Climate change is serious business, both in terms of the impact on regional weather patterns and the political climate. One of the most powerful arguments in favor of nuclear power is the reduced atmospheric pollutants and greenhouse gasses generated by the power plants. Compared to other forms of electricity generation, nuclear power is very clean. However, the past 30 years has seen a sharp decline in the building of new nuclear power facilities, to the point where building a new power plant is incredibly expensive. These power plants are now built arguably too safe to help prevent climate change.
The Growing Threat of Climate Change
For almost a decade now, it has become a concern that globally we are not doing enough to address or mitigate climate change. Increased and sustained carbon emissions make it more difficult to limit global warming impacts to the accepted two degrees Centigrade, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. At current rates, we are more likely to see a rise of at least seven degrees Centigrade within this century alone. Climate exiles and refugees are expected to grow to over a hundred million across the planet during this timeframe.
Nuclear Power: A Carbon Neutral Energy
Nuclear power is and should be considered an important part of the climate change solution. Nuclear energy has one of the lowest rates of greenhouse gas emissions, comparable with levels created from the development and operation of hydroelectric and wind power facilities. Compared to coal and natural gas, the use of nuclear power substantially reduces the amount of greenhouse gas emissions released into the environment. The benefit of nuclear power has been recognized by U.S. political and scientific leaders, though there remains a substantial amount of public concern regarding waste disposal and safety of the nuclear power plants within the surrounding community.
Too Safe to Build?
In response to public concern over safety and waste management, particularly after the devastating accident in Fukushima in 2011, rules and regulations put in place to protect the public have severely restricted growth opportunities in the nuclear energy industry.
In terms of the risk of a large-scale nuclear disaster, nuclear power claims far fewer lives than coal power plants, which kill about 7,500 people in the U.S. every year. While the risk is there, it is the fear more than the data which is driving regulations to protect against it.
Nuclear power requires a substantial investment upfront. Add to that limiting operational and maintenance costs and the reality is that it takes a long time for investors to see a significant return. That difficulty is compounded by laws and restrictions meant to lessen the risk involved in building nuclear facilities. Many developers simply do not see the cost to be worth the effort.
Therefore, building new nuclear plants might not be the most cost-effective answer to helping with climate change because of the amount of time needed to realize that initial cost. However, utilizing current nuclear plants and keeping them operating efficiently can be a really impactful answer to helping with climate change and the emission of greenhouse gas.
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