The Greenest Energy May Surprise You
by Bob Hance on Thursday, August 24, 2023
I recently watched Oliver Stone’s new documentary “Nuclear Now,” which posits nuclear energy as a replacement for fossil fuels for the generation of electricity. The timing of this film is perfect given the issues our nation faces with electric reliability resulting from the transition to clean energy. We need adequate, reliable replacements for fossil fuel plants, and nuclear provides a compelling option.
While I don’t embrace everything Stone says, I agree with his remark that the time has come to have serious conversations about this often-overlooked energy source. I’ve long known about the benefits of nuclear power generation, and it’s time I share that with you.
For starters, did you know that nuclear is the greenest form of energy available? It is zero emission. Zero. Fission splits uranium atoms, releasing heat that creates steam to spin turbines. These turbines then generate electricity, all without the by-products that come with fossil fuels. The by-product is steam. That’s all.
In fact, the Nuclear Energy Institute found that nuclear was responsible for avoiding 476 million metric tons of CO2 emissions in 2019, with wind avoiding 187 million metric tons. Nuclear energy currently makes up about 52% of America’s clean energy portfolio, with the next largest source being wind at 22%. Our regional average percentage is around 25-26%.
It is also very reliable and offers something sun and wind currently can’t: 24/7 generation capabilities. Last year, nuclear fuel met 92.6% of its maximum possible energy production. Compare this with 47.8% for coal and 36.1% for wind, according to the Energy Information Administration.
Another significant advantage of nuclear is how dense the fuel is. The Department of Energy says one uranium pellet about one inch tall can produce the same amount of energy as 120 gallons of oil, 17,000 cubic feet of natural gas, or one metric ton of coal. That makes it highly efficient, with very little waste. Spent nuclear fuel is safely stored at designated sites where it cannot cause harm.
Let’s not forget diversity. The old adage, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket,” applies here. A diverse fuel mix is a dependable fuel mix. When the sun isn’t shining, or the wind isn’t blowing, nuclear can meet the demand.
Last, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention safety, and of course, that is something to be taken very seriously. However, nuclear energy is a lot safer than most people realize. Research on new advanced reactor technologies shows serious promise for even safer and more efficient operations.
The bottom line is that if our goal is carbon-free power generation, then nuclear energy should be one of the ways in which we get there.