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The Nuclear Option for Combating Global Warming: Will It Stay Around?
When it comes to carbon emissions the electric industry is by far the largest contributor of pollution in the world. Minimizing these greenhouse gases is one of the most cost-effective things that can be done to effectively combat global warming and climate change but would mandate excessive transformation in the way that energy is produced and consumed. With this in mind, consideration needs to be given to all possible options that will reduce carbon emissions. Renewable energy such as wind, solar, and hydropower can adequately lower electric’s carbon footprint, but issues with government policy, and the cost of the technology that will be implemented need to be taken into consideration. Although it carries with it drastic economic challenges nuclear power needs to be in discussion to prevent more severe consequences of climate change and achieve a standard of near zero to zero emissions within the next 20 years.
Generation of electricity by nuclear power is a low carbon/no carbon energy technology that reduces greenhouse gases within the same parameters as wind or hydroelectricity. According to the Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA), nuclear power plants provide 13.4% of the world’s electricity production, coming in second behind hydropower (13). Even with the risks involved with using nuclear as an energy source, it can continue to play an important role when it comes to implementing a net-zero very low carbon future.
Nuclear energy’s future depends; however, on a couple different issues. The first is government policy, which is paramount to achieving nuclear power in the United States, and all across the globe. Legislation dictates the requirements and how construction and operational standards are to take place involving all nuclear reactors. The World Nuclear Association mentions that it can take 3-5 years for a review and construction of new nuclear reactors because the government goes through its own period of research by undertaking studies and projects at university and industry facilities. Incentives are also provided for construction of new plants through tax incentives and loan guarantees (WNA). Additionally, the United States tailors their energy policies to those policies drawn up by foreign matters that advocate climate change to align closely with their policies so that the entire world would benefit. Having one set of policies in the United States and a different set of policies in another country is not advantageous to lessening the effects of climate change.
The second issue that makes nuclear energy’s future unclear is the cost it takes to implement a nuclear power plant. Small scale reactors called SMRs (small modular reactors) produce 50 megawatts of power, which would power about 50,000 homes could be the answer and are supposed to provide lower costs because of their standard designs and ability to be constructed in modules. A new advanced SMR nuclear power plant by NuScale Corporation will provide a complete “nuclear plant in a box” which will measure 76x15ft. and will be 700 tons in weight, and be operational by 2026 (Lesser, 2019). These units are small enough to be installed in small cities as the demand for power increases and keeps the cost well below the giant 1,000-megawatt reactors we have in commission now like our very own Davis Besse plant in Ottawa County, Ohio.
Electric consumption is growing by the day and some estimates show the demand for electricity will be as high as 1000 Gigawatts of nuclear capacity by the year 2050. This makes for a very large economic investment and “amounts to about USD 4 trillion per nuclear plant to construct the new reactors” (NEA). Since tax incentives most likely subsidize some if not most nuclear plants then those nuclear power facilities should be as efficient as possible. For the larger nuclear reactors already in existence there needs to be a very in-depth cost-benefit analysis that will decide if that particular nuclear power plant can be saved by having modifications and upgrades built on that will bring it up to an acceptable future low carbon emission standard. Those larger, older reactors that are found to not have improvability because of age, safety related issues or improved economic expenditures could then be shut down and a newer, more efficient reactor could be built.
In the State of Ohio, a program is being proposed that has been introduced to the Ohio House. The bill called the Ohio Clean Air Program proposes to charge every Ohio residential electricity customer a $2.50 per month surcharge. This would generate $300 million dollars annually (Siegel). Rewards would then be given to every power company of $9.25 for every megawatt hour of zero-carbon emissions electricity. This could benefit both of Ohio’s nuclear power plants, Davis-Besse, and Perry as they would both qualify for $148 million of the generated $300 million-dollar revenue (Siegel). This approach would be the best approach economically to saving nuclear power plants across the United States.
In 1974 the French government decided to start using nuclear power to try and get energy independence. Today, 75% of France’s electricity is generated from nuclear power and they boast extremely low level of carbon emissions per capita and their successful transition to 75% nuclear power took the country’s carbon emissions back to 1960’s levels. Kevin Bullis mentions in his article, “To Meet Emissions Targets, We’ve All Got to Be like France”, that over the last 30 years France went from receiving less than 1% of its power from nuclear power plants to now getting about 80% and with this, France managed to reduce carbon emissions at a rate of 2% per year (2013). To hit emissions targets the whole world needs to convert over half of their power to nuclear energy.
Nuclear power is crucial to reducing carbon emissions across the globe. Renewable energy sources are clean but nuclear has benefits that outweigh the risks. Nuclear power is completely reliable and as stated earlier in this paper, emissions-free. Unlike wind and solar generation that require backup and storage, nuclear power requires no such holding facility for excess generated power. Additionally, nuclear plants do not require huge areas of land, and unlike wind and solar power, nuclear is always on. Renewable energy sources like wind, solar, and hydropower cannot on their own fulfill the demand for electricity so nuclear power is needed to help fill that deficit, at the same time, nuclear power is the only way to reduce carbon emissions enough to slow down global warming.
- Bullis, Kevin. “To Meet Emissions Targets, We’ve All Got to Be like France”. MIT Technology Review. August 26, 2013. https://www.technologyreview.com/s/518711/to-meet-emissions-targets-weve-all-got-to-be-like-france/.
- Lesser, Jonathan. “Can Nuclear Power Be Saved?”. National Review. August 14, 2019. https://www.nationalreview.com/2019/08/nuclear-power-clean-reliable-energy-us-should-embrace/.
- NEA. “The Role of Nuclear Energy in a Low-Carbon Future”. Nuclear Energy Agency. Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. 2012. https://www.oecd-nea.org/nsd/reports/2012/nea6887-role-nuclear-low-carbon.pdf.
- Siegel, Jim. “Ohio Nuclear Plant Bailout Plan Encourages Other Zero-Carbon Energy”. The Columbus Dispatch. April 12, 2019. https://www.dispatch.com/news/20190412/ohio-nuclear-plant-bailout-plan-encourages-other-zero-carbon-energy.
- WNA. “US Nuclear Power Policy”. World Nuclear Association. March 2019. https://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/country-profiles/countries-t-z/usa-nuclear-power-policy.aspx.
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