Jordan Navarro | Contributing Writer
When we think of nuclear energy. We automatically think of catastrophe and death. We think of disasters such as the infamous Chornobyl or Fukushima. We think of weapons of mass destruction and generations of people having cancer. And while these fears are reasonable, they are far from the truth. Despite nuclear energy being made infamous for its flaws, we ignore the good it can bring to our world and our future.
Before we talk about the benefits of nuclear power, let’s understand it first. What radioactive material wants to do is decay. Because of its decay, it sends out pieces of itself everywhere and at super speeds. What nuclear engineers do with these particles is that they create fuel rods for the particles to bounce off one another. By having these particles constantly bounce off the fuel rods correctly and consistently, it would create massive amounts of heat. That heat would be used to make steam and that steam would be used to make electricity, the same electricity that’s already being pumped into your dorm right now. However, what we are currently using is fossil fuel.
Energy is essential in our day-to-day lives. We are heavily reliant on energy to keep the world moving. We need it for travel, for our communications, for our entertainment, down to the creature comforts like hot water and lights. One kilogram of fossil fuel can produce 25,000,000 j/kg of energy. Enough to charge your phone. Now let’s take a look at Uranium, One kilogram of Uranium equals to one million kilograms of coal to produce the same amount of energy. Something that can fit in the palm of your hand can produce tons more energy than what we are mining in mines. We can go further and update our nuclear reactors and use an element called Thorium. Thorium is abundant, hard to turn into a weapon and way less wasteful compared to current nuclear reactors. 1 ton of Thorium is calculated to produce the same amount of energy compared to 200 tons of Uranium, or 3.5 million tons of coal. We could essentially replace the use of fossil fuels entirely if the world were to switch to nuclear energy.
As for mortality rates, nuclear power gives off a scary image of people having their flesh being melted away, and cancer eating away at their bodies. It is an excruciating death that no one should endure. And we would want to prevent that from happening to everyone else. But despite the macabre deaths caused by Chernobyl and Fukushima, nuclear energy prevents more deaths than it does cause them. According to the article, ‘Prevented Mortality and Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Historical and Projected Nuclear Power’, the abstract reads, “we find that nuclear power could additionally prevent an average of 420 000–7.04 million deaths and 80–240 GtCO2-eq emissions due to fossil fuels by midcentury,” It’s easy to imagine how bad the death of radiation can bring, but the prevention of deaths from fossil fuels supersedes it. In fact, deaths caused by nuclear energy are minuscule compared to deaths by mining accidents, pollution, etc. To bounce off this, we will look at France and Germany. Germany has gotten rid of all their nuclear power plants and mainly relies on fossil fuels. Compare that to France which is the opposite. According to BP Energy Outlook, 2016, France produces two times more clean energy due to its hydro and nuclear power than Germany. We can go even further and see that a study conducted by NASA in 2013 found that nuclear energy prevented 1.8 million deaths between 1976 and 2009. Even if you include Chernobyl and Fukushima, nuclear energy ranks last in death per energy unit generated per year.
Lastly, nuclear energy reduces CO2 emissions. Regarding coal and fossil fuels, it is cheap and easily accessible, and ready to use on the fly. It’s because we still use it. But with climate change being an ever-present threat to our survival, we must look for alternative sources of energy if we want to continue to thrive. And while solar and wind power are great, why not use the resources we already have available through nuclear energy? Since 1976, about 64 gigatons of greenhouse emissions have not been pumped out, thanks to nuclear energy. That amount could rise to 80-100 gigatons by the mid-21stst century. When looking at the long-term, nuclear energy is relatively clean. Combined with solar and wind, we could be on our way to a cleaner Earth.
To conclude this argument, nuclear energy is way safer, less harmful, and more efficient than fossil fuels. Nuclear energy has received harsh criticisms due to catastrophes that are terrible, but still rare. The image of a nuclear fallout zone with mutated monsters and unstable power plants are due to the few failures and disregarding the daily victories. And while the fear may still linger in the backs of people’s minds if asked about nuclear energy, it’s important we consider all options and to look at the data given to us. It’s not to deny the risks involved when investing in a powerful source of energy, but that hasn’t stopped us from pursuing goals to reach greater heights, new technologies, and improving our lives.