Is Nuclear the Solution?

Since it has become trendy to be ‘green,’ talk of reducing greenhouse gases, eliminating carbon emissions, living sustainably, and getting off coal and imported oil has been on the rise among everyone from college professors to hippies for years now. As people continue to acknowledge real concerns about the issues surrounding power generation, the government is taking actions to increase the amount of energy generated from renewable sources.

One source that has been receiving much attention lately is nuclear power. Whether this is truly a renewable energy source is up for debate, and for years the argument against nuclear has revolved around the expensive cost of building nuclear plants, concerns about safety, and the question of how to store the spent nuclear fuel. While most of the country’s nuclear power plants came online in the 70’s and 80’s, President Obama has recently mentioned nuclear power, and even established a commission to develop a long-term nuclear energy strategy and deal with these concerns. This week Obama will announce his plans to follow through with his State of the Union remarks with an additional$36 billion in loan guarantees for the construction of at least one new nuclear plant in Georgia. Site preparation has already begun, and construction approval by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is expected by early 2012.

Nuclear power, unlike coal and natural gas, releases no carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, into the air. This is one reason why many pro-nuclear environmentalists are pushing for the construction of new plants, which can cost between $8 and $10 billion, and have a tendency to go over budget. President Obama’s budget could potentially provide for six or seven new plants, enough to provide electricity to millions of homes across the country. Although the up-front cost of nuclear plants is high, they produce electricity that is cheaper than electricity from fossil fuels and the plants are more efficient. There are currently 104 nuclear power plants in the country that produce 20% of the nation’s electricity (source).

The fact that nuclear power involves mining uranium, using hundreds of thousands of gallons of water, and permanently storing spent nuclear fuel probably means that it is not the best way to permanently meet our nation’s energy needs. It takes a decade for nuclear waste to become 1,000 times less radioactive than immediately post-fission, and 500 years for the waste to be less radioactive than the original uranium (source). Realistically, it will take decades to achieve a completely renewable energy portfolio, if it is even possible. Until our grid can completely incorporate wind, geothermal, solar, hydroelectric, and other forms of energy, we need a solution that is less harmful to the planet than mining and burning coal. Perhaps nuclear power is that in-between step.



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2 responses to “Is Nuclear the Solution?

  1. Patrick Pace

    I couldn’t agree with you more. Considering Uranium is ~100million times for energy dense when “fisseled” compared to burning fossil fuels, think how much less damage to the environment there would be and how much less CO2 would be released if we depended on nuclear. Sure we have to designate some small areas as waste storage for a long period of time (1000 yr range) but do you think the mountain tops of the Appalachians that have been blown off are going to come back in 1000 years? Less environmental impact, amazing technology…go nuclear! And cross your fingers that ITER will work someday.

  2. curv0e0clock

    I must say, it makes me happy to see you writing about nuclear power, Courtney! Of course, my stance is pro-nuclear in terms of future energy sources. If we are to expand nuclear power in this nation, many things must be taken into consideration and you did a good job of pointing out the most important ones. Obama’s $36 billion loan will certainly be beneficial to supplying nuclear’s high upfront costs. As for nuclear waste, nothing revolutionary will done about it until we literally have no place to put it. Acquisition of uranium is more environmentally friendly than mining for coal where the land is blown to pieces just to get at it. Most uranium mining is underground mining or in situ leaching, which have a minimal effect on the landscape, yet do require great amounts of water ( To deal with the radioactivity of the waste, spent nuclear fuel could still be used for fertile blanket material in fast burner reactors, which would effectively transmute the waste into shorter lived material ( Despite nuclear power’s short comings, there is no doubt that it is on the rise as the NRC has approved several licenses to build plants in the near future (

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