Every time the topics of global warming and climate change are discussed, renewable energy assumes the role of a messiah, a savior.
The clamor for changing to renewable energy is getting louder and louder in recent times. World countries are pledging ambitious zero carbon emissions targets and offering lucrative incentives to their citizens, businesses, and energy companies to adopt renewable energy.
Amidst all these, one point is noteworthy. Among the energy resources counted under renewable energy, nuclear energy is notable for its absence. If you have been wondering why it is so, read on.
This article discusses the reason why nuclear energy is considered a non-renewable energy resource although nuclear fission is a sustainable process. Here you will also find 10 drawbacks of nuclear energy, because of which it loses the coveted status as the energy for the future.
Why is nuclear energy considered not renewable?
Nuclear energy production involves tapping the energy contained in the nucleus of an atom. In the process known as nuclear fission, the atom splits and the energy is released. The energy thus released is used to heat water to higher temperatures to turn it into steam. The steam is used to turn turbines, which in turn generates electricity.
The material used in nuclear power plants to generate electricity is an element called uranium. Uranium is present in rock formations across the world. However, not all of them can be used in nuclear power plants.
Uranium has three variants or isotopes – U-238 (heaviest and most abundant), U-234, and U-235. Of these three, only U-235 undergoes fission and can be used in a power plant. Unfortunately, the U-235 isotope of uranium is very rare. It is present in minuscule quantities (0.7%) in the uranium ore.
As uranium deposits are finite, nuclear energy is considered non-renewable.
10 disadvantages of nuclear energy
Besides the unsustainable nature of the fuel used in nuclear power plants, nuclear energy has many pros and cons. Unfortunately, the disadvantages far outweigh the advantages. This leaves nuclear energy out of our plans for the future.
Let’s discuss in detail why nuclear energy became a pariah in the energy world despite being considered a non-polluting and clean energy source.
1. It generates toxic nuclear waste
Uranium isotope U-235 is highly radioactive. After it is used to produce nuclear energy, it is turned into nuclear waste in the nuclear reactors. This waste continues to be highly radioactive for hundreds or thousands of years and cannot be discarded or disposed of easily.
No safe technology has been developed for the secure storage or disposal of nuclear waste. Now, in the operational nuclear plants across the world, nuclear waste is mostly stored temporarily in above-ground facilities.
As these storage spaces are fast running out, the nuclear energy industry is choosing less than desirable storage options that are more expensive and less safe. This is not a great advert for nuclear power plants.
2. It raises the chances of nuclear proliferation.
Nuclear proliferation or the use of nuclear technology in the development of nuclear weapons and accumulation of nuclear material is a real threat to the peace and stability of the world order. In fact, it poses a danger to human existence itself as there is no way that we can survive a nuclear war.
There is always a real possibility that nuclear technology and fuel can be misused if it falls into the wrong hands. To prevent nuclear proliferation, world countries have to reach an agreement on using nuclear technology for anything other than peaceful purposes. And, there needs to be an agreement on scaling down on nuclear warheads.
As long as there is no such agreement, the threat is always present.
3. It is often targeted by terrorists.
Nuclear power plants pose a threat to the security of the nation and its citizens as they are easy targets for terrorist attacks. Despite precautions, nuclear plants can come under attack resulting in explosions and consequent leakage of nuclear fuels. This is a risk to the population in the entire region.
All facilities connected to nuclear technology such as research facilities, uranium mines, and uranium enrichment plants all face the same levels of threat from attacks.
4. It may lead to nuclear accidents.
Natural disasters and human error can lead to accidents at nuclear power plants. As happened in 1986 in Chernobyl, Ukraine and 2011 in Fukushima, Japan. The Chernobyl disaster is believed to be caused by human error while the Fukushima mishap was a result of massive tsunami waves that hit the coast of Japan.
The human casualty of the Chernobyl disaster is pegged at 30, though thousands suffered the health consequences of nuclear exposure for years and even today not just in Chernobyl itself but neighboring regions in Russia and entire Eastern Europe.
The Fukushima mishap occurred despite ample precautions and safety mechanisms. It resulted in three nuclear meltdowns at the Fukushima power plant. This led to the release of radioactive nuclear fuel into the neighboring areas.
