The Navid Chowdhury, a data scientist from
The Environmental Effects of Nuclear EnergyFor many decades, humans have utilized nuclear power to produce massive amounts of energy efficiently and at a lower environmental cost. However, with a growing population and increased technological demand for electricity, the shift to nuclear energy for the international community seems more necessary than ever. As defined by Navid Chowdhury, a data scientist from Stanford University, who worked on the New York State Clean Energy Project, “nuclear energy is a result of heat generated through the fission process of atoms” (Chowdhury, 2012). Since the execution of the first sustainable nuclear fission process by Enrico Fermi in 1942, nuclear energy has improved economies, standard of life, and international relations, but one of the chief impacts has been on the environment. The global environment would benefit greatly from the shift to nuclear energy as it is one of the most efficient sources of energy, produces significantly less carbon emissions, and is highly regarded as one of the safest sources. Compared to other sources of energy, nuclear energy is one of the most efficient in terms of its impact on the land and environment. In a research report from Prastuti Singh, a PhD candidate at Stanford University, it was found that the land use intensity, which is the area of land required per amount of energy produced, was significantly lower in nuclear power plants than in competing energy sources. The average land use intensity of nuclear power plants is 1.9-2.8 km2/Terawatt, while the average for solar energy is around 36.9 km2/Terawatt and 72.1 km2/Terawatt for wind energy (Singh, 2015). Thus, nuclear energy is the least damaging to the environment, especially wildlife habitats, because it does not require as much land to operate. Many problems with hydroelectric, wind power, and solar energy come from the large area they require to produce electricity and their adverse effects on wildlife. Hydroelectric dams alter many bodies of water, which disturbs the natural processes of wildlife, including the spawning and migration of marine wildlife. Wind turbine fields pose a major threat to avians and other flying animals. According to Suaad Jaber in the Journal of Clean Energy Technologies, “wind turbines cause fatalities of birds and bats through collision, most likely with the turbine blades.” (Jaber, 2013). Every year, in North America alone, 140,000 to 328,000 birds are killed by wind turbine farms (Bryce, 2016). Not only is nuclear energy safer for wildlife and wildlife habitat, it can also produce the same amount of energy, if not more, as hydroelectric, wind, and solar sources, all for the fraction of the land. Nuclear energy also is one of the least polluting energy sources, as it emits no carbon dioxide during operation. According to the Sustainable Materials and Technologies Journal from Elsevier, “annually, the 435 operating nuclear power plants prevent the emission of more than 2 billion tons of CO2.” (Brook, 2014). According to a study performed by the World Nuclear Association, nuclear power plants have an average lifecycle greenhouse gas emission intensity (includes emissions from construction, operation, and decommissioning of a plant/facility) of 28 tons of CO2 per GWh (gigawatt hour) compared to coal at 888 tons of CO2 per GWh, oil at 735 tons of CO2 per GWh, and natural gas at 500 tons of CO2 per GWh (WNA, 2011). As stated by Harvard graduate and member of the Board of American Men and Women of Science, K. Lee Lerner, “due to nuclear energy’s significantly lower carbon emission intensity, it minimizes the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that produce the ‘Greenhouse Gas Effect’, and can therefore reduce global warming and air pollution.” (Lerner, 2012). According to the Organization and Environment Journal from Sage Publications, “each year, coal-fired power plants in the United states release 386,000 tons of toxic air emissions, making these plants the leading source of air toxics in the country.” (Bell, 2012). By preventing the release of dangerous pollutants and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, nuclear energy can mitigate the effects of global warming and decrease pollution that is dangerous to plants, animals, and humans. Safety is of utmost importance when considering any source of energy, and nuclear energy has improved over the decades to become one of the safest sources. Kevin Hillstrom, a writer of award-winning reference books on environmental issues analyzes, “though the nuclear industry has encountered some environmental disasters, many lawmakers and members of the nuclear power industry have insisted that the three major disasters, Three Mile Island (1979), Chernobyl (1986), and Fukushima (2011), have given a misleading impression of the industry’s true safety record.” (Hillstrom, 2014). The international nuclear industry now asserts that nuclear plants are safer than ever. Especially in the United States, nuclear operators dedicate large amounts of time to train the personnel for emergency situations; almost one in every six weeks are set aside solely for training (Hillstrom, 2014). Additionally, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has set a goal of fewer than one incident of reactor-core damage for every ten- thousand years of reactor operation. Nuclear expert Charles D. Ferguson further explains this by stating, “For the fleet of about 100 U.S. reactors, this probability translates to a single incident of major reactor-core damage every 100 years. It is estimated that the best currently operating plants have a core-damage probability of about one in 1 million years of operation.” Due to the new and improved nuclear safety regulations and technology, the environmental risk of nuclear plants is significantly reduced and should be much more appealing to the international community. Finally, opponents of nuclear energy argue that nuclear waste produces an extremely negative effect on the environment, especially due to the radioactivity that pollutes water, air, and is dangerous to most living things. However, scientists are already discovering new methods to reduce and reuse the radioactive waste that comes out of nuclear reactors. As stated by Chuck McCutcheon, an editor for the National Journal and Bulletin for the Atomic Scientists, “The idea is to reprocess that spent fuel to generate more power. Proponents say the know-how is available now to address the nuclear proliferation concerns that have bedeviled previous recycling plans.” One of these new recycling methods comes in the form of a new reactor called the Integral Fast Reactor (IFR). This technology helps reduce the volume and radioactivity of nuclear waste by recycling uranium (Hillstrom, 2014). In an article on Nuclear Power and Sustainable Development from the Journal of International Affairs, it states that the “extraction of unused uranium generated in the reactor, reduces high level waste by some 95 percent.” (Rogner, 2010). If the international community strives to invest and adopt waste management, such as IFR’s, then nuclear waste will be far less dangerous to the environment and can be reused to maximize its energy potential. With the growing population of the world and new advancements in technology, the demand for new electricity and energy has escalated and will continue to in the future . To keep up with this surge in development, the international community must look for alternate sources of energy, but must keep in mind the environmental consequences. Nuclear energy has proven to be one of the most efficient, safest, and friendliest sources for the environment. Henceforth, the international community should shift over to nuclear energy to better satisfy the needs of a growing Earth, all while sustaining a safe and healthy environment for the future.