Sam Taishoff ’22
As the world feels the dire effects of climate change, many prominent scientists are working to provide safe, efficient, and clean alternative fuels and energies. As they scramble to find ways to make solar and wind farms cheaper and more efficient, there are others who know that a safe, relatively cheap, efficient, and clean energy already exists: nuclear power.
Since its first uses in weaponry during the Second World War, nuclear energy has always been a boogeyman. People fear nuclear power because they don’t understand it and they don’t bother to learn about it. This fear is reinforced by fossil fuel companies, George W. Bush, and modern media that depict nuclear energy as a wholly destructive, weaponized, radioactive, unsafe, and expensive form of energy. In addition, every time there is an incident involving a nuclear power plant, such as Chernobyl, Three-Mile Island, or Fukushima, the media uses them to monger fear and opposition against nuclear energy.
In reality, every one of those “disasters” was caused by human error or a lack of foresight. If one looks towards a country like France, which derives nearly 80% of its power from nuclear plants, one would see that there is no danger presented by nuclear power plants so long as they are built and operated properly. In the total history of nuclear energy, there has only ever been four nuclear reactor meltdowns: Chernobyl and three at Fukushima. Compare this to the 700+ nuclear reactors throughout history and across the world and one will notice that the chances of a meltdown are very slim. In addition, as we learn more about the technology behind these plants and how to make them safer, the chance of an incident goes down significantly.
When it comes to the efficiency of these nuclear reactors, one should note that only 10% of the world’s energy needs are currently met by nuclear power. This is also important to note that there are only about 450 nuclear reactors in operation. By these numbers, with about 5,000 nuclear reactors, we could meet and exceed the world’s energy needs for generations to come.
The only by-product of nuclear energy is nuclear waste, which means there are no greenhouse gases being emitted by the plants. I’m sure anyone who has seen The Simpsons has an image of nuclear waste in their mind, some sort of radioactive green sludge, perhaps contained in a large yellow barrel. The truth is that most nuclear waste is in the form of spent fuel rods that can be stored relatively easily.
There have been many suggestions as to what to do with the waste, including storing it in a mountain and letting it naturally decay in underground bunkers. A new theory, however, could provide an easy way to produce significantly less nuclear waste. A fast reactor can be used to destroy the longest-lived nuclear waste, transforming it from waste that can take millennia to decay into waste that only requires a few centuries to completely decay. It also produces far less radioactive waste altogether. This means that the waste produced can be easily stored underground and will be gone in a few hundred years. Compared to the nasty byproducts of fossil fuels and even the toxic chemicals from producing solar panels, the nuclear waste is nothing.
In addition to all these benefits of nuclear power, nuclear power plants also take up significantly less space than a solar or wind farm. For a solar farm to produce the same amount of energy as a nuclear plant, about 1,000 megawatts per year, it would need about 75 square miles; A nuclear plant requires only 1.3 square miles per 1,000 MW, while a wind farm would require about 350 square miles to even come close to producing the same amount. Of course, these studies assume prime conditions for wind and solar, so in reality, these farms may need to be even larger. As the world population continues to skyrocket, we need as much room for people as possible, which means wind and solar are practically useless in the future.
As time passes and more research is done, we will continue to see nuclear energy become safer, cleaner, and more efficient than it already is. However, this will require the people to join together to fight big fossil fuel companies. I encourage anyone reading to explore the alternative energy that is nuclear power, especially those of you who believe in climate change and want to see the world become a safer, cleaner place for future generations. To quote an ancient Native American proverb, “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.” It is on us to demand the green energy that is nuclear power.