Net zero target: Is nuclear power really the answer?

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Net zero target: Is nuclear power really the answer?

Governments around the world declared intentions to reach net-zero carbon emissions at the COP26 UN climate summit last year, but only a few have charted clear courses while the others simply don’t know exactly how to get there.

For the majority of countries looking to phase out fossil fuel and adopt clean and renewable energy sources, solar and wind power have been the main focus – good alternatives at that.

However, these energy sources are intermittent. For one, the sun does not always shine. Secondly, the wind doesn’t always blow.

In addition, despite the fallen prices of the batteries of solar and wind harnessing and conversion devices, their storage capacities still remain on the low side (a few hours instead of days to make up for seasonal fluctuations).

Furthermore, their installation usually takes up a lot of land area.

There’s a reality on the ground that the world’s energy must come from zero-carbon sources and the cheapest path to decarbonizing energy generation is to have reliable sources that can produce low-carbon energy on demand whenever it is needed.

With that in mind, many scientists and experts are saying nuclear power is crucial to achieving carbon neutrality, arguing that clean, reliable energy that is produced in nuclear plants should be part of the solution to the energy and emissions crisis.

To their credit, as of today, nuclear power is the only carbon-free energy source that operates at a scale, produces large amounts of electricity without emitting carbon, and can reliably deliver power round the clock.
In addition, it also requires much less land area and new transmission infrastructure to produce power than renewable energy.

This sets it apart from renewables which are clean energy sources but intermittent, and fossil fuels which are reliable energy sources but dirty.

Despite their ability to provide clean, consistent, and relatively safe energy, nuclear power has a notorious reputation, making its mere existence and mention similar to doom – and deservedly so.

The after-effects of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki pulverization, as well as the Fukushima nuclear disaster, still remain fresh despite happening years ago.

These incidences set back the prospects of nuclear power globally, but with the recent renewable energy needs and increasingly ambitious climate goals, there just might be a brighter outlook for nuclear power.

As talks about achieving climate goals with nuclear power gather momentum around the world, one cannot but wonder if banking on nuclear power to salvage the situation is the wise thing to do.

No doubt, it’s the second-largest source of zero-carbon energy in the world today after hydropower but it is by no means a silver bullet as it brings with it significant challenges and risks.

A nagging challenge is the disposal of used nuclear fuel. But even with this challenge, it is imperative that we weigh the pros and cons. Will it be easier to address the risks and challenges associated with nuclear power than ruling it out totally and sticking to achieving net-zero without it?

The world will continue to consume energy and available evidence suggests electricity use will grow dramatically as countries decarbonize the energy system.

Exploring nuclear power as an alternative zer0-carbon energy source mix will reduce energy costs, give room for reliable energy prospects, ensure resilience in power generation, and scale decarbonization – a win-win scenario for us and the planet.

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