Is the Future of Nuclear Energy in Jeopardy?

sun setting on nuclear reactor for article on nuclear energy

With Germany’s recent announcement to shut off its nuclear plants, nuclear energy may be on a downward slope. The last three nuclear power plants in Germany have officially ended operation. This polarizing decision is part of a larger trend to move away from nuclear power as a source of energy. The German government seems to be following popular opinion that nuclear power is unstable and potentially dangerous. 

Meanwhile, the scope of nuclear energy around the world may be following in the same direction. If public opinion shifts to what’s deemed more renewable sources of energy, the future of nuclear power could be tenuous. While some argue that nuclear energy could help make the transition to green power easier, many are vehemently against the progression of nuclear energy. 

It’s Been Decades Coming

Nuclear power in Germany has certainly been tumultuous in the past. Germany made significant progress in nuclear technology at the height of the atomic era. However, it was not met without opposition. In the 1970s, a significant anti-nuclear movement took place. Global nuclear disasters like Fukushima and Chernobyl only served to fuel the fire of more recent anti-nuclear sentiment. 

The recent decision to close the doors of the last three nuclear power plants in Germany is part of a 20-year plan. In 2000, the German government began making preparations to move away from nuclear power. This movement initialized the shutdown of power plants across the European country. After the Fukushima disaster, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced  Germany would double down on efforts to shut down their nuclear power resources. 

After Russia invaded Ukraine, Germany delayed its shut down of its nuclear power plants. However, the delay has now ended, and Germany moved forward with removing atomic power plants from their energy resources. This marks the end of nuclear power reliance in Germany for the foreseeable future. 

The End of the Nuclear Era in Germany

With the closing of its final three nuclear power plants, Germany is following a trend of navigating away from nuclear energy. While this is still a polarizing decision, many in the anti-nuclear movement are delighted at the news. The end of the nuclear era in Germany is a landmark event in the world of energy. Undoubtedly, this decision by Germany will form a catalyst for other nations to either follow suit or move against the grain. 

The Downward Spiral of Nuclear Power

There’s no question that many nuclear power plants across the world have been in a steady decline. In the United States alone, many of the nuclear power plants are considered past their prime. Though they were initially built to last multiple decades, many US nuclear plants have reached retirement early. 

As the world’s nuclear power plants age, many are set to be shut down. In fact, approximately 25% of nuclear capacity is expected to be retired by 2025. Barring intervention or lifetime extensions, we could see a downward spiral in nuclear dependence in the coming years. Germany’s decision may only be the tip of the iceberg. 

Some in the anti-nuclear corner feel that less dependence on nuclear energy is the right direction. However, this line of thinking is undoubtedly divided. 

Global Trends in Nuclear Energy

Many other countries are following the same lines as Germany for nuclear energy. Several other European countries have either completely shut down their nuclear plants or are well on the way there. However, the war in Ukraine is giving several nations pause to shutting down their nuclear industries. For example, the UK views atomic power as an essential component of its clean energy plan. Additionally, France, Finland, and Japan have all made efforts or considered expanding nuclear power reliance. 

Meanwhile, there is also a demand for nuclear rethinking in the United States. Over the last 60 years, 90 operational licenses have been given to nuclear power plants. However, many of those plants have been shut down or are at risk of retiring. This trend has many concerns in the energy world. There are certainly some legitimate arguments for concern over nuclear power production. As the nuclear energy story continues to unfold, it will be important to consider the benefits and arguments on each side.

Arguments Against Nuclear Energy

Despite the many advantages of nuclear energy, it is often viewed by the public with a negative connotation. Some of its negative publicity undoubtedly comes from historical atomic accidents. Media and popular opinion have exaggerated or exacerbated a negative stigma around nuclear energy. However, there are some legitimate things to consider when looking at the challenges to nuclear energy. 

A few challenges surrounding nuclear energy production are: 

  • Costly initial expense: The initial investment in a nuclear power plant can be quite costly. Additionally, it can take a decade or longer to complete a nuclear power plant. The time and money spent on the front end could be a legitimate concern for creating new power plants. 
  • Fuel transportation, storage, and disposal: After nuclear energy is created, the question arises of what to do with the spent fuel. The radioactive material must be transported, stored, and disposed of safely. Many are concerned about the risks involved in eliminating the used power. The Department of Energy is responsible for these processes in the United States. 
  • Limited fuel supply: There is growing concern about the limit of nuclear material available to create nuclear power. If the supply of uranium were to dissipate, nuclear energy could be in danger. 
  • Risks and accidents: The creation of nuclear energy comes with a certain amount of risk. Historical events, like the tragedies of Chernobyl and Fukushima Daiichi, have demonstrated the potential catastrophe caused by a nuclear accident. 

These cons of nuclear power production are certainly worth considering. However, like everything in the energy world, the negatives of nuclear energy must be weighed against the advantages of nuclear power investment.

Advantages of Nuclear Energy

In spite of the declining nuclear power usage around the world, nuclear energy has many advantages. Nuclear power still has vast potential. As a significant provider of energy resources, nuclear power could still have a spot at the world’s energy table. As the largest clean energy supplier in the United States, nuclear power still has a substantial part to play. 

Some of the key benefits of investing in nuclear power are as follows: 

  • Low carbon emissions: Nuclear energy has some of the lowest carbon emissions in the energy industry. In fact, nuclear power plants in the United States produce more than half of the nation’s emission-free energy.
  • Reliable and cost-effective energy source: While the initial cost of building nuclear power plants may be expensive, the production process is relatively affordable. Nuclear energy is a reliable energy source when other renewables have fluctuating potentials. 
  • Small carbon footprint: As a whole, nuclear power plants boast some of the lowest carbon footprints in the energy industry. Though nuclear power plants can produce massive amounts of energy, the plants themselves can be relatively compact. 
  • Can help close the energy gap: As a reliable source of electricity, nuclear energy can help bridge the energy gap for the power grid. This could be a game changer as the world transitions to cleaner energy. 
  • Economic boon: Nuclear power plants can provide thousands of jobs for United States citizens worldwide.

While there may be a stigma around nuclear energy, some clear advantages exist. As the future unfolds, nuclear energy could still play a vital role in providing the world with power. 

How Nuclear Energy Could Help in the Clean Energy Solution 

Today, nuclear energy plays a significant role in generating electricity. In 2018, nuclear energy provided 18% of the global electricity supply. While nuclear power usage has declined over recent years, it can still play a vital role in the transition to clean energy. As technology progresses toward the green revolution, nuclear power will be needed to create a cleaner environment. The low carbon emissions brought about by atomic energy have vast untapped potential in the future. 

Nuclear power’s low-emission energy could revolutionize transportation, heating, manufacturing, and nearly every other industry. Nuclear power plants aid in keeping the power grid stable. As the world transitions to green energy solutions, brand new concepts like miniature nuclear power plants and breakthroughs in nuclear fusion can help stabilize the variable renewable energies. This benefit could provide a reliable backup energy source should renewable energy fluctuate. 

The future of nuclear energy hangs in the balance. As nuclear plants continue to age, future policies and regulatory actions will be pivotal. Of course, you can count on Shale Magazine to keep you up to date on everything happening with nuclear energy. 

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