The energy industry is changing all right, but it might not be headed in the direction you are expecting. Think our country will rely completely on renewable energy? Think again. Nuclear power may actually be making its greatest comeback yet.
Out of the 31 countries that have commercial nuclear power, the U.S. possesses the most nuclear capacity and generation, and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down. For the first time in 30 years, two new reactors have gained construction approval. In February 2012, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) approved Southern Company’s request to construct two new nuclear reactors at its Vogtle Plant in Georgia, to be operational by 2017.
As of the beginning of 2012, the NRC has applications for 28 new reactors. The review process is extremely detail-oriented and typically lasts between 30 and 60 months. Although construction usually takes about 6 years, the Energy Information Administration projects that “the industry will add approximately 19.1 gigawatts (19,100 megawatts) of new nuclear capacity during the period 2012 to 2040, with 11.0 gigawatts coming from new reactors and 8.0 gigawatts coming from uprates of existing plants.”
Yes, there are some areas for concern, but studies have shown that nuclear power plants emit very little carbon dioxide when compared to coal plants. A large 1,250 megawatt nuclear power plant will emit roughly 250,000 tons of carbon dioxide in its lifetime. That may seem like a large amount, but how does that number look after you hear that coal-fired plants produce almost 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide each year in the U.S.?
Additionally, nuclear power plants eliminate other sources of pollution such as soot, which causes lung disease, as well as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen, which lead to smog and acid rain.
Robert Stone, creator of the nuclear power documentary Pandora’s Promise, shared his view, “Global warming today is real and increasingly threatening our way of life and our future. As Mark Lynas showed in his book Six Degrees, unless we drastically curb greenhouse gas emissions within a decade, temperatures will likely climb within this century to levels not seen on Earth for 50 million years. This threat challenges us all to get out of our comfort zones and reconsider our opinions.”
Even though the Obama Administration partially trimmed the use of nuclear reactors after the Fukushima disaster, it seems like nuclear energy is here to stay. Since 1990, nuclear power has been responsible for supplying at least 20 percent of electricity in the U.S. every year. In comparison, wind and solar account for only 2 percent of U.S. energy.
Also taking part in the development of the nuclear industry is Bill Gates, former CEO of Microsoft. By funding a start-up called TerraPower LLC, his goal is to transform nuclear reactors into smaller, safer, and cheaper sources of energy. The company is working with Chinese scientists to come up with a design requiring no enriched uranium. Its fuel would actually be depleted uranium, which will greatly reduce nuclear waste output.
Much of the population has strong opposing views on the use of nuclear energy. Some support every aspect of it and others cannot understand why it is still being used in today’s world. As the government remains in favor of nuclear power, today’s advanced technology should ensure citizens that proper safety precautions will be taken. Stone explains that we should keep an open mind with this powerful source of energy, “Given that nuclear power does not produce greenhouse gases, and given the world will need to triple its energy production by 2050, it only makes sense to give nuclear energy a second look.”