Climate change is becoming a global mainstream concern, and every country is vowing to level down their carbon emission to net-zero in the coming few decades. One of the strongest contestants of alternate energy sources, which is receiving an equal amount of support as criticism, is Nuclear Energy. In recent years an increasing number of scientists, climate activists, and leaders are pinning their hope on nuclear energy, but it is coming as a shock to those afraid of the ill consequences of using it.
It raises the question, who is right? Is using nuclear energy the right decision? Will it helps us combat climate change? And do we even have an option?
The Current Energy Distribution
Energy is a broad term that is used in everything from transportation, industries to heating homes. Today, over 84 % of the world’s total energy demand is met by fossil fuel in the composition:
- Oil: 33%
- Coal: 27%
- Gas: 24%
Whereas only 16% of the world’s energy is from lower emission sources in composition:
- Hydro-Electric: 7%
- Wind/ Solar/Tidal/ Bio/ Geothermal energy: 5%
- Nuclear: 4%
Climate change and energy usage are deeply entangled. Currently, we mostly rely on fossil fuels (source of carbon-emission) for running the world, which makes the transition to a green energy source difficult. To combat climate change, net-zero emission is essential to keep the cataclysmic weather events at bay.
The most impactful way to escape the climate catastrophe is electrifying as many sectors as possible. Industries capable of switching from burning fossil fuels to electricity can help significantly reduce the carbon-emission. Green electricity production at a larger scale with wind, solar, and nuclear can be the energy industry’s future. But, still, 63% of the countries depend substantially on fossil fuel for electricity production.
While renewable energy sources are being established at an exponential speed, the rate of burning fossils is also increasing alongside. Renewable resources cannot cope with the skyrocketing energy demand, resulting in carbon emission for electricity production still on the rise. This is where nuclear energy comes into play.
Though nuclear energy is not renewable, its carbon emission is minuscule in comparison to fossil fuels. With nuclear energy’s capability in mind, countries like China, India, and Korea are extensively boosting their nuclear energy production. On the other hand, previous nuclear energy hotspots like Japan and Germany are actively phasing out their nuclear power plants.
France and Sweden are some of the few countries with the least carbon emission, and the majority of their energy demand is met by hydro and nuclear energy. But lack of innovation and the high cost of setting up nuclear power plants are the hurdles the world needs to overcome.
Setting up nuclear power plants has become increasingly expensive, especially in western countries, because of specialized construction techniques, policy changes, and many other hidden constraints. Many power plants take over a decade for complete construction. The fear of accidents and nuclear waste management are other significant factors. Some innovative new generation technologies can already change nuclear waste into fuels, but they are not being deployed at a large enough scale to have any substantial impacts.
Nuclear Energy: The Debate
Considering the uncertainties and few past nuclear disasters, some argue that nuclear energy must be squashed off the table and we should focus only on renewables sources. There is no doubt that renewables energy is the future, but for now, there are many hurdles yet to combat before the world can entirely rely on them. For example, the inconsistency of the weather combined with variation between seasons makes wind and solar energy sources extremely unreliable. In addition, substantial energy collectors are yet to be constructed to store and distribute energy evenly.
But making this resilient structure will still take a few decades, and until then, other green energy sources can be used to cut the fossil fuels. For example, nuclear energy can provide controllable loads and reliability of supply that the world needs to run smoothly. Another obstacle is the complete transition of energy sources from fossil fuels to electricity. This will skyrocket the already spiraling need for electricity.
The real question is not whether we should use nuclear energy but how we want to deal with the challenging standing ahead of us. Are we in a state where we can afford the carbon emission for a few more decades? Or should we invest in new cheaper, and safe nuclear technologies to elongate the lifetime of the existing nuclear plants while putting our complete focus and money on renewable sources of energy or maybe do both?
Do We Need Nuclear Energy?
Climate change has already started showing its catastrophic consequences. The extreme weather events predicted to take place a few years from now are occurring today. Witnessing the risk it possesses on humanity and earth; any source with a chance of reducing the risk must be pursued with sound risk management.
For now, both renewable and nuclear energy need investment and innovation. Taking existing nuclear energy sources down could end up hiking more fossil fuel usage. To answer the question, do we need nuclear energy? The answer to this question depends on how much more we can handle. A world that is already struggling with climate change calamities is no place to make things more complicated than they have to be.