Emission increase globally has sparked up innovations around other alternative forms of harnessing cleaner energy resources to drive sustainable activities that are socially, economically, and environmentally friendly. As part of the Paris Agreement in 2015, limiting global warming below 2 degrees is non-negotiable. It is thus necessary to prioritize cleaner energy resources that can replace fossil fuels.
The concept of nuclear energy remains a paradox for many, especially within the African region. Nuclear energy is a form of energy released from the nucleus, the core of atoms, made up of protons and neutrons. This source of energy can be produced in two ways: fission – when nuclei of atoms split into several parts – or fusion – when nuclei fuse together. It is generated from splitting uranium 235 and sometimes platinum; during this process, a high amount of heat is generated and used to drive turbines to generate energy that can be used for both industrial and domestic use. Nuclear energy is a form of non-renewable energy. It has the lowest carbon emission and is one of the cleanest after hydro generation. Unfortunately, it is often considered dangerous and expensive because it is a high-risk form of energy generation and requires high level safety procedures often called (“defense-in-depth”).
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), is known for having the gold standard for commercial nuclear regulation. It sets international precedence for the most expertise experience in nuclear energy. The forms of nuclear energy waste are high, intermediate and low. These are classified in terms of their radioactive nature. Nuclear form of energy is also defense in-depth, meaning it takes both the environmental and socio-economic needs into account. However, it is important to understand the severity of what occurred in Fukushima. Because of the possibility of another meltdown, there has been a decline in public sentiment from 57% to 43% after the Fukushima disaster in Japan as reported by New York Times in 2011. The skepticism around nuclear energy must be corrected if we want to achieve the net-zero carbon emission by 2050 as part of the Paris Agreement. Given its low emissions, nuclear energy will complement other forms of renewable energy in the clean energy transition. Aside from freak accidents such as what occurred in Fukushima Japan, nuclear has proven to be the safest and most efficient means of generating large amount of energy with little or no side effects. For example, it takes about a 5 years’ timeline for a complete process generating cycle. While also doing it with enormous energy generated, little space, and most efficiency. It is, therefore, crucial to boost public perception of nuclear energy when talking about sustainable energy generation mechanism.
Research from the Office of Nuclear Energy (ONE) also shows that It produces fewer emissions than conventional power sources such as fossil fuels. Over the years, nuclear energy has proven to have less of an effect on the environment as compared to fossils. It also saves space; generating 1000MW of electricity will require 1 square mile – wind turbines and solar panels will require 75 and 360 times more respectively. It also shows that the nuclear energy sector in the US has only emitted the size of a football field at a depth of fewer than 10 yards of waste over the past 60 years. On the other hand, fossil fuels such as coal generate the same amount of waste every single hour (ONE). Shifting to nuclear energy will drastically reduce the contentions over scarce natural resources between regions. A typical example is the current tension between the Ethiopians and the Egyptians dispute over the Nile River, and the concerns expressed by Egyptians over the hydro dam project by the Ethiopians.
Conclusively, a just clean energy transition will mean any form of energy that can be socially economically, and environmentally viable, these are the factors that truly define sustainability. Also, examining the entire supply chain of nuclear, it has been shown that the disadvantages as raised by concerned citizens, where they see it as a dangerous form of energy generation, cutting across its waste has shown that it can efficiently be managed. Additionally, with the rising population growing up to 9.8 billion by 2050, the need for available resources will be a major concern. Maximizing land space to be able to accommodate the housing deficit is also necessary, hence we cannot go on just solar installation and windmills to generate energy because they consume land space as opposed to nuclear energy and generating large energy to cover the global energy deficit. Nuclear energy remains the cleanest and most efficient means of energy generation if only we can begin to address issues around managing nuclear waste and making sure that we invest much in research and development to maximize its potential.
Future Thought Leaders is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of rising Energy & Sustainability writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.
Akudung Naphtali founded Climrenew LLC which provides awareness on climate change, focusing on providing consultancy services on renewable energy, plastic waste, and agriculture. He holds B.Sc. in Physics from the University of Jos and is a Watson Institute Alum. He is a Scholar at NUTM.