Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Look at Nuclear Energy

The second day attending COP18 I talked to a representative from Hungary. He was involved in the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) and told me a little about the process and benefits of nuclear energy. In the future nuclear energy could be a big player in the effort to reduce greenhouse gases, while also fulfilling current global energy needs. Nuclear energy is the third most CO2 efficient energy source behind hydroelectric power and wind power. A majority of climate scientists agree that we must reduce our greenhouse gas emissions 50%-85% by 2050 in order to avoid major ecological impacts. According to the IAEA, nuclear energy could account for about 15% of total greenhouse gas emission reductions from electricity generation by 2050. The IPCC (International Panel of Climate Change) has estimated that nuclear power has the lowest cost and greatest greenhouse gas reduction potential in power generation.  Not only would nuclear energy lessen the amount of coal that is burned, but it could also provide a more efficient way      to burn coal. While producing energy the heat from the nuclear reactors could be used for the gasification of  coal.

Nuclear fission also produces virtually no air pollution, however it does produce nuclear waste. This is where the real controversy can be found. The waste from nuclear fission remains radioactive for at least 100,000 years. Ways must be found to either detoxify it or find a safe and secure place to store it.
In Olkiluoto, Finland, they are in the process of constructing the world's first permanent nuclear waste repository. Sweden has received the necessary permits and authorization, but waiting for approval on their building plans. These repositories have specific building requirements that ensure safety, security, and accessibility in the future. The waste from nuclear fission contains 7%-9% of its original potential energy, unfortunately there is no way to recover or use this beneficially. One day it could turn into a resource rather than just waste. This radioactive waste won’t be going anywhere for 100,000 years, and it is believed that would be more than enough time to find some way to detoxify or utilize it.


  1. Thanks for the great post! I think you hit on the key issue for nuclear energy, which is finding a way to neutralize the waste. Progress in this area is critical.

  2. Finding a safe way to utilize the waste would be fantastic. I'm not familiar with efforts to explore that option and would love to learn more. Can you point me to some references you'd recommend?

  3. In addition to waste, of course, the other issue is safety. Even if the risks of an accident are low, the consequences are high.

  4. Here is an article on what the US is planning now that Yucca Mountain is no longer an option as well as possibilities for the future:

    Japan experienced these consequences last year in the fukushima daiichi nuclear disaster. A series of human errors after an earthquake and tsunami had taken place in Japan had caused many deaths and many more lives to be affected. After this tragedy they cracked down on safety and regulations. For example in the permanent repository in Finland, they did many tests to ensure safety in case of high level earthquakes or other potential disasters. However, you are right, risk are low and consequences are high.