The importance of nuclear energy and renewables is critical to a clean energy future. It’s clear that the value nuclear energy brings to the energy market is firmly based in its overall lack of carbon emissions. As energy demand increases across our country and across the world, nuclear energy is a cornerstone of a balanced and carbon mitigated energy mix. Environmentalists and states have recognized the climate and clean air benefits of nuclear energy. So why are nuclear plants closing at such a rapid pace? The easy answer is that it’s complicated.
The Challenges of Nuclear
There’s a lot of negativity built up in the public opinion on nuclear energy in the U.S. and abroad. The truth is that large-scale accidents and natural disasters of the past have embedded the dangers associated with nuclear power generation into the minds of the general population. Concerns about public safety and improper disposal of nuclear waste products have influenced the layperson’s perspective on the issues, and in some cases elevating the perception of risk associated with nuclear power. Years of protests against nuclear energy and a slow rebound of the industry in recent years have also added to the negativity.
While it’s true that the industry has faced challenges since its inception, nuclear power has an important part to play in the future of energy production. The best way to change public opinion is through education. Fight fear with knowledge, honesty, good science, and strong safety guidelines. Maintaining an industry-wide emphasis on safety and the building of a safety culture recognized across the nuclear energy market is important not just to reduce the risk of adverse effects or accidents, but also to reassure the public that when managed properly, nuclear power is a good option. Meeting and exceeding high industry safety standards will set the market on a responsible path of development. Investing in quality safety training and education of all employees is crucial as well.
Recognizing Nuclear as a Better Option
The environmental impact of electricity generation varies significantly depending on the power source. Coal, for example, is the dirtiest form of power, producing vast amounts of greenhouse gas emissions that exacerbate atmospheric pollutants. In comparison, nuclear energy has one of the lowest rates of greenhouse gas emissions in the electricity generation market. Greenhouse gas emissions released by nuclear power facilities are comparable with those attributed to hydroelectric and wind power facilities.
Though the limited waste and by-products from nuclear power plants may have a negative impact on local environments if handled and stored incorrectly, nuclear energy is considered a clean energy as the process does not emit carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, or nitrogen oxides (three key gases that fall under the category of greenhouse gases). While it can be argued that the mining and enrichment of the necessary uranium, fossil fuels are released into the atmosphere, there are significantly fewer air pollutants and emissions associated with the power generation process.
The nuclear power industry is widely recognized as a clean energy option. With nationwide increases in electricity use at home and on the job, an economy on the rebound, and development and industry on the rise, nuclear power is stepping into the limelight as an attractive replacement of coal or even natural gas generated power.
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