Nuclear energy is the source of much debate due to recent and infamous safety failures at nuclear power plants. There’s another debate surrounding the use of nuclear energy, however: is it a form of renewable energy, or not? While nuclear energy is often considered a clean form of energy, its status as a renewable resource is a source of serious debate. Researchers are continuing to dig deeper into this question, with new information about nuclear energy arriving each year. Here’s what you need to know about energy from nuclear power plants and its potential as source of renewable energy.
How Nuclear Energy Works
Nuclear energy is created when heat is generated through the fission, or splitting, of atoms. Power plants then convert this heat into steam, which in turn produces electricity. When fission occurs, atoms split apart and form this heat, in addition to neutrons, to hit other atoms of fissionable material in the reactor. This repetition creates enough heat to generate electricity. In most instances, uranium is used to fuel these reactions. This dense, radioactive metal can be found in most rocks within the earth’s crust.
Nuclear As a Form Of Renewable Energy
Renewable energy is, by definition, a source of clean energy obtained from renewable resources, which replenish naturally. Supporters of classifying nuclear energy as a renewable energy source often point out that if the Earth’s uranium deposits can be shown to outlast the length of time the sun is expected to exist before burning out, approximately five billion years, then nuclear energy should qualify as renewable. While uranium cannot be replenished, if enough of it is extractable, the world will not exhaust its source of uranium before the sun burns out and makes life on the planet impossible. The development of breeder reactors, which can generate more energy than it consumes, would be able to generate more energy using the amount of uranium that is currently extractable, further supporting the idea that there is enough uranium to meet demand for renewable energy.
Proponents of classifying nuclear energy as renewable also point out that the purpose of using renewable energy is to lower carbon emissions by these sources. Nuclear energy has similarly low emissions during its generation, which may qualify it as both a clean and renewable energy source.
Arguments Against Nuclear Energy As Renewable
For many people, renewable energy has a strict definition that cannot be molded to fit technicalities. No matter how long the Earth’s supply of uranium lasts, it is still currently considered a finite resource with a definite ending point. Wind and water, meanwhile, replenish themselves frequently and with no end in sight. The sun, while destined to implode eventually, will continue to reliably provide energy for millions of years into the future.
Opponents to this classification also point out that nuclear energy is not as clean as supporters would like to believe. Reactors constantly generate nuclear waste, which must be handled in a particular way to avoid contamination. This defeats the purpose of using renewable energy as a source of low impact power. In addition, uranium, like oil, would need to be imported from other countries if nuclear were to become the United States’ primary source of energy. One of the many benefits of renewable energy is that it can be accessed regardless of a country’s natural resource availability, but nuclear energy would keep the U.S. dependent on international support and trade.
Current Research on Nuclear Renewable Energy
Scientists have been researching the possibility of nuclear energy as a renewable energy source since the 1960s, when they began working to extract uranium from seawater dug out of the ground. In 2012, the development of HiCap, an absorbent material, helped decrease the cost of seawater extraction significantly. As the cost continues to lower, this method of obtaining uranium becomes more and more sustainable.
Some researchers advocate turning away from dependence on uranium for nuclear energy needs. Thorium, a naturally occurring and slightly radioactive metal, is more abundant in the world than uranium, providing a promising alternative to the traditional metal. While it still must be combined with plutonium or another reactive metal to be used in nuclear reactions, it represents a step forward in classifying nuclear energy as a renewable resource. Scientists continue to research methods of sustainable Thorium use in nuclear energy.
Getting Your Renewable Energy News
Stay up to date on the latest developments regarding renewable energy sources. You may discover a new way to support energy advances or learn new information that you can share with others in your community. With the support of your neighbors, you can create energy efficient initiatives in your community and petition lawmakers to consider supporting renewable energy by funding research and making it easier for people to access renewable energy in their homes and businesses. Those with a strong understanding of renewable energy initiatives are more likely to support them, making renewable energy more affordable and accessible in turn.