Fighting climate change in 2017: the role of nuclear power

The rise of modern renewables—from wind farms to solar panels—has without a doubt provided promise in the fight against climate change. However, the emphasis placed on new technologies has perhaps overshadowed one clean energy source that predates them all: nuclear power.

In addition to being entirely emissions-free, nuclear power offers something that other clean energy sources do not: uninterrupted power at a 92 percent capacity factor.

In short, it’s still by far the most efficient carbon-free energy source available, and the only one currently able to produce the amount of clean energy needed to power our modern cities. 

It’s for these reasons that nuclear energy is being revisited by politicians and environmental leaders as a key player in the battle against global climate change. Here’s what we can expect to see from the nuclear energy industry in the year ahead: 


Next-generation reactors

Although nuclear power is a completely carbon-free energy source, opponents often point to its complex waste management requirements and potential volatility when arguing against its place in our modern energy infrastructure. However, scientists across the globe are working on ways to make nuclear reactors safer, smaller and less wasteful. Revolutionary molten salt reactors aren’t just smaller and more efficient, but they can potentially recycle existing nuclear waste into clean fuel.

With the proper backing and support, these next generation reactors could transform the nuclear industry worldwide and all but eliminate the current arguments against nuclear.


Nuclear growth across Asia

The year ahead will likely see nuclear energy expand across Asia, with countries like China, Japan and India viewing nuclear power as crucial in their fight against climate change. The region faces increasing pressure to reduce its carbon footprint while simultaneously growing its industrial economies. Nuclear power offers the most efficient way to power Asia’s booming cities without increasing its emissions.


Government incentives for nuclear

Although it’s unclear how the new U.S. presidential administration will engage with the domestic nuclear industry, business leaders and environmentalists are hoping to see more government incentives for nuclear power producers. Existing federal policies do much to incentivize renewables, but exclude nuclear power as a clean energy option worthy of tax breaks and subsidies.

Senators Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island offered their bipartisan support for the U.S. nuclear industry in a recent opinion piece for the New York Times, saying:

“If we want to clean the air and reduce carbon emissions to deal with climate change, we need a stronger, not weaker, nuclear energy sector. Congress, federal agencies and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission must work with utilities to preserve our existing reactors in the safest possible way, and to develop the next generation of reactors that will provide cheaper, reliable, carbon-free electricity.”


Increased public awareness of nuclear as a clean energy source

Recent years have already brought renewed interest in nuclear energy and a growing understanding of its environmental promise. Increasingly, people are shedding their misguided notions of smoky nuclear reactors (it’s actually steam!) and realizing nuclear’s potential for combatting climate change. This increased awareness will only continue to grow in 2017, as more politicians and environmental leaders champion nuclear energy as key to the health of our planet.

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Banner image by Bjoern Schwarz via Wikimedia Commons