Human fatalities aside, both disasters led to the displacement of thousands of people. The health consequences such as cancer among the affected population are still being evaluated.
5. It ups the risk of cancer.
It has been established beyond doubt the link to the occurrence of cancer with nuclear exposure. From the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to the nuclear disasters at Chernobyl and Fukushima, this is a well-known fact. Besides this, it is believed that for people living near nuclear power plants, there is an increased risk of developing cancer.
This is sadly more evident among children. The workers in the nuclear power plants are also constantly exposed to higher levels of radiation and face a higher risk of developing cancer.
6. It faces limitations due to nuclear fuel.
As mentioned earlier, the isotope of uranium U-235 is the ideal fuel for power generation in nuclear power plants. This is a rare element and its mining and extraction from its ore is an energy-intensive process.
Even if we manage to discover new deposits of U-235, we would have to spend a lot of energy to mine and extract it. In other words, the net energy derived from the uranium would be offset by the energy spent on mining and extraction.
Moreover, the reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and pollution as a result of replacing coal with nuclear fuel is lost in the procurement of the same nuclear fuel. This means, there is no net gain.
7. It is facing an acute shortage of sites.
At present in the entire world, there are 438 operational nuclear reactors. This constitutes about 10% of the world’s power generation. To replace all the fossil fuel-powered plants with nuclear ones, there need to be around 14,500 nuclear power plants.
This isn’t a possibility just because there aren’t many suitable sites to build nuclear plants. The location of nuclear power plants has to satisfy many conditions – the proximity of water source for cooling and security from natural calamities like floods, droughts, hurricanes, tsunamis, and earthquakes.
Compromising these guidelines may result in nuclear accidents. Climate change and the accompanying disasters happening across the world are only making matters worse.
8. It comes with a huge price tag.
The cost of ensuring safety in a nuclear power plant is so huge that it can offset its other advantages. For example, the safe storage and disposal of nuclear waste is a huge concern. Securing the safety of the nuclear plant from natural calamities is again pushing up its cost.
Even some of the existing power plants face the threat of being shut down as the cost of running it and ensuring safety is raising the energy rates so high that it is no longer sustainable. When compared with renewable energy sources, the cost of construction of the plant is much higher and so is the cost of maintenance.
While the cost of renewable energy is coming down, that of nuclear energy is going up for various reasons. This makes nuclear energy less appealing.
9. It takes away funding for renewable sources.
As nuclear power plants require huge investments, funding for renewable energy is impacted by it. As renewable energy is already facing challenges on various fronts including financing, focusing on ramping up nuclear energy production capacity can only end up as a disaster for the renewable sector.
10. It will result in energy enslavement for poorer nations.
Nations that don’t have the resources to build their own nuclear power plants will have to rely on richer and technologically-advanced nations for their energy needs. In case poorer countries decide to cut corners with safety regulations and build their own nuclear plants, it can only lead to disaster, as history has taught us.
Countries with little experience and no regulatory background in nuclear technology building and running nuclear plants is a scary thought. When we add to this the dubious records on safety, corruption, and quality control, we see the advantages of nuclear energy dissipating in thin air.
Why is nuclear energy bad?
Nuclear energy, no doubt, has its advantages and disadvantages. However, most of its benefits remain attractive in theory and not in practice. The ground realities and operational limitations for nuclear power plants make them unviable for large-scale adoption in a practical sense. Especially when there are safer and other clean energy options available.
Nuclear technology is clean and renewable. However, this advantage is negated by the limitation in the availability of nuclear fuel, its energy-intense extraction process, and its hazardous nature. In totality, nuclear energy is neither clean energy nor renewable. To make matters worse it is dangerous as well. The cons far outweigh the pros of nuclear energy.
There are no two arguments about the need to phase out our fossil fuel use. However, switching to nuclear energy from fossil fuel would be similar to jumping from a frying pan into a fire.
Nuclear energy is nonrenewable because it relies on uranium, a finite resource that we are quickly running out of. You may also want to look at our guide on why nuclear energy is nonrenewable for more information. Thank you for reading!
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