As the world seeks a greater reliance on clean energy, nuclear power is gaining new supporters—but its success is going to require greater approval from the public and transparency from the nuclear industry.
- Germany capitulated to decades of anti-nuclear activism on Saturday, April 15, closing down the final three nuclear reactors in the nation and fully shifting the power grid to coal power and clean energy sources.
- The decision to power down the reactors comes amid the United Nation’s goal to shift the world to net-zero carbon emissions and clean energy sources by 2050.
- Renewable energy produces 20% of the world’s current electricity, according to the Department of Energy.
- The United States has 93 nuclear reactors that power 18.8% of the power grid and nearly 60% of its clean energy. Still, the technology remains controversial, with 35% of Americans approving of new reactors and 26% disapproving, Pew Research reports.
- A 2022 representative study found 42% to 44% of young European people are pro-nuclear, reflecting a generational increase in support among climate activists.
- Recent innovations and venture capital poured into nuclear fusion breakthroughs could also offer safer and cleaner options for nuclear-power generation.
Why It’s Important
Climate change has created a tremendous global demand for energy innovation as the world attempts to shift the entire energy grid, transportation system, and infrastructure away from power sources that release pollutants into the atmosphere. Nuclear fission stands as one of the few older energy sources that could stand to benefit from the clean-energy revolution, as it produces almost no carbon emissions.
Efforts to push for nuclear power as a meaningful alternative to coal and oil have been met with antipathy and hostility from critics of nuclear energy, who have painful memories of the three major nuclear disasters at Chornobyl in Ukraine, Three-Mile Island in Pennsylvania, and Fukushima in Japan.
Joshua Soloway is the CEO of Ethic Stream, which partners with corporate groups to help them deal with the challenges of the energy transition and attain net-zero emissions. He tells Leaders Media that there are obvious advantages and disadvantages to nuclear power. The benefits include that it is reliable, efficient, uses well-understood and proven technologies, and has a very limited carbon footprint. The downside is that it can be expensive due to regulatory requirements and decommissioning costs and that a large portion of the public does not trust it because of what they view as severe consequences of a meltdown.
In a modern political landscape where science-based issues like COVID-19 and climate change are subject to the whims of public opinion and partisan politics, nuclear power struggles to find grounding as a popular solution to the clean-energy revolution. Soloway considers himself neither an advocate for nor against nuclear power, but he sees it as a necessary part of the energy transition.
“Looking at all the advantages and disadvantages, I don’t see why we couldn’t take steps to include it in our energy mix if we can deal with the safety concerns. We have existing nuclear power facilities that are capable of doing their job. It needs to be factored into the energy transition. I wouldn’t be in a rush to decommission nuclear power plants at this point,” he says.
To whatever degree nuclear power is capable of solving the modern energy transition, the public has a right to have their say in the process. The likelihood of an incident is small, but the impact of one can be massive and destroy thousands of lives in the event of a meltdown or radiation leak. The public needs to know that it can be safe and that safety concerns are being addressed.
Soloway says this needs to begin with education. The nuclear industry has a shining opportunity at the moment to sell itself to the public amid the energy transition and European energy crisis, making it clear that the newest generations of nuclear technology have worked through the problems that caused previous meltdowns. This process will have to begin with public education and a renewed public relations effort.
“This is nuclear power’s time to shine if they’re willing to reassess their strategy. They need to educate better on how they store waste, what dangers and environmental impacts are necessary, and what costs are necessary. They have a new story to tell that they couldn’t tell 20 years ago when they were struggling to create adoption. The entire industry should go back to the drawing board and say, ‘How should we be talking about nuclear and where it fits in the mix?’ They should recast themselves as clean energy,” he says.
Backing Up A Bit
Nuclear fusion could also provide a compelling alternative to these outstanding concerns and problems, with the technology fusing atoms together to create energy releases that produce no nuclear waste nor dangers of a meltdown. However, as Soloway points out, these technologies are nowhere near applicable to the current energy grid. Nuclear fission, wind, and solar are currently available and plentiful and will provide the solutions to energy generation for the immediate future.
“There are technical limitations at this point and political hurdles. It is promising, but it hasn’t been proven. It would be interesting to see what the public perception will be, as it is unlikely that the public will view it the same way they view nuclear fission,” says Soloway.
“We need to be practical in this energy transition. The idea that we’re going to shift to renewables overnight is totally unrealistic—it is unrealistic to imagine we can shut down oil and coal overnight when we can’t produce enough electric vehicles without plastic, which comes from oil. We have to be practical,” says Soloway.