meet a portion of humanity’s needs for electricity over the last several decades. However, just like any other form of energy, nuclear power has advantages and disadvantages.
Pros of Nuclear Energy
Unlike fossil fuels, nuclear energy does not contribute a significant amount of greenhouse gases during electricity generation. Nuclear energy is not a significant source of carbon dioxide emissions, sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, particulates, or ash¹.
Nuclear energy plants require relatively low operating costs².
Nuclear power is an established electricity generation technology².
Nuclear energy has the capacity to generates large amounts of energy and meet industrial and municipal needs².
Cons of Nuclear Energy
Nuclear energy production and the wastes generated by such processes are potentially very dangerous. The radiation produced through nuclear power generation can be a dangerous problem for both human health and the environment.
Of particular concern is what to do with spent nuclear fuel. Most of the global supply of spent nuclear fuel is currently being managed in temporary storage situations, awaiting more long-term and safe storage solutions. What’s more, this spent nuclear fuel is at risk of becoming subject to accidents when transported or from attacks and being potentially weaponized¹,³.
For more information on the dangers associated with nuclear waste, check out our post on 7 Reasons Why Nuclear Waste is Dangerous.
Nuclear waste remains radioactive for a very long time, with a half life in the 10,000s of years that must somehow continue to be managed well into the future ³.
Just like fossil fuels, uranium is a finite resource that must be extracted from the earth.
The mining of uranium to produce nuclear power is environmentally destructive.
Large expensive infrastructure is required to build nuclear power plants and are more expensive to build than fossil fuel plants due to the systems that are required to contain radiation. High subsidies are required for the construction and operation of these energy plants and they also take many years to get fully up and running²,³.
Nuclear plants utilize a lot of water to cool equipment³. The water that is used to cool the nuclear plants can negatively impact the temperature in nearby waterbodies and alter their aquatic ecology¹.
The reduction in greenhouse gas emissions that might be saved through the use of nuclear power can also easily be accomplished through energy efficiency and conservation.
These savings, combined with energy systems that allow energy from clean sources, such as wind and solar, to be captured, stored, and distributed to where it is needed as well as stored for use during times of peak and base demand³. Such developments should make the need for investment in more expensive and risky energy sources like as nuclear power virtually unnecessary in the future.
One exciting development is a new lithium ion battery technology developed by Tesla that allows solar energy to be stored and used on both small scales (such as in homes) and large scales (such as in commercial buildings and facilities).