Is nuclear energy the solution to climate change?

Accessed from on 11/12/13

Accessed from on 11/12/13

CNN recently released a two hour special titled Pandora’s Promise. The goal of the show was as clear as it was controversial; convince the world to invest in nuclear energy. The show was made by self proclaimed environmentalists and argued that nuclear energy is the best way for us to combat global climate change.

These guys did their homework. They made a very convincing argument that nuclear energy is not only safe, its affordable and environmentally sound. They also turned environmental arguments for energy conservation on their head. The jist of the argument has to do with a reality we have known for a while, but haven’t adequately addressed. Even if all the first world countries do everything they can to increase energy efficiency, it wont be enough to curb the tide of climate change.

Accessed on 11/17/13

Accessed on 11/17/13

Even though we have more efficient light bulbs, hybrid cars, and energy efficient buildings, we are still finding ways to consume more energy. With every new gadget we buy our energy demands go up. When you account for cost of production and support equipment such as servers, the smartphone in your pocket may use more energy than your refrigerator .The ever increasing demand for power simply isn’t going away anytime soon.

Accessed on 11/19/13

Accessed on 11/19/13

From a global perspective, all one has to do is look at air conditioning to see the problem. People in areas such as South America and the Middle East are starting to demand air conditioning. From my cozy 75 degree house who am I to say no? This demand is going to increase the demand for electricity exponentially. The million dollar question is where are we going to get it?

Currently renewables such as wind and solar only make up 10 percent of the worlds energy production. Its only expected to increase to 14% by 2035. Beyond that, many of these sources such are heavily subsidized. Those who are proponents of nuclear energy are proclaiming renewables simply cant grow fast enough to keep up with demands.

Nuclear energy offers a solution to the power problem. It produces significantly less carbon emissions than what is being used in many developing countries, coal. The benefits go beyond carbon emissions. Despite a bad reputation, nuclear energy is one of the safest sources of energy we have, even taking into account recent tragedies. Although Fukushima displaced many people from their homes, there were no deaths related to radiation exposure. Nuclear power actually has an overall morbidity rate that is lower than solar and wind. People often forget factors such as the chemicals that go into producing solar panels.

That said, there’s a reason there isn’t halos floating over the steam stacks. What Pandora’s Promise skims over is the nuclear waste issue. They simply say there isn’t enough waste for us to loose sleep over. You could stack the nuclear waste the U.S. has produced onto an area the size of a football field. The problem is, where do you put a football field that no one can get near for thousands of years?

The movie also fails to mention that if nuclear energy was going to increase as much as they propose, that amount of waste would be increase as well. Currently nuclear only accounts for 11 percent of energy production worldwide. The movie would like to see that number at 70 or 80 percent. You don’t have to be a mathematician to figure out there would be a lot more waste if they get what they want.Even with reactors that can recycle waste multiple times the logistics of transporting and storing radioactive waste is a planning nightmare.

Nuclear power should definitely be on the table when we talk about clean energy production.It is by no means the silver bullet that will halt climate change in its tracks. In some areas it simply is not practical. The treasure valley already has hydro and geothermal power, there just isn’t a reason to open a nuclear power plant. However, in large expanding cities who cant keep up with power demands, nuclear power might be the perfect fit. Planners who keep an open mind may be able to use nuclear power to help solve their energy and environmental woes.

2 thoughts on “Is nuclear energy the solution to climate change?

  1. I haven’t watched “Pandora’s Problem” yet, but did CNN talk about the potential in developing less radioactive nuclear options? One such reactor uses Thorium as its fuel source. The Norwegians are starting their trials on a “seeded” Thorium reactor:

    But, even more interesting than Norway’s Thorium-MOX experiment is the potential in a Thorium Molten Salt Reactor design. An operational ThMSR was built by the DOE at their Oak Ridge complex and successfully run for four years (1965 to 1969), and today the Gates Foundation is funding the development of an updated design:

    The advantages of such a system are numerous; a dramatic decrease in radioactive waste, a near elimination of the threat of fissionable material proliferation, and a significantly reduced operational cost when compared to today’s uranium/plutonium reactors (and, such reactors can actually utilize the U.S.’s current highly radioactive nuclear waste stockpile as a supplemental fuel — goodbye waste storage problem).

    Unfortunately, the DOE had known these benefits from their Oak Ridge experiment, but since such reactors cannot produce weapons-grade plutonium as a byproduct (which comes in handy when your nation is building a nuclear arsenal) it scraped the program. Fortunately, there are a number of countries and foundations that are eager to resume the development.

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