NCEW Fun Facts: Nuclear

There are a lot of misconceptions about nuclear power and the processes that produce it. As we continue to try to change the narrative surrounding environmental discussions, we have found ourselves researching the different methods of producing sustainable energy. During National Clean Energy Week, we’re bringing attention to all of the ways that alternative energy can be produced safely and cleanly. Here are five quick facts about nuclear energy, which is perhaps the most misunderstood methods of sustainable energy production.

  1. Nuclear energy is created through fission.

Nuclear energy, at its core, is created by the fission of Uranium atoms within a nuclear reactor. The most basic explanation of the generation of nuclear energy is that this fission generates intense heat, the steam from which spins a turbine which, in turn, generates electrical power.

Because the heat in the production of nuclear energy is produced through fission, rather than through the burning of fuels, it poses little risk in terms of air pollution, and it remains one of the most compliant energy sources in accordance with the Clean Air Act of 1970, which sought to improve the air quality of the nation as a whole.

2. Nuclear Energy provides nearly two-thirds of the “Clean-Air electricity” within the United States.

In regards to the production of electricity in general, nuclear energy has provided for nearly 20% of that produced in the United States over the past two decades, according to the Department of Energy. As an emissions-free form of energy, nuclear energy remains one of the cleanest energy sources currently available.

According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, the manner of production of such in the United States has developed to pose almost no risk to the general public in terms of safety. The risks to the general public, due to the manner in which the United States operates its nuclear reactions, is negligible, and the process itself is nearly devoid of external pollutants such as greenhouse gases, which many scientists attribute to what they see as Earth’s changing climate.

3. Nuclear Energy can be an economical solution to the growing issue of sustainable energy.

With the creation of Advanced Small Modular Reactors (SMRs), nuclear energy production has become more economically-responsible than ever. The Office of Nuclear Energy in the Department of Energy has stated that these SMRs “can also be made in factories and transported to sites where they would be ready to “plug and play” upon arrival, reducing both capital costs and construction times,” as well as exploring clean cooling technology during the fission process, such as with “light water, or by non-light water media such as gas or molten salt.”

This isn’t the only technology that’s put nuclear energy on the map. The use of Light Water in nuclear power production in and of itself is innovative. Present nuclear power plants operate under a 60-year license, and many will approach the end of that lifespan at the same time. The creation of the Light Water Reactor Sustainability (LWRS) Program ensures that these clean energy capabilities will economically last beyond their projected 60-year lifespan as it currently stands. The program is working to ensure that activities within the program are maximized in terms of their cost-share in order to maximize the benefit that these plants can produce.

4. In the history of nuclear power production, only 3 major catastrophic incidents have occurred.

These occurred at Three Mile Island (1979), Chernobyl (1986), and Fukushima (2011).

These nuclear disasters stand in contrast to the at least ten incidents related to fossil fuels that have occurred in the past twenty-five years alone. Perhaps the most well-known of these incidents is the BP Oil Spill that occurred in the Gulf of Mexico only a few years ago.

The United States has learned from these past three incidents and has set regulations of energy production to prevent these catastrophes from occurring domestically in the modern day. In reaction to the meltdown at Fukushima, stringent security measures and emergency preparedness plans have been set in place to minimize the potential hazards associated with nuclear power production. Nuclear power plants in the United States are some of the most heavily scrutinized in the world, and safety remains a primary consideration of these production plants.

5. Nuclear energy prices could only benefit the consumer in the long run.

Economics tells us that pricing operates at least partially under the influence of the scarcity of a given resource. Because nuclear energy is considered a renewable resource, it is not subject to fluctuation in price the same way as fossil fuel energy sources like gas or coal.

Additionally, an increase in nuclear power production as technology develops and improves will only increase the number of available jobs in this field, helping to curb the issue of unemployment within the energy industry.

As our nation continues to grow and enjoy its role as a world power, we have to continue to look to the future. Clean energy is that future. We owe it to the generations to come to explore the best solutions for our changing world. The future is only as bright as we make it, and nuclear energy is just one possible solution to many of the clean energy issues that are being discussed nationwide.

Sage Kafsky