Everything you need to know about the nuclear debate
By strict definition, renewable energy is infinite energy sourced from nature, such as geothermal heat, ocean and rainwater, wind, and sunlight.
Nuclear power, specifically, is not directly derived from nature, e.g. solar or wind, nor is it directly dependent upon a limited resource, e.g. oil or coal. Typically, nuclear power is generated in power plants by nuclear reactors through fission. The reaction from fission produces kinetic energy that is translated to heat which, according to green energy resource Conserve Energy Future (CEF), can produce enough power to electrically run turbine generators in power plants.
Since this process does not require any fossil fuels, it's regarded as clean—by some.
Overall, many experts say, nuclear energy can be a very beneficial means of producing power. For example, instead of having to rely on windy or sunny conditions, nuclear power can be generated and used 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Extensive research by the CEF also resulted in reports that nuclear energy does not release gases like carbon dioxide and methane. Creating and moving this energy is far more simplistic than fossil fuels since it doesn't require as many raw materials.
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It’s also highly efficient: burning 100 metric tons of coal produces the same amount of energy as the fission from just 28 grams of uranium.
In addition, nuclear energy has an estimated lifespan of at least 100 years, which is far more than most fossil fuels. It's also less expensive than some other forms of electricity, which means that some power plants are able to use the same nuclear reactor for decades—some up to 60 years—at a minimum cost to operate.
Despite its proven benefits, not everyone is convinced that nuclear energy can be defined as renewable.
In 2009, the interim director-general for International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), Helen Pelosse, disregarded nuclear power in its consideration as a renewable energy resource during an interview with Reuters:
"IRENA will not support nuclear energy programs because it's a long, complicated process, produces waste and is relatively risky."
Waste management does seem to be an undeniable problem, however nuclear power plant owners and employees are aware of the radioactive waste that is a byproduct of fission—and it is not as bad as people assume.
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According to CEF, many plants have developed ways to contain radioactive waste and prevent harm to the environment and are making efforts to ensure the leftover waste cannot be reused to make weapons.
A (marginal) win for renewable
In February 2015, the United States’ Arizona Senate Committee on Water and Energy lobbied for the bill “SB 1134.” According to James Ayre of green living resource CleanTechnica, this bill determined that “nuclear energy from sources fueled by uranium fuel rods that include 80 percent or more of recycled nuclear fuel, and natural thorium reactor resources under development" are, indeed, considered to be “renewable.”
The bill passed by an extremely small margin, where only a single vote pushed the bill in the Arizona Senate Committee on Water and Energy's favor. State senators had a lengthy argument about whether to consider nuclear power as renewable energy as reported in the Phoenix New Times by Miriam Wasser.
Senator David Bradley stated that he "appreciates the fact that technology is allowing us to use rods a few times, but that doesn't make it renewable."
Senator Lynne Pancrazi had similar concerns, stating that she "can't agree that nuclear is renewable."
Meanwhile, nuclear power has gradually received approval as a renewable energy source in non-political circles.
Late last year, Martin Fackler of The New York Times and plenty of other news sources reported on the nuclear reactor building in Fukushima, Japan that had to be shut down because a few nuclear fuel rods had melted. That isolated incident isn't stopping other parts of the world, like Virginia in the United States, from building full-scale nuclear reactors with more powerful fuel rods.
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Lightbridge nuclear engineering company in Tysons Corner, Virginia, manufactures the rods, and notes the challenges associated with it. Company CEO Seth Grae spoke to David Talbot of Technology Review about the project:
"We're trying to do what is practical and what customers are asking us to address. The biggest problem is how to address the economics of nuclear power in a world of abundant natural gas, and with safety and security costs rising in the wake of the 9/11 attacks [in the United States] and Fukushima [in Japan]."
With both sides staying strong in their beliefs, the debate continues: renewable or non-renewable?
UK must stop blundering into high carbon choices warns CCC
The UK Government must end a year of climate contradictions and stop blundering on high carbon choices, according to the Climate Change Committee as it released 200 policy recommendations in a progress to Parliament update.
While the rigour of the Climate Change Act helped bring COP26 to the UK, it is not enough for Ministers to point to the Glasgow summit and hope that this will carry the day with the public, the Committee warns. Leadership is required, detail on the steps the UK will take in the coming years, clarity on tax changes and public spending commitments, as well as active engagement with people and businesses across the country.
