When we are considering how to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and energy sources that pollute the environment you often hear about solar, wind, and hydro, but nuclear seems to be the elephant in the room. Not many people want to discuss the option for many obvious reasons. Nuclear plants can meltdown, they produce radioactive waste, and of course the fuel they produce and use can be turned into deadly weapons of mass destruction. Despite all of this there are many advantage to consider.
In an article published with Yale historian Richard Rhodes, who has written a number of books on the history of nuclear power and policy argues that Nuclear Power Must be Part of The Energy Solution.
First and foremost because nuclear energy uses the process of nuclear fission rather than burning fuels to produce energy it can produce unfathomable amounts of power while releasing no carbon emissions into the air during its regular operations. It also boasts a much higher capacity factor, which measures the amount of time a plant is actually producing energy. The sun is not always shining and the wind is not always blowing, but nuclear reactors are always producing.
Many fear the dangers of nuclear energy and nuclear radiation. 3 major accidents have occurred in global history involving nuclear power plants, in one of them, Three Mile Island in 1979, not a single soul died. Coal is meanwhile responsible for more deaths in terms of industrial accidents and has caused far greater health concerns having killed hundreds of times more because of the effects it has on local air pollution. Coal also releases more radiation into the atmosphere than nuclear reactors.
Coal is not the only culprit in causing death, however. Other fossil fuels, even clean natural gas are guilty with high numbers as well, but renewable sources of energy like wind, solar, and hydro are guilty too. According to some research nuclear power is actually the safest way to produce electricity in the world.
In considering the cons of nuclear power including the risks of accidents, proliferation, and of course the dilemma of nuclear waste we should also considering the following
While there is still some research to be done on thorium some sources, including work published by the Royal Society of Chemistry, believe it may the be the future of safer and cleaner nuclear energy. It is believed to be more stable and safe, lower in levels of radiation, and much less likely to be weaponized.
Early research on thorium in the 1950’s at the dawn of the nuclear discovery, but also in a tumultuous Cold War, was shut down because thorium reactors produced significantly less plutonium, an important element in creating the atomic bomb. Uranium reactors produced much more of it and it was a time when nuclear weapons were in high demand. Today, some are taking a second look at it because this and the fact that weaponizing the substance would be much more difficult it may carry a lesser risk of proliferation while still providing comparable energy potential.
In considering the dilemna of nuclear reactors and their production of nuclear waste we should also consider what natural solutions may lie before us. Scientists have discovered that certain microorganisms may play a role in breaking down and reconstituting nuclear waste as safer, cleaner materials. This process is called bioremediation and through additional chemical processes may even be used to recover radioactive material for reuse in creating additional energy. In other words this process may actually allow us to recycle nuclear waste for even more power.
Similarly, phytoremediation, may also accomplish the same thing through the use of plants. Some research has done been showing that quick growing Vetiver grass was able to absorb up to 92% of the radioactive materials it was exposed to. Similarly studies have been done with many plants ranging from the water hyacinth to Chinese cabbage. More recently, however we are discovering that once again industrial hemp may play a major role. Hemp might even be, according to one Phytotech scientist the, “Best phyto-remediation plants we have found” Some are even considering using the fast-growing cannabis plant to clean up the disaster in Fukushima.