Within the past 100 years carbon emissions have risen at an exponential rate. This is overwhelmingly due to human impact, as shown by the graph in figure 1.. Between 1860 and 2018, the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere has gone from 290 parts per million (ppm) to 408 ppm (“Earth’s CO2 Home Page”). Yet,we continue to burn carbon based fuels. It is commonly believed that carbon based energy sources are the only source of reliable energy. Unfortunately, carbon dioxide concentrations continue to approach levels dangerous for our planet’s well being. The impacts of this rapid increase in concentration have already been observed as our seasons begin to change and average global temperatures fluctuate drastically.
Figure 1: Trends in atmospheric CO2 and global surface temperature (Hanson, 2008)
It is accepted within the scientific community that decreasing greenhouse gas emissions requires a change of energy production from sources that emit CO2 to ones that are carbon neutral (Menyah, 2008). Carbon neutral forms of energy are solar, wind, hydro, biomass, and nuclear. Solar, wind, hydro, and biomass are considered to be renewable energies because they are based on fuel sources which are not depleted through the generation of electricity. Nuclear is not considered to be a renewable energy as the radioactive elements that power the reactors are not regenerated. Along with the renewability of fuel, there are a number of other factors with which to judge these energy sources on, however. For example, it is important to consider the capacity of the fuel source to produce energy, functionality of something, and compatibility of the generation system/plant with the grid system. We can also consider their impacts on the environment, economy, and human health.
Renewable energy sources tend to be reliant on variable environmental factors for their production, and they are expensive to implement. Peak generation of a renewable energy source often occurs at a different time than peak demand on the electric grid, so battery energy storage is required for renewable energies to meet current energy demands. This increases the cost of using renewables, and fully converting to renewables requires an infeasible amount of battery capacity. Solar, wind, and hydroelectric are expensive when one considers not just the material used to construct the turbines and panels, but also the large amount of space taken up by their facilities. Because our current electrical grid is adapted to large-scale, centralized electrical production methods, integrating renewable energy sources requires grid development.
Nuclear energy in contrast, does not require the same amount of space, material production, or the dependence on location. Nuclear energy consists of large, centralized, plants so it is compatible with the existing grid system. Additionally, nuclear energy boasts the largest amount of energy produced per ton of carbon released of any technology.
The hesitation associated with nuclear energy is the radioactive waste byproduct and the possibility of a nuclear meltdown. All of which are connected to early technologies developed during an era of political conflict from 1895 to 1945 to create electrical power and nuclear weapons (WNA) . Hence majority of the systems in use today are based off of a water cooled nuclear reactor designed for submarine propulsion during WWII and with that the byproducts could be used for nuclear weapons. Alternative types of nuclear reactors exist today that use different types of coolants and radioactive elements that have furthered development of failsafe mechanics and tools for disposal of radioactive waste.
- World Nuclear Association – World Nuclear Association, world-nuclear.org/
- Campaign Consultation, 2819 Saint Paul Street, Baltimore, MD 21218 email:firstname.lastname@example.org, Jasmine Touton, “Greenhouse Gas Emissions? They Can Track That.” UNspOILed.org, 15 Oct. 2012, http://www.unspoiled.org/greenhouse-gas-emissions-they-can-track-that/.
Menyah, Kojo. “CO2 Emissions, Nuclear Energy, Renewable Energy and Economic Growth in the US.” Energy Policy, Elsevier, 2 Feb. 2010, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301421510000303.
Hansen. “Target Atmospheric CO2: Where Should Humanity Aim?” Cornell University Library, 15 Oct. 2008, arxiv.org/abs/0804.1126.