Nuclear energy has always been a source of controversy. Many people associate nuclear energy with catastrophes such as the Chernobyl or Fukushima disasters, or even with nuclear warfare. However, the realities of nuclear power are far from the perceived myths believed by the public.
With nuclear energy being so notorious, it is hard to distinguish what is true and what is not. Below we have featured some of the most common misconceptions in order to debunk the myths surrounding nuclear energy, and learn the truth about this misunderstood energy source.
Is Nuclear Energy Safe?
As one of the most regulated industries in the world, it is safe to say that nuclear energy is far safer than most would believe. The potential hazards of nuclear energy have always been widely publicised, particularly in the shadow of nuclear accidents such as Chernobyl.
However, out of the 18,500 global reactor plants, there have only been two major accidents to occur. This only emphasises how safe nuclear energy provision truly is. It has also been found that in the entire 50-year history of nuclear energy provision, no member of the public has ever been killed.
Whilst the consequences of radiation exposure poses great risk to humans and the environment, the likelihood of a radiation leak from a reactor plant is extremely low. This is due to the tight regulations and protocols that nuclear reactor plants must follow – these regulations making nuclear energy one of the safest methods of energy provision currently.
Does Nuclear Energy Contribute to Carbon Emissions?
Unlike the fossil fuel energy plants that are most commonly used, nuclear reactors do not produce any harmful air pollutants. Nuclear reactors generate power through fission – the process of splitting uranium atoms to produce energy. During this process, heat is created and is used to spin a turbine that generates electricity.
Nuclear energy has a carbon footprint comparable to wind and solar energy provision. The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) found that, through nuclear energy provision, the USA avoided over 476 million metric tons of CO2 emissions in 2019. This kind of reduction in carbon dioxide emissions is an important step towards reaching our net zero carbon target by 2050, and is something only achievable with renewable energy provision.
The demand for electricity in the UK is continuing to increase. With this increase, the demand for low-carbon electricity is becoming more and more important. Nuclear power is one of the main sources of low-carbon electricity provision in the UK currently, and without it we would struggle to achieve carbon neutrality.
Is Nuclear Waste Dangerous?
Most nuclear fuel is able to be recycled and re-purposed to create new fuel for energy provision, meaning that wastage from nuclear reactor plants is minimal. Any ‘low-level’ waste, such as scrap metal and plastics, are able to be reprocessed at repositories in order to be recycled.
With any nuclear waste that is deemed ‘high-level’ due to radioactivity is stored as the material’s half-life diminishes the level of radioactivity. Currently, nuclear reactors store their radioactive waste above ground where the waste can be stored for decades safely. The UK government is currently set to establish a safer and more permanent method of handling nuclear waste by creating a Geological Disposal Facility (GDF).
With colossal power stations such as Hinkley Point C set to be operational by 2026, nuclear power has been brought into the limelight. Higher publicity often leads to more publicised misconceptions, but nuclear power is set to be one of the safest and most efficient methods of energy provision in modern society.