Even though nuclear energy is currently included in the renewable energy category, it is still highly disputed. To get a better understanding of the situation, we need first to explain what nuclear energy is. We will start with a nuclear power definition, give a few examples, see what are the arguments for and against it being a renewable energy and reach a conclusion.
Defining the Terms
Nuclear Power Definition
Nuclear power, also called atomic power, refers to the process of obtaining nuclear energy through nuclear reactions. This process generates heat, which is later used in steam turbines. The purpose here is to create electricity in a specialized plant. The heat that appears at the nuclear power plants is created when the atoms split apart, a process that bears the name nuclear fission.
The fission process releases energy through heat and neutrons. The neutrons that are released move on to hit other neutrons, which leads to a repetition of the process. This means that there is more and more heat created. Most of the times, the fuel that is used to trigger the entire process is uranium.
There is also another category of the nuclear energy source called nuclear fusion, but this one is extremely expensive and scientists could only accomplish it in the laboratory.
What Is Renewable Energy?
Renewable energy is the name given to the energy produced by renewable sources. This means that they can naturally replenish themselves over time. So, is nuclear energy renewable? First, let’s look at the six main sources of renewable energy:
- Geothermal heat.
They are used mostly in the following important fields: air and water cooling/heating, generating electricity, transportation, and off-grid energy services.
Meanwhile, nuclear power is considered a renewable energy source because it has a low-carbon power. However, it differs significantly from conventional renewable sources. This brings us back to the initial question: is nuclear energy renewable or nonrenewable?
Nuclear Energy Examples
There are plenty of examples where nuclear energy has become a vital component. This shows how important this source of energy has become nowadays. These are some of the most often found applications of nuclear power:
This is perhaps the most famous source of nuclear energy. In the entire world, there are more than 400 power plants, relying on nuclear reactors. The reactor is the container where the nuclear fission process takes place. More than 20% of the energy in the United States is provided by power plants.
Nuclear submarines are an important part of a country’s navy. The design debuted around the time of the Cold War and is still being a popular choice today. They rely on a nuclear reactor incorporated in the submarine, which means that they can run for a longer time than their counterparts that rely on fossil fuels. Moreover, their best advantage is the ability to go undetected, since nuclear fission generates no sound.
There is a constant threat of a nuclear war going on in the entire world. A nuclear energy weapon can deal 100 times more damage than atomic bombs. They can demolish entire cities and bring death to thousands of people. In connection to this, depleted uranium ammunition became a mainstay in the military because of its impressive penetration abilities.
Yet another common use of nuclear energy is radiation therapy. It is employed in treating cancer, which is triggered by cells that don’t follow the natural cell death process (called apoptosis). As such, radiation therapy tries to kill the cancer cells. The downside is the fact that it affects healthy cells in a similar manner.
It is already a common procedure to use small amounts of nuclear radiation for processing food. Radiation kills bacteria and microorganisms, for example, as well as other deadly things that can be found in food.
These are just a few of the most common applications of nuclear energy. However, the five ones presented above are the most common. Much more are available, which proves the modern world could not exist without this type of energy.
Examples of Fossil Fuels
Fossil fuels are the sources that release heat when they are processed. They form through the decomposition of dead organisms, where energy caused by ancient photosynthesis lies. Usually, their age is of millions of years. Can you guess which of the following is a nonrenewable resource? The examples are plenty: petroleum, liquefied petroleum gas, coal, oil.
There are three main types of fossil fuels:
- Natural Gas.
There are many other types of such fuels: from volatile materials (methane) to liquids (petroleum) or nonvolatile materials (anthracite coal). However, they are nonrenewable energy sources because they exist in finite quantities.
Is Nuclear Energy Renewable?
- Low-Carbon Emission
Is nuclear energy clean? Yes, because it has a low-carbon emission. This is the main argument for nuclear energy being renewable. A low-carbon emission does no damage to the environment; therefore, we can consider this type of energy clean.
- It Is Replenishable
Yet another convincing argument in favor of this theory is the fact that the nuclear energy sources are replenishable. Indeed, it takes more time than with the other sources, but in the end, they will appear again.
- Eternal Fissile Material
Is nuclear energy renewable? Let’s check out one more argument before drawing a line and reaching a conclusion. The fissile material produced by breeder reactors is enough to last forever. Paradoxically, the uranium supplies existing now can supply nuclear power only for approximately 1000 years.
- Finite Uranium Deposit
Just as we previously mentioned, the uranium deposit found on Earth is finite. As opposed to wind or sunlight, the uranium resources will day disappear, leaving all nuclear facilities with no fuel sources, therefore beating the purpose of renewable energy.
