It took us a while, but the world is finally coming to accept climate change as the threat that it is. And we are slowly working to mitigate the damage that it caused and will be causing.
Electric vehicles are now on the verge of going mainstream. Renewable energy is gaining traction across the developed and developing nations. Politics and national self interests are still in control of these policies, it will take a while to make the transition to green energy. And while there is a limit to what technological advancements can do, they certainly do help.
One divisive issue in the fight against carbon emissions is the nuclear power. Many environmentalists do not consider it to be an acceptable solution due to the stigma of nuclear waste and radiation. They would rather rely solely on renewable power like solar and wind.
I have no ties to the nuclear power industry, I have nothing to gain from advocating nuclear power. But as an engineer, with knowledge of the energy sector, it is more than evident that nuclear power has to be a significant part of our energy production in the near future. This to me, is an undeniable fact.
Anti-nuclear sentiment among environmentalist only help with one thing, maintain our reliance on fossil fuels. Opposing nuclear power means supporting coal and natural gas, there is simply no way around it. The simple truth is that we have the technology to switch from fossil fuels to nuclear power, but we do not have the technology to do the same with renewable power. We are still decades away from having the required technology to do that within reasonable logistics and economical means.
Renewable power simply does not have the capacity and scalability to fulfill our current energy needs. We need more power, not just to replace the current electrical power generated by fossil fuels, but also to replace other dependencies on fossil fuels, both in personal and industrial usage. A switch to electrical vehicles means more power plants. We also need to stop relying on fossil fuels for heating, instead of burning natural gas and coal, we need to use green energy. Industrial heating, furnaces etc. would also have to be converted to use alternative energy. All these and more, means we need more electrical power plants.
Add to this the technological challenges of integrating renewable power at scale. Our entire power grid, all around the world, is designed to work with the traditional turbine power. Practically all electrical devices you own, almost all consumer equipment and industrial tools are designed to use traditional turbine power. Turbine power supplies electricity with little or no conversion, generated power regulates the grid and maintains its stability. You can easily scale it up and down to match the power demand as needed.
In contrast, renewable power like solar requires expensive, high tech power conversion units to connect to the power grid. It is not scalable, anytime you add more solar cells, you need to match it with power conversion circuit of enough capacity. You also can not increase or decrease the power supply. For that, we need power storage units. And as we increase renewable power generation, we will need even more power storage. The need for more batteries will increase exponentially. Currently we still use fossil fuel power generation to offset any imbalance caused by renewable energy. As we make the switch, our reliance on batteries will just increase.
All these may sound like a reasonable price to pay in the fight against climate change. After all, what price is too high to save the planet? But this overlooks the environmental cost of all these. All these require materials to be mined, complex equipment to be manufactured and installed. All that causes more and more carbon emissions. The solution inevitably becomes part of the problem we are trying to solve.
One or two decades ago, the idea of using renewable power like solar and wind, was considered to be too infeasible, they were only a small fraction of the total power generated. The cost was too high, the efficiency was low and our power grids were not equipped to make good use of them. But with policy changes, subsidies and government intervention, the industry has improved tremendously over the years. Now they are cheaper and are feasible even without government subsidies. But even with all that, they are still far from being able to match our current energy consumption.
With similar policies, nuclear power can also enjoy a similar level of advancement and improvements. This would make it cheaper, safer, more efficient and more environmentally friendly.
And of course, we need to address the elephant in the room, the waste from nuclear power, the radioactive material that we need to deal with. Yes, it is something we need to deal with, but it is nowhere as big an issue as it is made to be. We certainly require clear and strong regulations in place to handle the nuclear waste, but it is not a bigger problem than all the other waste generated in other power plants.
As usual, fossil fuels are the biggest culprit there as well. Even with all the filters, fossil fuel still pollutes the planet to incredible levels. Much more than anything done by nuclear power. I can not fathom why we even allow coal power to be used in this day and age. What is more, anything we mine contains some level of radioactive elements, that includes coal. Coal plants release more radioactive material to the environment than nuclear power plants do.
Even renewable power has waste. Wind turbines are not completely recycled, quite a bit of it is turned into waste. Solar power cells generate waste during their production as well. Not to mention the land area they require. The land that has to be accessible, near power lines and relatively flat. All the green postures filled with solar cells.
We talk about how the nuclear waste can take thousands, maybe millions of years to decay. But how about all the waste released when we produce power via other methods? The chemicals we release when we burn fossil fuels to the atmosphere do not decay, some of them are cycled back but a lot remains, forever. Not to mention all the other industrial waste we generate while we play catch with renewable power. These are all current, existing problems that require immediate solutions. We have a problem and we need a solution now, not three decades from now. And for the moment, nuclear is the only viable alternative.