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?
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. Because 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)).
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.
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.