Opening The Door For Nuclear
Over the past two decades, many states have taken steps to include more “renewable” energy resources in their state portfolios. Ideally, states would simultaneously pursue environmental protection and economic vitality through the use of an “all-of-the-above” energy portfolio. However, as states implement stricter regulations on energy sourcing, one important resource frequently gets left out of the conversation—nuclear.
Nuclear energy does not meet the dictionary definition of a “renewable” source because it is not “naturally occurring” or “theoretically inexhaustible.” But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth pursuing.
FERC praises renewable energy sources for being “cost effective” sources that will “reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” and most pro-renewable advocates would agree that these are the goals of renewable energy. The incorrect notion that these goals can only be achieved by renewables is holding nuclear energy back.
Nuclear energy is clean, reliable and cost-effective, and it’s a resource more states should be using.
The most commonly cited benefit of using renewable resources is they do not emit carbon dioxide, but that trait is not unique to renewables. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, “Nuclear power and renewables do not emit CO2 ,” meaning nuclear energy production emits the same amount of carbon dioxide as wind or solar.
Nuclear does add the environmental risks of radioactive waste and nuclear meltdown, but the U.S. and the world have worked on this issue for decades. The U.S. currently operates 99 nuclear reactors without a problem, and the industry has made significant strides in developing technologies to avoid disasters like Three Mile Island. The U.S. also has potential resources like Yucca Mountain that can securely store high-level radioactive waste.
When the proper precautions are taken (and they are), nuclear material can be used and disposed of safely.
The longevity of an energy resource is a factor worth considering; We don’t want to invest in a resource that won’t last long. But finding a resource that’s “theoretically inexhaustible” is not necessary.
The Nuclear Energy Agency found “sufficient nuclear fuel resources exist to meet energy demands at current and increased demand well into the future.” In theory, it’s possible humans could eventually exhaust all of earth’s fissile material in the very distant future. But the next few generations can certainly enjoy the benefits of nuclear energy, and additional research and development on reactor efficiency will extend nuclear’s lifespan even longer.
So nuclear energy emits no carbon and is sustainable—the same traits that motivate the push for renewable resources. But the advantages to nuclear don’t end there.
A major problem with renewable energy is its steep cost. Taxpayers in states with Renewable Portfolio Standards pay considerably higher energy bills, in addition to heavy renewable energy subsidization.
Nuclear, on the other hand, is a cost effective power production method.
The average operating expenses of a nuclear power plant are among the cheapest, costing even less than fossil steam production.
With an average capacity factor of 90% and relatively small land use needs, nuclear is considerably more efficient than other renewable resources, which are plagued by massive spatial requirements and capacity factors as low as 20%.
Best of both worlds
Nuclear energy provides the benefits of renewable sources at the cost of non-renewable sources. It achieves the stated emission goals of renewable energy programs, and it does so at a price the economy can sustain. States should follow Indiana’s lead and add nuclear to their lists of qualified clean resources. Nuclear is a reliable, cost-effective means of producing energy and decreasing carbon emissions, and states would be wise to include nuclear in their energy portfolios.