With the price of gasoline consistently above $4 a gallon, there is a desire to find a more consistent type of energy. A source of power that will not be so affected by world politics. The United States must pursue greater energy independence and the best way to achieve this is to pursue nuclear energy as the primary source of energy.
At the end of 2020, there were currently 56 nuclear power plants in 28 states, including six in Illinois. Through the process of nuclear fission, which splits atoms, the energy released is used to heat water. The resulting steam spins turbines that generate power for the plant, according to the Ministry of Energy.
What is remarkable about these plants is the amount of energy they can emit with the smallest of resources.
“A single cylinder of uranium is equivalent to three barrels of crude oil,” said Nicholas Pohlman, professor of mechanical engineering at Northern Illinois University.
In terms of greenhouse gas emissions, nuclear energy is one of the best options, especially when the effects of climate change are being felt more year after year. During operation, no greenhouse gases are emitted by operating nuclear power plants. Over its entire lifetime, nuclear energy produces only 1.5% of the carbon dioxide emissions that coal does, according to the World Nuclear Association.
The efficiency of nuclear power plants is also worth noting. In 2020, nuclear power had the highest capacity factor of any power source in America at 93%, according to The Ministry of Energy. This means that the nuclear power plants produced their maximum amount of electricity 93% of the time during the year. That’s about 340 days of peak energy.
Against 56.6% for natural gas and 40.2% for coal, nuclear energy continues to dominate in terms of power. Even renewable energy sources like wind and solar can only generate maximum capacity factors of 35.4% and 24.9% respectively, which makes sense. Due to the way wind and solar generate energy, each day will be inconsistent in terms of the energy generated. Nuclear does not share this distinction.
Nuclear power currently generates 18.9 percent of our national electricity and about 50 percent of Illinois’ electricity, according to the Ministry of Energy. Illinois consumes more nuclear power than any other state.
However, like all energy sources, nuclear has its detractors. One of the most important is the time it takes to create them.
“I can install solar panels in six months, but a nuclear plant takes 10 to 15 years to build,” Pohlman said.
For communities looking for an easier way to access renewable energy, solar and wind seem to make more sense. However, they have their problems. Wind turbines can last about 20 years and nuclear can last 20 to 40 years. But the production of nuclear energy is much more efficient.
One of the main problems associated with nuclear energy is the waste generated. There are nuclear wastes, with some types being more dangerous than others and varying rates of sufficient decay, depending on the EPA.
According to Institute of Nuclear Energy. However, the United States government has not made a sufficient effort to create this site. Nuclear waste can be recycled to extract more energy – France does this quite well – but America does not currently practice these methods.
And then there are the infamous disasters that make some people afraid of nuclear power, the most famous Three Mile Island in 1979, Chernobyl in 1986 and Fukushima in 2011. Chernobyl is the most egregious example because its collapse was attributed to faulty reactor design and mismanaged attempts to cover up the accident.
However, in terms of overall security, nuclear energy remains one of the safest forms of energy. It may not be the perfect form of energy, but we need to make a change. We need a source that emits large amounts of energy without greenhouse gases. The American people also deserve efficient sources of energy that are produced on our own soil, unlike countries where human rights are violated like Saudi Arabia and Russia.
Even as we make individual choices in favor of renewables, like plugging our homes into solar power and buying electric cars, we need to make a societal shift towards more efficient energy sources. Towards what feeds our cities. Towards what makes America run.