Nuclear Energy as Renewable Energy

When you would ask people on the street what renewable energy is, most answers will at least include wind, water and solar energy. There are more options to produce energy in an environmental friendly way like biomass energy, tidal energy and geothermal energy, but people are less aware of these possibilities due to a lesser impact in their daily lives. There might be another form of renewable energy; nuclear energy. What is nuclear energy and how can it be defined as renewable energy?

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Nuclear power plant

Nuclear energy generation comprises of two processes, fission and fusion. Firstly for the fission process uranium or plutonium is hit with neutrons to split the atom into two fission products. Becfission-how-nuclear-energy-worksause multiple neutrons are used, they can hit multiple atoms, creating a chain reaction with more heat. This heat is then used to generate electricity. This fission process is used in almost all nuclear power plants. The fusion process basically combines two small atoms like hydrogen and helium into one larger and heavier atom, still creating heat when the atoms interact. The process thereafter is still in a research stage but promises an energy production process that is subject to less depletion, less proliferation and less radioactivity (What is Nuclear 2015 (fission/fusion animation)).

 

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Carbon emissions: nuclear power only emits 4% of gas energy production.

The main nuclear process is deemed to have a low carbon emission. When renewable energy is used to lower the carbon emission worldwide, we should change to nuclear energy immediately. Nuclear power produces even less indirect carbon emission than solar and wind power, mostly due to the production of generating machines (turbines, solar panels) (Hitachi 2010).

Another positive aspect is the amount of energy produced within a certain period or with a specified amount of resources: uranium can provide a lot more energy than other fossil fueled energy production processes.

densitycomparison

There is one major issue with the renewability of nuclear energy: uranium is categorized under fossil resources and thus not as renewable as e.g. wind or solar energy. But the possibilities of this uranium are being researched. Similarly to oil retrieval, uranium is available in different grades of accessibility; e.g. deep in the earth or deep in the sea. The research also focuses on the possibility of recycling uranium or increasing productivity. When this research develops, the longevity of uranium is increasing towards the renewable energy category. Another issue with nuclear energy is the byproduct of nuclear waste; radio-active materials that remain pollutants for a very long time (Chowdhury 2012). Renewability can only be improved when this waste is addressed, but scientist are working on this problem! As mentioned before, the fusion process produces less to no radio-active byproduct.

The answer to the question “is nuclear energy renewable energy?” is dependent on the developments in research in this field. Nuclear energy is at least close to carbon neutral, has a high productivity, and in the future these advantages can be enhanced with less to no waste and less dependency on a finite resource. The current process is not that renewable and thus investments in the fusion process development can provide a great step for sustainable energy production.

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10 thoughts on “Nuclear Energy as Renewable Energy”

  1. I didn’t knew that nuclear energy was renewable and carbon neutral. I think most people have a bad feeling about nuclear energy because it doesn’t feel safe. Are there new technologies that make it also a safe way to produce energy?

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    1. I think that’s more or less the fusion process, but I’m not that deep in the actual technology and research. I would say that if you’re able to produce no toxic waste the dangers of the process also diminish massively..

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  2. Hi Yara,
    Thanks for your post! It’s good to consider nuclear energy as a form of renewable energy. I think it is the most economic energy production because the amount of energy produces remains constant over time. Renewable energy from wind turbines and solar panels is variable and depends largely on the weather conditions.
    However I think the best approach is combination of all these energy programs. The power of solar panels is that it can be used smallscale and can be carried out by interested citizens, which is not the case in terms of nuclear energy.

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    1. I tend to agree, but I also wonder why people would want to do their own energy production if you have a stable and powerful source that can power “everything” (let’s say the entire country..)?

