"One day God could say to us: I gave you the brainiest men and women in human history to come up with an understanding of the atom and its nucleus. I gave you enough uranium and thorium to last thousands of years, and an understanding of how when uranium fissions, it releases energy. You didn't need to invent anything else. You had everything you needed to provide energy for yourselves and your descendants without harming the environment. What else did you want?" - Dr. D. Richard Anderson.
"If you're somebody that says greenhouse gases are of vital national interest, then you ought to be saying I'm for the development of nuclear power plants. It is by far the best solution to making sure we have economic growth and at the same time be good stewards of the environment."- President George W. Bush
Nuclear power is the only proven technology capable of producing limitless quantities of safe, reliable and affordable energy with no air pollution or greenhouse gases.
We still need large power stations that can supply electricity with zero- or low-carbon emissions--and do so abundantly around the clock throughout the year and not just on sunny or windy days.
Nuclear energy can help society toward a sustainable, low-carbon future. These tools must include new, clean central station power, particularly nuclear; renewable sources of energy; and conservation and energy efficiency. Nuclear stations are the greenest option available to provide this power. The most widely discussed alternative--carbon capture and storage technology--needs to be developed but is a distant and uncertain prospect at this time.
A Natural Perspective
It’s natural and all around us. It comes up from the ground, down through the atmosphere, and even from within our own bodies. It can be man-made too. But it’s nothing new. It’s been present since the birth of the planet. It’s radiation, and radiation is, quite simply, part of our lives.
Naturally occurring radioactive materials were discovered in 1896. Less than 40 years later, physicists discovered that radioactive elements can be artificially created. Within a decade of this discovery, scientists had split the atom.
These findings allow us to use radioactive materials for beneficial purposes, such as generating electricity and diagnosing and treating medical problems. For these many benefits, excessive radiation exposure can also threaten our health and the quality of our environment. We cannot eliminate radiation from our environment. We can, however, reduce our risks by controlling, to some extent, our exposure to it.
A wind turbine at Green Park, Reading, England, generating green electricity for approx 1000 homes. Green energy includes natural energetic processes that can be harnessed with little pollution. Anaerobic digestion, geothermal power, winds power, small-scale hydropower, solar power, biomass power; tidal power and wave power fall under such a category. Some versions may also include power derived from the incineration of waste.
Some organizations have specifically classified nuclear power as green energy such as cleantech.com. However, even the Nuclear Energy Institute has avoided the issue of directly classifying nuclear as green energy - a public awareness campaign launched for nuclear power uses the catch phrase clean air energy.
Likewise, medium or large-scale hydroelectric power or sources of air pollution such as burning biomatter or petroleum, consume water and are often excluded from the label 'green energy'.
Renewable energy certificates are currently the most convenient way for consumers and businesses to support "green power". Over 35 million homes in Europe, and 1 million in the United States, are purchasing such certificates.
No power source is entirely impact-free. All energy sources require energy and gives rise to some degree of pollution from manufacture of the technology.
Our Atmosphere at Risk
In the Earth's atmosphere, the warming effect of "greenhouse gases" is an undisputed phenomenon. Without it, the globe would be covered in ice. For thousands of years, a fairly constant level of greenhouse gases created the moderate environment in which civilisation evolved.
In the 21 st century, human activity could cause a doubling of these heat-trapping gases. In geological time, such change is sudden and with little precedent.
In the next fifty years, the global population will use more energy than the total consumed in all previous history. Humanity faces a future of radical change - either in the way we produce energy or in the health of our planet.
Most energy today comes from burning fossil fuel to make electricity, run factories, power vehicles and heat homes. Fossil resources - coal, oil and natural gas - are being consumed so fast as to be largely exhausted during the 21st century.
With all fossil energy, waste products are dispersed directly into the air. Much of this waste takes the form of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. Each year fossil fuel waste adds 25 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. This equates to 70 million tonnes each day - or 800 tonnes a second.
