Energy usage is a controversial topic in modern society. We need energy in order to power the technologies we enjoy on a daily basis, from cars to elevators to our showers.
Yet, some of these energies can have significant drawbacks. These drawbacks have become more evident in recent years as science has discovered the connection between using coal, gas, and oil and rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. This has led to many proposals concerning new types of energy.
In this article, we focus on one kind of proposed energy source, namely renewable energy, by zeroing in on nuclear energy. Ultimately, we are interested in whether nuclear energy is renewable, though in order to arrive at an answer we must first take an informational detour through other energy questions that are typically discussed.
What is Renewable Energy?
First, it’s important to note that renewable energy is any kind of energy source that can replenish itself indefinitely.
These kinds of energies are typically used in order to produce electricity, heat and cool air and water, transport things, and power off-grid technologies.
What Sources of Energy are Considered Renewable?
Sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves, and geothermal heat are all considered renewable sources of energy that can be harnessed to solve our energy needs.
Non-renewable energy sources, on the other hand, include coal, petroleum and natural gas. These sources of energy are considered fossil fuels in that they formed from the buried remains of plants and animals over many years. Their main element is carbon, which is released into the atmosphere when these energies are burned.
Renewable energies, on the other hand, do not release significant greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere after being manipulated.
What is Nuclear Energy?
Nuclear energy is controversial in that it’s sometimes included as a renewable source of energy despite being dependent on uranium, a finite resource. At the end of the day, nuclear energy could not sustain humans indefinitely and has many drawbacks, making it not an ideal source for fueling our technology.
Nuclear energy is created through the fission of uranium atoms. This occurs when the atoms are split, releasing neutrons and generating heat. Steam is then used to turn this heat into electricity, which is an ideal form for our energy needs. The neutrons that are released also hit other neutrons, which release more heat, leading to more electricity.
These processes for turning uranium into electricity take place at nuclear power plants. Uranium is also heavily used in the construction of nuclear weapons. Uranium is found in various deposits throughout the world, though 10 countries hold more than half of the world uranium deposits.
What are the Benefits of Nuclear Energy?
Some people claim that nuclear energy is renewable because it does not release significant carbon emissions into the atmosphere.
Most proponents of renewable energy want to reduce carbon emissions in order to avoid global warming and ocean acidification. In this sense, since creating nuclear energy does not directly contribute to either of these things, some people argue that nuclear energy is a viable alternative to coal, oil, and gas.
Other people claim that the earth has enough uranium deposits for billions of years. While this might not represent a perfectly renewable source of energy, it’s close enough for human purposes, allowing us to depend on it.
Other people point to the efficiency of nuclear power plants, claiming they produce energy for the majority of the year, which means they are sometimes more reliable then volatile sources of energy like oil. This leads to more stable, lower prices, while the prices of energies like oil are often contingent on the supply available.
Electricity is generated almost continuously at a nuclear power plant, with estimates claiming up to 90% of the year. Some proponents of nuclear energy claim that solar or wind power is not always available to us when we need it, making renewable energy sources not necessarily desirable at all times.
Some proponents claim that solar or wind power should form the basis for our energy needs while nuclear energy should fill in the gaps in case we need it.
What are the Drawbacks of Nuclear Energy?
Despite some of these benefits, many experts consider nuclear energy to be dangerous due to the byproducts of its manipulation.
Nuclear power plants are especially feared as sites of potential toxicity, as examples like the Chernobyl nuclear accident show us.
Nuclear energy has only really been discovered within the last 100 years, meaning we haven’t mastered its manipulation. This means that if something goes wrong at a power plant, it’s unclear what could happen or more importantly, how we might remedy the situation. Nuclear energy has many risks when mishandled, making anything near a nuclear power plant vulnerable.
Furthermore, many critics of nuclear energy claim that using it would not reduce our carbon emissions significantly, as these primarily stem from operating vehicles which cannot be fueled by nuclear energy. The total carbon emissions would likely not drop that significantly if nuclear energy was suddenly used to generate more electricity.
Perhaps most alarming is how counterintuitive establishing nuclear power plants is. On one hand, most uranium that is used in power plants is mined elsewhere, making any country considering nuclear energy as its main source still dependent on locating and importing this element.
Yet, the transportation of nuclear energy often causes greenhouse gas emissions that negate the benefits of using it.
Additionally, the nuclear reactors in nuclear power plants are highly sensitive, making them feared spots for terrorist activity. If a nuclear power plant was attacked, it’s unclear what kind of radioactive explosions or damage could result. Furthermore, an accident at a nuclear power plant could result in a reaction that is impossible to halt.
All of this is to say that nuclear power plants introduce threats that negate any benefit experienced by their lack of carbon emissions. This is the main reasoning used to renounce their continued formation.
Our Final Thoughts – Is Nuclear Energy Renewable?
We think that nuclear energy is not renewable despite having some benefits over coal, oil, and natural gas. Renewable energy sources are defined by being able to replenish themselves indefinitely. Nuclear energy is dependent on the mining of uranium, which is a finite resource.
Some people think nuclear energy is renewable because our uranium stores are sufficient to support us almost indefinitely. Yet, most predictions that claim we have enough uranium to last billions of years are inaccurate.
Ultimately, the future is very uncertain considering the rate of change of the human population. If our population continues to increase at its current rate, our energy needs will change drastically, perhaps making uranium no longer a viable source of energy in the future.
The main point of renewable energies is that they allow us to exist without worrying about future resources. Of course, we still have to do some planning and management, but we no longer have to stress about the health of our planet or fighting over which countries get to use certain resources.
If a source of energy is renewable, the main cost is the technology that converts it to some usable form. Accessing it is usually free. This means that these forms of energy will become more affordable over time as our technology improves, leading to more savings for everyone.
Also, many people think renewable energy sources could help reduce the conflicts that result between nations arguing over energy resources. By making many of these commonly debated resources obsolete, renewable energy will lead to global peace in the near future.
The Future of Renewable Energy
We think that renewable energy in the future will eventually become so cheap that examining our past reliance on non-renewable energy sources will appear comical.
The fact that we used to start wars over resources and almost destroyed our planet by abusing them will appear like a fever dream that we will want to repress.
During the beginning of this transition away from non-renewable energy, we think there will be a mass psychological shift as the main cog in the system is finally uncovered and released. There will be a collective sigh of relief as all countries suddenly unite, promising to never quarrel over natural resources ever again.
A new era will be ushered in in which the only energies that we need are supplied in perfect quantity by our planet. This will lead to more appreciation for the place we inhabit, leading to greater love, happiness, and freedom.
All of this can be achieved if we simply admit our dogma and transition to using renewable sources of energy. While this change in values might seem unrealistic, we think it’s just around the corner.