- Nuclear Waste
Perhaps the strongest argument used by opponents of this theory is the fact that nuclear power reactors give away harmful nuclear waste. This refers to a radioactive pollutant that damages the environment and endangers people’s health. To support this idea, many people give as an example the nuclear disasters that took place over the years: Chernobyl, Fukushima, Three Mile Island etc.
Pros and Cons of Nuclear Energy
Nuclear power has fewer greenhouse gases than a lot of other energy supplies. It has been discovered that the number of greenhouse gases has decreased by nearly half due to the prevalence in the utilization of nuclear power. It is also known that nuclear energy has the least effect on nature as it does not emit any harmful gases such as carbon dioxide or methane.
Low Operating Costs
Nuclear power produces electricity which is inexpensive. Uranium is utilized as a fuel in the process and the cost of this is low. Although the setting up process of building a power plant can be quite high, the running expenses are fairly low. Depending on how often it is used and how it is being used, the normal life of a nuclear reactor is around 40-60 years. These variables make the running costs of delivering power low.
With the current rate of uranium consumption, it is estimated that we have enough uranium for another 70-80 years. When in the mode of producing energy, a power plant can run uninterrupted for up to a year. A nuclear power plant has no constraints, however, solar and wind energy are both dependant on weather. Nuclear energy can run regardless of climate conditions. The energy provided by a nuclear power plant is a consistent supply. It is widely accessible and there is a lot of energy in storage. It is believed that the supply is going to last a lot longer than fossil fuels that are used in the same capacity.
More Proficient Than Fossil Fuels
A wide number of nuclear energy innovations have made it a much better choice than other energy fuels. Compared to fossil fuels, they have high energy density. The amount of fuel needed to run a nuclear power plant is comparatively less than what is required by other power plants. This is because the energy released by nuclear fission is around ten million times greater than the amount of energy released by any fossil fuel atom. This is why many nations are putting a lot of time and energy into nuclear power. Nuclear power isn’t reliant on fossil fuels and isn’t influenced by changes in gas and oil costs. Gas and coal power plants release carbon dioxide into the air which can cause a number of environmental problems. However, a nuclear power plant releases insignificant carbon emissions.
Nuclear energy is non-renewable. Uranium, which is used to produce nuclear energy, is limited and can not be produced on demand. However, using breeder and fusion reactors, it is possible to produce other fissionable elements. For example, plutonium, which is produced by a chain reaction. Also, by knowing how to control atomic fusion, which are the same reactions that fuel the sun, we can have almost unlimited amounts of energy.
One of the biggest issues with nuclear power is the environmental issues surrounding uranium. The process of mining and refining uranium is not a clean process. Transporting nuclear fuel to and from a power plant can also cause pollution. Also, once nuclear fuel is used, it becomes radioactive and dangerous, and can’t simply be thrown away.
Radioactive Waste Disposal
Nuclear power plants produce a lot of nuclear waste. The majority of this waste transmits high heat and radiation and can cause damage to living things and plants. Over time, nuclear waste can decay to safe radioactive levels. However, this can take many years. Even low-level radioactive waste can take hundreds of years to become adequately safe.
Radioactive waste produced by nuclear power plants can cause serious health issues on people around it and also can have negative effects on the environment. The accident at Chernobyl which occurred on 26 April 1986 was one of the worst nuclear accidents in history. The harmful effects on ecology and humans are still evident to this day.
Currently, the nuclear industry allows waste to cool considerably before blending it with glass and storing it away in large cooled, solid structures. The waste must be observed and kept up to ensure that the materials don’t fall into the wrong hands and cause problems. The materials used for this, plus the administration involved, both cost a lot on top of the cost to build and run a plant in the first place. Nuclear power plants require permission by several international authorities before they can be built, and people who live in the region are usually opposed to the building of new nuclear power plants.
Uranium is Finite
Similar to other fuel sources, uranium is finite and only exists in a few countries. It is relatively expensive to mine, refine, and transport uranium. All of the activities involved in achieving this produce quite a lot of waste and may be damaging to health and the environment if not conducted correctly.
Hot Target For Militants
Nuclear energy has a lot of power. In the current climate, nuclear energy is used to make weapons. If these types of nuclear weapons get into the wrong hands, the world could end. Nuclear power plants are a prime target for terrorist activities and attacks. The security at nuclear power plants must be at an ultimate level to ensure the safety of all humans.
So, is nuclear energy renewable? There is no clear answer for that now. There are pertinent arguments on both sides of the debate. Until further research, the answer to this question will remain in sort of limbo.