"It it is hard to discern any comprehensive strategy in the climate plans we have seen in the last 12 months. There are gaps and ambiguities. Climate resilience remains a second-order issue, if it is considered at all. We continue to blunder into high-carbon choices. Our Planning system and other fundamental structures have not been recast to meet our legal and international climate commitments," the update states. "Our message to Government is simple: act quickly – be bold and decisive."
The UK’s record to date is strong in parts, but it has fallen behind on adapting to the changing climate and not yet provided a coherent plan to reduce emissions in the critical decade ahead, according to the Committee.
- Statutory framework for climate The UK has a strong climate framework under the Climate Change Act (2008), with legally-binding emissions targets, a process to integrate climate risks into policy, and a central role for independent evidence-based advice and monitoring. This model has inspired similarclimate legislation across the world.
- Emissions targets The UK has adopted ambitious territorial emissions targets aligned to the Paris Agreement: the Sixth Carbon Budget requires an emissions reduction of 63% from 2019 to 2035, on the way to Net Zero by 2050. These are comprehensive targets covering all greenhouse gases and all sectors, including international aviation and shipping.
- Emissions reduction The UK has a leading record in reducing its own emissions: down by 40% from 1990 to 2019, the largest reduction in the G20, while growing the economy (GDP increased by 78% from 1990 to 2019). The rate of reductions since 2012 (of around 20 MtCO2e annually) is comparable to that needed in the future.
- Climate Risk and Adaptation The UK has undertaken three comprehensive assessments of the climate risks it faces, and the Government has published plans for adapting to those risks. There have been some actions in response, notably in tackling flooding and water scarcity, but overall progress in planning and delivering adaptation is not keeping up with increasing risk. The UK is less prepared for the changing climate now than it was when the previous risk assessment was published five years ago.
- Climate finance The UK has been a strong contributor to international climate finance, having recently doubled its commitment to £11.6 billion in aggregate over 2021/22 to 2025/26. This spend is split between support for cutting emissions and support for adaptation, which is important given significant underfunding of adaptation globally. However, recent cuts to the UK’s overseas aid are undermining these commitments.
In a separate comment, it said the Prime Minister’s Ten-Point Plan was an important statement of ambition, but it has yet to be backed with firm policies.
Baroness Brown, Chair of the Adaptation Committee said: “The UK is leading in diagnosis but lagging in policy and action. This cannot be put off further. We cannot deliver Net Zero without serious action on adaptation. We need action now, followed by a National Adaptation Programme that must be more ambitious; more comprehensive; and better focussed on implementation than its predecessors, to improve national resilience to climate change.”
Priority recommendations for 2021 include setting out capacity and usage requirements for Energy from Waste consistent with plans to improve recycling and waste prevention, and issue guidance to align local authority waste contracts and planning policy to these targets; develop (with DIT) the option of applying either border carbon tariffs or minimum standards to imports of selected embedded-emission-intense industrial and agricultural products and fuels; and implement a public engagement programme about national adaptation objectives, acceptable levels of risk, desired resilience standards, how to address inequalities, and responsibilities across society.
Drax Group CEO Will Gardiner said the report is another reminder that if the UK is to meet its ambitious climate targets there is an urgent need to scale up bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS).
"As the world’s leading generator and supplier of sustainable bioenergy there is no better place to deliver BECCS at scale than at Drax in the UK. We are ready to invest in and deliver this world-leading green technology, which would support clean growth in the north of England, create tens of thousands of jobs and put the UK at the forefront of combatting climate change."
Drax Group is kickstarting the planning process to build a new underground pumped hydro storage power station – more than doubling the electricity generating capacity at its iconic Cruachan facility in Scotland. The 600MW power station will be located inside Ben Cruachan – Argyll’s highest mountain – and increase the site’s total capacity to 1.04GW (click here).
Lockdown measures led to a record decrease in UK emissions in 2020 of 13% from the previous year. The largest falls were in aviation (-60%), shipping (-24%) and surface transport (-18%). While some of this change could persist (e.g. business travellers accounted for 15-25% of UK air passengers before the pandemic), much is already rebounding with HGV and van travel back to pre-pandemic levels, while car use, which at one point was down by two-thirds, only 20% below pre-pandemic levels.