Updated: Sep 29
By Nathan Noble
“A green economy does not have to be a poor economy.” – Boris Johnson
The summer of 2021 has been hotter than a mixtape by Tatsuro Yamashita with some regions of Scotland, like the city of Glasgow where the COP 26 summit will be held later in November, had their hottest summer in records dating back to 1884. This warm, still, autumn weather has meant that wind farms have not generated as much power as normal, while soaring prices across Europe have made it too costly to rely on gas and because of this, the National Grid have confirmed that a coal power plant has now been fired up to meet demand and is providing an additional 3% of national power in the UK.
When we think about clean energy and carbon reduction usually most people think of solar panels or wind turbines, but not many say nuclear energy but why is this? Nuclear energy is one of the cleanest, most efficient sources of power on earth and factoring in the environmental cost of production, nuclear energy is far cleaner than hydropower, geothermal, solar and any other energy source except wind.
Back in 2020, Prime Minister Boris Johnson set out an ambitious ten-point plan for a Green Industrial Revolution which would see the creation of around 250,00 Jobs across the Uk, the plan included many positive steps surrounding clean energy primarily the plan to advance both small and advanced reactors. Providing things go to schedule, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Kwasi Kwarteng is expected to decide on the plans for Sizewell C Nuclear Project in mid-April 2022. But with the current energy crisis, soaring energy bills and the decision to fire up another coal power plant, the need for rapid production of Nuclear energy is clear, given that these plants produce no greenhouse gas emissions allowing us to meet the ever-growing energy demands whilst slowing rapid climate change and reducing emissions to net-zero.
Whilst nuclear power is the solution it’s not just a fancy way of boiling water, it faces three main challenges, and these are public perception, sustainability and waste. When I say perception, I mean specifically the association with the atomic bomb and radioactive disasters, many are seriously sceptical of nuclear energy often sighting these very safety concerns whilst drawing on experiences like Chernobyl (where the staff were about as trained as Homer Simpson), as practical examples. The reality is quite the opposite and in actuality, this is nothing more than a perception created by public concern as not only are nuclear power plants subject to strict safety regulations but deaths based on accidents and air pollution per terawatt-hour (TWh) factor nuclear energy much lower than that of coal, oil, biomass and natural gas.
(Source Our World Data: https://ourworldindata.org/nuclear-energy)
The second issue of sustainability is that whilst there’s a new generation of nuclear power that solves much of the safety and economic problems we currently face, we still need uranium to do so and the element most commonly used in reactors is not in unlimited supply with only about 200 years’ worth of uranium left. Now, this might sound like a lot but when we think about sustainability and ever-increasing usage demands this undoubtedly makes nuclear nothing more than a short-term solution, that would allow us to create a solid infrastructure where truly sustainable energy can become commonplace.
The final issue and arguably the biggest issue of nuclear energy is how we dispose of the high levels of nuclear waste, there are currently three major options when it comes to nuclear energy waste and these are onsite storage, long term/deep storage and reprocessing. As it currently stands on-site storage is the most common practice however in countries like Finland fuel repositories are looking to be a game-changer for how we can tackle the disposal of waste. Nuclear waste is extremely dangerous to humans with the first 1,000 years being the most dangerous period however, these repositories would see the waste isolated approximately 450 meters below ground level for a millennium essentially out of sight and out of mind.
With the current energy crisis and Scotland having failed to hit legally set carbon reduction targets for three years running, I think ultimately if the Uk Government and devolved administrations as a whole are serious about talking about climate change and efficient energy production then we must spend less time and money on hypersonic missiles and move quickly towards securing a stable clean energy infrastructure, tackling the perceptions and following the facts. The reality is that nuclear is not only the best option to help save the planet but also to meet our ever-growing usage demands and with the recent developments in nuclear fusion the road ahead could not be more clearer.