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  3. Interesting post Yara! But although research is focusing on the possibility of recycling uranium, in my opinion nuclear energy will never be a fully renewable energy source. This because the material which is always needed in nuclear power plants to generate electricity is not renewable. Uranium deposits on Earth are finite while a renewable energy source should constantly be replenished. Besides the waste argument on which scientists are working now, I think dependency is also a reason to question nuclear energy as renewable energy source. Most of the renewable energy sources will make you energy independent. But if you don’t have uranium deposits (like a lot of countries, companies, communities), you have to import it what makes you still dependent on others.
    I also think we should take into consideration more the disadvantages of the total concept for nuclear energy. The mining and purification processes for example are not all that much environmental friendly. Thereby nuclear power plants are very complicated to build, to run (little accidents could be disastrous) and the vulnerability of deliberate attack is something we should also be aware of.

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    1. I know about the dependency, but I would argue that this shouldn’t affect the “greenness” of the energy. But it definitely is an issue, particularly for the USA. And for the finite uranium, as I understood correctly the research is (a) looking into the extensive recycling of the uranium and (b) looking into using other elements that are less finite (like the He and H mentioned). If these kinds of elements/atoms can be used, it would make both dependency and finity less problematic.

      And yes I agree with your last paragraph, I tried to focus on the energy-part in my piece because it could have been way longer when I had included these topics, but the comments add great value 🙂

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    2. Hi Aafke,
      How do you mean recycle Uranium? During the proces the Uranium vanish, that is why it is called nuclear energy. All atoms will go to the most stable element, Fe, so to great uranium again energy is needed.
      Gr. Jaco

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  4. In the time nuclear energy started developing people thought that we found the optimal energy producer as it can provide large amounts of energy and not producing so much pollution like fossil fuels and gas do.
    Uranium is definitely a material which contains huge amounts of energy to be used, and it might seem optimal, but think about a societal aspect of nuclear plants. It is a dangerous dance with a catastrophe, if you look back to what happened in Chernobyl in Ukraine were effects are still noticeable and Fukushima in Japan. This are examples of big catastrophes which leaves scars on us a specie and obviously people seeing this in the news would not like to live nearby a nuclear power plant, personally I would not like a nuclear power station near the place I live. It might be a better solution that fossil fuels and gas, I could agree on that, but In my opinion I consider that we should rather work towards greener alternatives focusing on solar, wind, hydroelectrical and geothermal energy because this could be safer alternatives and has less risks.

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    1. True but take into account that Chernobyl was mainly due to insufficient maintenance and Fukushima was due to a natural disaster – this shouldn’t ease the actual disasters and very long aftermath especially for Chernobyl, but it should put into perspective how this energy itself is not too problematic (in my opinion). If the research cleans the production process of this toxicity, I believe it will still take very long before people are willing to accept it as safe. I agree that there are a lot of other (safer?) options available, but I would vote for both pursuing these options like solar and wind energy AND intensify the research for ‘better’ nuclear energy.

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    2. Hi, Sander,
      Chinese coal is 2000 times less safe then nuclear energy
      How do you define safe? Or risk? for each unit of energy?
      I will do it this way:
      Persons died for each unit of energy
      Nuclear energy is most safe energy option available at this moment:
      Energy Source Mortality Rate (deaths/trillionkWhr)
      Coal – global average 170,000 (50% global electricity)
      Coal – China 280,000 (75% China’s electricity)
      Coal – U.S. 15,000 (44% U.S. electricity)
      Oil 36,000 (36% of energy, 8% of electricity)
      Natural Gas 4,000 (20% global electricity)
      Biofuel/Biomass 24,000 (21% global energy)
      Solar (rooftop) 440 (< 1% global electricity)
      Wind 150 (~ 1% global electricity)
      Hydro – global average 1,400 (15% global electricity)
      Nuclear – global average 90 (17% global electricity w/Chern&Fukush)
      (http://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2012/06/10/energys-deathprint-a-price-always-paid/#2715e4857a0b60e0be7d49d2)

      Besides this, they even counted the deaths caused by the evacuation of citizens, which led to way higer death ratio duo to food and water issues.

      Or Sander, You think the life of a Chinese does not count as a risk?
      But even if you say so, a solar panal placer who falls of the roof does not count either?

      I prefer to live next to a nuclear plant then work in a Chinese coal mine,

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