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Why is Nuclear Energy Better?

What are some of the advantages of nuclear energy?
© Adam Smith Centre

Let’s explore the advantages of nuclear energy.

More environmentally friendly

Firstly, nuclear energy is better for the environment. As earlier mentioned, nuclear power does not produce carbon dioxide. A 2017 study published in Nature Energy shows that nuclear power plants only release greenhouse gases in their ancillary use of fossil fuels in the construction, mining, fuel processing and maintenance of plants. This means that the main operation and generation of electricity through nuclear fission is relatively carbon-free and better for the environment.

Additionally, nuclear power releases less radiation into the environment than any other major energy source. This statement might strike you as odd since it is not commonly known that a non-nuclear source like coal contains radioactive elements. When coal is burned into fly ash, these radioactive elements are concentrated at up to 10 times their original levels and pose significant health risks.

Most notably, the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that the use of nuclear power over the last 50 years has reduced carbon emissions by over 60 gigatonnes–nearly two years’ worth of global energy-related emissions.

More reliable

Secondly, nuclear energy is also more reliable. It can provide a steady supply of power for days without wind or sun. Nuclear energy is the only large-scale source that can be tapped in even the most extreme weather conditions. Most nuclear facilities are built to withstand natural disasters like tornados, hurricanes and even record-breaking snowfall. For example, when the polar vortex hit the United States in 2014, Exelon Generation’s nuclear fleet provided uninterrupted power while other traditional energy sources failed.

Furthermore, with small modular reactors and microreactors in future, the self-adjusting temperature system prevents the possibility of over-heating. This further enhances the overall safety and reliability of nuclear energy.

More affordable

Thirdly, nuclear has long been one of the cheapest ways to generate electricity. According to a 2020 report by the Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) and the International Energy Agency (IEA), the continued operation of existing nuclear power plants is one of the most cost-effective investment opportunities for low-carbon electricity.

Michael Shellenberger, the founder of Environmental Progress and hailed as Time Magazine’s “Hero of the Environment”, is an advocate for nuclear energy. Between 1965 and 2018, Shellenberger notes that the world spent 2 trillion for nuclear and $2.3 trillion for solar and wind. The world received about twice as much electricity from nuclear as it did from solar and wind. This means that nuclear energy is more cost-effective. We will compare energy policy and prices in the next article on France and Germany.

Separately, the Danish environmental researcher Bjorn Lomberg shares how nuclear energy can be made even more affordable. Lomborg cites a 2019 study which show that new ideas could cut the cost per kilowatt-hour of nuclear-generated electricity by almost two-thirds of today’s cost. The most optimistic cost estimates would see nuclear power become cheaper than even the cheapest gas power. These cost reductions come mainly from design improvements. If we manage to uncover a revolutionary breakthrough, the cost reductions could be even greater.

© Adam Smith Centre
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