Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Pros of Nuclear Energy Expansion for a Sustainable Future

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As I mentioned in Saturday's post, this coming Thursday, Hofstra will host a debate as to whether or not nuclear energy should be expanded to create a more sustainable future.  Many in the sustainability field argue that nuclear energy should be rapidly expanded to get us off of fossil fuels.  Others counter that nuclear energy is too dangerous and costly.

In the coming week, I will have several posts on this issue.  Here is what has been written and what can be expected in the coming days:

Sunday:  What is nuclear energy and how is it produced in power plants?

Monday:  The distribution of nuclear power plants around the world and the amount of nuclear energy produced.

Today:  The pros of nuclear energy expansion.

Wednesday:  The cons of nuclear energy expansion.

Thursday:  Introduction of the debaters.

Friday:  Debate redux.  My reaction to the debate.


Several sustainability experts, particularly those heavily focused on trying to save the world from catastrophic climate change as a result of greenhouse gas pollution, have come to the conclusion that rapidly increasing nuclear energy production is one of the few ways that we can quickly reduce greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels to stave off disaster.

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Here is their argument in a nutshell:

1.  The world is currently utilizing tremendous amounts of carbon-based fuels.  Even with the growth of renewable energy sources like wind and solar, the use of carbon fuels is going to continue.  

2.  Renewables are not increasing at the rate needed to prevent global climate change based on existing models.  For example, even with the recent climate deal between the US and China, the decreases of greenhouse gases are modest and not sufficient to truly solve the climate change problem.  Renewable energy sources like wind and solar have a much larger footprint than nuclear power plants and thus have a greater opportunity to disrupt existing ecosystems.

3.  Nuclear energy is the only energy source that we can quickly ramp up to meet the demand for steady reliable energy in today's modern energy-intensive world.

This is a compelling argument, particularly given the fact that new technology provides opportunities to eliminate or reduce nuclear waste and improve safety of nuclear reactors.  We haven't completed the building of a new reactor since 1996, almost the pre-Internet age.  While some argue that we only have enough nuclear fuel for the next 100 years or so, new efficiency innovations in nuclear reactor technology suggest that this current amount of fuel could last for at least 1000 years and perhaps much longer.

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Proponents of nuclear also suggest that nuclear is far safer than most other conventional fuel sources like coal and oil.  We've all heard of the mining disasters and refinery explosions.  While there have been two well-known disasters (Fukushima and Chernobyl), they have not been as damaging as fossil fuel extraction and processing.  We've all seen what happened with Deep Water Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

To some, nuclear energy is already a green energy source.  The Brookings Institute, in their 2011 green jobs report, listed work in the nuclear field as a green job.

Of course, there are many who completely disagree with this argument.  Tomorrow, I will explore the cons of nuclear energy expansion.

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