior Analyst for the American Security Council Foundation