Nuclear energy continues to gain popularity as the technology involved in production continues to improve. With innovative and sustainable methods to harness nuclear power becoming widely available, we are bound to see more of this carbon-free source of electricity.
In the United States, nuclear energy now powers communities in 28 states and contributes to several non-electric applications such as medical treatment and space exploration. Every year, the nuclear fuel cycle is being improved to increase its sustainability and allow it to strengthen the U.S. economy.
This article will run you through the various benefits of nuclear energy and its corresponding challenges.
The Benefits of Nuclear Energy
1 – A Clean Source of Electricity
Combustion of fuels such as coal and natural gas releases carbon emissions into the air. Nuclear energy is the only source of electricity that does not release any carbon into the atmosphere. All other forms of electricity production release greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere as part of their production, which pollutes the air and contributes to global warming.
Since nuclear energy has no greenhouse gasses, it is an excellent alternative to fossil fuels. Nuclear energy is one of the cleanest energy sources that we currently have and can be made even cleaner.
2 – Utmost Reliability
While other energy sources are prone to regular downtime, nuclear energy is incredibly reliable. Nuclear energy typically has some of the longest uptimes of all energy sources.
They can operate 24/7 with refuelling every 1.5–2 years. Over the past few years, nuclear energy has been able to operate at over 92% availability.
3 – Supporting Jobs
Nuclear energy is one of the biggest suppliers of jobs in the United States. Nuclear energy directly employs over 500,000 people in the U.S. alone. This also contributes an estimated $60 billion to the country’s annual gross domestic product (GDP).
4 – National Security
Having a solid civilian nuclear sector supports national security and energy diplomacy. It helps develop strong relationships with other countries by fostering the peaceful use of nuclear technology.
Challenges of Nuclear Energy
While it is beneficial, it is also important to note that nuclear energy is not free from challenges. Some of these challenges include the following.
1 – Transportation, Storage, and Disposal of Used Fuel
The Office of Nuclear Energy within the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is responsible for transporting and disposing of all commercial used fuel. For now, the state currently has 76 reactor storage sites in 34 states.
In the future, a permanent disposal solution will be determined by Congress. There are specially designed railcars being developed to support large-scale transport of used nuclear fuel in the future.
2 – Need for New Power Plants
Conventional reactor designs are multi-billion-dollar infrastructure projects that require high capital costs, licensing, and regulatory approvals. This considerable investment in time and money may deter most stakeholders.
To help solve this challenge, the DOE supports the development of new nuclear reactors and the funding of smaller reactor designs. This helps reduce construction time and costs.
3 – Larger Operating Costs
With the strict maintenance regulations, need for staffing, training, and regular inspections, it is costly to compete in the nuclear energy market. The DOE works to solve this challenge by modernizing plant systems. This reduces the operation and maintenance cost of these systems.
Nuclear energy is a reliable, affordable, and versatile energy source. The technology involved in its production continuously improves to make it sustainable, safe, and reliable. With nuclear energy, we can move forward in creating a cleaner environment without damaging our economy.
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