For decades, there has been an ongoing great deal of debate regarding the position of nuclear energy; is it renewable or not? While some scientists and scholars have strong arguments that nuclear energy is renewable, critics have convincing arguments against the renewability of nuclear energy. Before we dive into these arguments, let’s first understand what nuclear energy is and what metrics are used to differentiate renewable energy from nonrenewable energy.
Nuclear energy is a form of energy generated through the fission of atoms. Any form of energy is produced when the heat is converted into electricity using steam.
As for nuclear energy, the heat that makes steam is produced when atoms split. The splitting process (fission) produces energy in the form of neutrons and heat. The heat is used to form steam while the neutrons return to react with other neutrons, and the process repeats itself, thus generating more heat and of course more neutrons.
Energy is defined as renewable or non-renewable based on the following metrics:
Based on the above criteria, renewable energy is any form of energy that can regenerate or replenish itself with time. Renewable energy should serve for the longest time possible, for eternity. Secondly, energy is considered renewable if it is environmentally friendly. The vice versa about non-renewable energy is correct.
Low carbon emission
Supporters of nuclear energy as a renewable energy source hail at the low carbon emission aspect. This alone is among the key characteristics that define renewable energy. Apparently, the most common source of energy- fossil fuels- has had a great impact on the atmosphere due to the high carbon emission levels. As such, if the aim of nuclear energy is to harmonize the atmosphere with little or no carbon, then nuclear energy should without doubts hold the title of renewable energy.
It can serve the earth for an indefinite time when all resources are optimally exploited.
Energy is considered indefinite if it can sustain the earth for as long as the sun can provide energy to the earth. In the production of nuclear energy, uranium is the most used element. It’s argued that uranium can last for 700 years while other scientists argue that it can last for 5 billion years. If the uranium deposits available on earth could last for 5 billion years, that’s quite an indefinite time, then it is sustainable enough to carry the title renewable energy. As for the claim of 700 years, a former professor at Pittsburg university argues that if only a higher cost would be involved in extracting uranium from the currently Un-extracted areas such as the seawater and the waters of the eroding earth crust by the river, the total uranium could be enough to sustain the earth for 5 billion years hence rendering it renewable energy.
The major argument cited by opponents of nuclear energy is that although the energy does not produce greenhouse gases, it produces harmful nuclear waste. Being a radioactive pollutant, this nuclear waste contradicts the concept of renewable energy. The radioactive waste has serious effects on people who come into contact with it. This includes cancers, bone decays, and blood diseases.
Another argument by these opponents is that nuclear energy doesn’t replenish itself. According to the definition of renewable energy, if at all nuclear energy was to be in that category, it should be capable of replenishing and regenerating itself indefinitely like the wind or solar.
The above arguments are clear evidence of the ongoing confusion in the debate for nuclear energy as being renewable or non-renewable. It appears like the definition for renewable energy is not yet clear and the metrics that form the basis for differentiation are still not agreed upon.
For instance, a director at an international agency that deals with renewable energy hold that they will not regard nuclear energy as renewable because it is produced in a long and risky process and produces harmful waste. In their argument, they didn’t cite the issue of sustainability.
This means that according to the international body for renewable energy, if nuclear power plants could manage their waste effectively, then the energy could qualify to be renewable. Meanwhile, the issue of whether nuclear energy is renewable or not remains a subject of personal judgment!