To analyze the effects of the rapid build-up of heat-trapping gases, world experts are cooperating though the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The dynamics of climate change are complex and subject to competing theories. But scientists agree that increased greenhouse gases are causing the Earth to capture more solar heat. For most climate scientists, man-made greenhouse gases explain why eleven of the last twelve years (1995–2006) rank among the 12 warmest years in the instrumental record of global surface temperature (since 1850).
Climate experts are virtually unanimous in warning that the build-up of the greenhouse gases could, in the century ahead, become catastrophic. Rising sea levels, extreme temperatures, violent storms, devastating droughts and the spread of disease would destroy food production and human habitability in many regions. These experts warn that radical climate change could eventually destabilize the entire biosphere.
Is Nuclear Power green?
Saying that nuclear is carbon-free is not true. It is less carbon-intensive than fossil fuel. But honestly and scientifically speaking, there is no carbon-free energy. Nuclear power has more than just a little greenhouse gas attached to it, when mining uranium ore, refining and enriching fuel, building the plant, and operating it are included. A big 1,250-megawatt plant produces the equivalent of 250,000 tons of carbon dioxide a year.
That's still much less than coal-fired power plants and natural-gas turbines. It even does better than solar power and small-scale hydro projects. However, the gap with solar is closing and emissions from manufacturing photovoltaic panels are now on par with nuclear.
Officials in the nuclear power industry say references to carbon-free energy in their promotions refer only to the power-plant operation – and are not intended to describe carbon emissions during the entire nuclear life cycle.
Yes there's carbon. Most studies have found life-cycle emissions of nuclear to be comparable with renewable. Some show nuclear to be extremely high, but we do not find those credible."
A 2003 Massachusetts Institute of Technology study recommended vast expansion of nuclear power to make a dent in the climate-change problem. Princeton researchers also acknowledged concerns about terror threats and potential accidents.
The Human Race and Its Growth
For many thousands of years, humankind subsisted with little effect on the biosphere. Just 5 centuries ago - in the time of Europe's Renaissance, China's Ming Dynasty, and India's first Mogul Emperor - the world was still thinly populated. Since then - spurred by revolutions in agriculture, industry and medicine - global population has grown nearly fifteen-fold.
Of today's 6 and a half billion people, many millions enjoy and unprecedented standard of living. But one-third of humanity has no access to electricity and still another third has only limited access. Huge populations exist in dismal poverty. Over 1 billion people are without safe water and 2.4 billion lack adequate sanitation. Each day 40,000 people - 25 per minute - die from disease that would be readily prevented by basic economic development.
In the next 50 years - as world population expands and 9,000,000,000 today's vast unmet human needs could multiply severely. Economic development is imperative not only to alleviate human misery but also to create conditions necessary to stabilize global population.
Today, in much of the developing world, a surging drive to meet these needs is generating an enormous rise in the use of energy. By 2050, global energy consumption will double.
Humanity cannot go backwards. A burgeoning world population will require vast amount of energy to provide fresh water, energize factories, homes and transportation and support infrastructures for nutrition, education and heath care.
Meeting these needs will require energy from all sources. But the world's energy "mix" must quickly evolve - away from indiscriminate use of fossil fuel. Reducing consumption of fossil fuel will preserve the environment - and irreplaceable resources - for future generations.
Stabilizing the accumulation of atmospheric greenhouse gases requires that worldwide emissions be cut by 50%. This challenge is made even greater by the need to raise living standards in poorer countries. Even if developing countries embrace conservation and clear-energy technologies, their enormous populations will soon emit more greenhouse gases that the existing industrial world.
In order to 'make way' for these increased emissions - while reducing the global total - today's industrialized countries must cut emissions by 75%. To curb emissions while expanding energy supplies the world urgently needs a massive introduction of low-emissions energy technologies.
Conceivably, tomorrow's mega-cities could function with few direct emissions - by using electricity, electrically charged batteries and fuel cells using electrically produced hydrogen. But electricity is only a way of distributing energy. The key is to generate vastly expanded supplies of electricity cleanly.