It is a commonly accepted fact that our planet is undergoing drastic climate change as a direct result of our excessive burning of fossil fuels. Last week, President Obama announced an agreement between the United States and India to cooperate on expanding nuclear energy programs as opposed to relying on coal for electricity.
While specifics of the deal have yet to be announced, this move by Obama is yet another example of how the President is actively working to combat climate change. Late last year, Obama agreed upon another deal with the Chinese to mutually work towards decreasing the carbon emissions that the two leading polluters of the world produce.
Over the past decade, there has been substantial investment into renewable energy within the U.S. This has been the result of both increasing worries over climate change and a consistently increasing cost of oil. However, with the price of gas dropping to under $2 per gallon, the economic incentive to invest in renewables has diminished. As a result, further government subsidies should be enacted to expand both renewable and nuclear energies.
One of the primary issues with renewable energy is that it lacks consistency. For example, if a community relies on solar, they may encounter shortages during cloudy days. This is where nuclear has an advantage. Constructing and maintaining nuclear facilities is an expensive process.
As a result, the U.S. market economy has not built a new nuclear power plant or reactor since 1977. But the advantages of nuclear energy to the world are priceless. Nuclear provides an energy source that is substantial and consistent, all while releasing none of the toxins related to the burning of coal.
The U.S. has the resources to build an infrastructure with a larger reliance on nuclear, which would reduce demand for coal and provide a base of energy supply off of which we could continue to expand our renewable resources.
Nuclear power is economically viable, greatly beneficial in the long term, and may prove to be a key weapon in our fight against climate change.
While the benefits to nuclear power are clear, there are worries that accompany it as well.
The primary concerns of opponents to nuclear power are the risk of accident and the disposal of radioactive waste. In the history of nuclear energy, there have been a total of three accidents globally. In the U.S., the nuclear industry has one of the best safety records in the world, suffering only 0.13 accidents per 200,000 worker-hours, substantially less than the 3.5 accidents suffered over the same amount of time by all manufacturing industries.
While the nuclear accidents that have occurred have been catastrophic, their incidence rate is incredibly low. In addition, the meltdowns that occurred at Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and Fukushima can be prevented in the future by increased enforcement of existing regulations and better preparedness across the board. In regards to the disposal of waste, there has yet to be a long-term solution. In the short-term, nuclear power plants have methods for storing the waste in a safe manner, but that storage can make the site unusable as the plant stops operating.
While the issue of waste disposal is one that needs to be addressed, the urgency may be overblown.
According to the World Nuclear Association, nuclear power is the only large-scale energy-producing industry that takes responsibility for its wastes and costs them into the product, the amount of radioactive waste produced is relatively small compared to wastes produced by fossil fuel, and nuclear wastes are neither particularly hazardous nor hard to manage relative to other toxic industrial wastes.
There are still existing and valid concerns regarding the use of nuclear energy, but the benefit of reducing carbon emissions on a large scale is worth the cost, not only in countries like the U.S., but in developing countries such as India as well.