Carbon in our atmosphere has shown to be a challenge our global community is striving to balance with our need for reliable and increasing amounts of energy. Renewable energies, such as solar and wind will certainly have their part to play, but it’s nuclear energy that has been identified as a key component of the low-carbon world of the future. Here’s how we expect to get there.
The Environmental Impact of Nuclear Power
The IEA/NEA Technology Roadmap states that “Nuclear energy can play a key role in decarbonizing our electricity systems by providing a stable source of low-carbon baseload electricity”. 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.
In a report from the Pew Research Center based on surveys of scientists and the public, a majority of respondents also see the value in building new nuclear energy facilities. Sixty-five percent of the scientists Pew polled favor constructing more nuclear energy facilities, while 45 percent of the general public supports the development as well.
More Capacity Is Needed
According to the report, the global installed capacity of nuclear energy must be more than double by 2050 in order to limit global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).
The report calls for installed nuclear-generating capacity to increase from 396 gigawatts to 930 gigawatts by 2050 in order to cut energy-related carbon emissions in half and meet the IEA’s 2-degree scenario. This would require increasing annual nuclear plant connection rates from 5 gigawatts in 2014 to more than 20 gigawatts as soon as is practical. That growth rate would result in nuclear energy generating 17 percent of global electricity in 2050, which represents some “formidable growth.”
While the short-term outlook for nuclear energy development was certainly affected by the Fukushima Daiichi accident as well as the global economic downturn, more than 70 reactors were under construction in 2014 which is the most in the last 25 year. So, the goal of “formidable growth” may be within reach given the right political and economic support.
Clean and Reliable Nuclear Power
The small modular reactors of the future offer the advantage of scalability, lower cost, and overall flexibility in terms of power generation, but they also are important because they provide a clean and reliable power source. They are a perfect fit for smaller electrical markets, isolated areas, and sites with limited water or acreage. They are also more conveniently paired with other energy sources, including renewables and traditional fossil fuel energy sources, to produce higher efficiency and increase grid stability and security. In short, they are a very viable option for developing countries and provide an exciting option for countries looking to reduce pollution while increasing their power production.
But the United States can see significant benefits from their adoption as well because they provide an interesting opportunity for the country to generate energy resources without adding to the growing problem of greenhouse gas pollution. 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.
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