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The Vector

NJIT's Student Newspaper

The Vector

NJIT's Student Newspaper

The Vector

Is nuclear energy the most feasible option to reduce carbon emissions and fossil fuel consumption?


[one_third]LiberalColin Bayne

As the presidential race continues to escalate, a major concern of the candidates, and the public in extension, is on the question of climate change. A key component of the discussion centers around the candidates’ stances on nuclear energy. Yang and Booker both support investing heavily in nuclear energy, while Warren and Sanders take the opposite route, refusing to allow the construction of any new plants. This debate over the merits of nuclear power is nothing new.

The concerns over nuclear energy are because at this point in time, we have no method of disposing of nuclear waste, which is highly radioactive and damaging to people and ecosystems.      Instead it is presently relegated to designated storage areas which are deemed far enough from human habitation to be safe, like the planned facility at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

However, nuclear storage has been the cause for radioactive contamination in many Native American communities, whose disproportionate poverty leads to various reservations and tribal lands agreeing to host storage of nuclear waste in exchange for large sums of money, putting natives at risk for radiation.

Another more commonplace issue is that of the economic viability of nuclear plants. They are consistently unprofitable and expensive to build. A new plant in Georgia is already costing more than $20 billion, $12 billion of that in federal subsidies, and existing plants closing due to competition from the cheaper and more flexible industries of natural gas and renewables. This makes the building of any new plants unlikely and unprofitable, causing concern for nuclear power’s long-term viability.

However, there have been proposed advancements in the ways in which we produce nuclear power. None of these are commercially viable, and all would require heavy investment from the government in research and development in order to be viable in time to meet the deadlines for reducing global temperature rise, but they are certainly an option.

The issue clearly has more than one facet, but candidates have the difficulty of combatting the public fears surrounding historical events like Fukushima, Chernobyl and Three Mile Island which hamper their willingness and ability to come out in favor of nuclear power. However, nuclear power can and should be a part of any plan to reduce carbon emissions and fossil fuel consumption. As many have said, climate change is an existential threat, and we would be wise not to deprive ourselves of weapons to combat it.

[one_third]IndependentDaniil Ivanov

Most of the prominent Democratic candidates for the 2020 Presidential Election have not been eager to push for nuclear energy. The Washington Post reports that candidates like Pete Buttigieg and Julian Castro call for no new nuclear plants to be built; Tulsi Gabbard and Bernie Sanders want to phase out nuclear power; and popular candidates like Biden, Harris and Warren have no clear response on the issue. The only candidates that are pro-nuclear energy are Bennet, Booker, Delaney, Ryan and Yang, and the five combined make up five percent of the vote in current polls.

Other sources of energy have their own problems. Wind power potentially harms flying wildlife and is completely dependent on a constant source of wind. Hydroelectric dams harness the power of moving water, but dams have been known to disrupt the flow of fish through their natural ecosystems and can have other detrimental ecological impacts such as flooding and destabilizing the ground through water accumulation. 

Solar power is often highlighted as a renewable source of energy, but the various materials that go into creating the solar panels are difficult to dispose of in a sustainable way. Much of these alternative energy sources also rely on giant batteries to keep the energy stored when there is no sun or wind. These batteries are full of toxic chemicals that are difficult to dispose of.

Nuclear energy has been a part of our energy creation for decades, and the technology as well as safety has only improved. The waste produced is still an issue and there are lingering concerns in the public’s minds that a cataclysmic nuclear meltdown will cause destruction. However, it’s important for candidates to keep nuclear energy on the table as a solution for our ever growing energy problem rather than to outright rule it out.

[one_third]ConservativeMark Pothen

To put it bluntly, without the utilization and embrace of nuclear energy, there is no foreseeable path to a significant reduction of carbon emissions in the United States. 

In the last CNN climate crisis town hall, while Democratic presidential candidates touted their extraordinarily radical environmental policy, the best solution to the problem of climate change was trampled over. During the climate crisis townhall, Elizabeth Warren suggested we should phase out nuclear energy while Bernie Sanders went even further to idiotically suggest that he would ban it outright. 

The United States relies on nuclear power for nearly 20% of total electricity generation and according to the Office of Nuclear Energy of the United States Department of Energy, “Despite producing massive amounts of carbon-free power, nuclear energy produces more electricity on less land than any other clean-air source.” To put the power of nuclear energy in context, a typical 1000 megawatt nuclear facility in the United States needs about one square mile to operate while wind farms require nearly 360 times the amount of land to produce the same electrical output. Solar and wind energy are incredibly inefficient in terms of their electrical output and yet these energy sources are being posited as the solution by the environmentalist Left.

 The case being made against nuclear energy is almost entirely a frail emotional appeal. The Left hears the words “nuclear energy” and associates it with nuclear weapons or the nuclear meltdown in Chernobyl. In reality, there are nearly 100 nuclear reactors in the United States and the only memorable incident is the partial meltdown on Three Mile Island, which happened 40 years ago  without any deaths or significant damage. Furthermore, the incident ended up leading to significant safety regulations that changed the industry as a whole for the better.    

It is not as though complete reliance on nuclear energy is a pipe dream. In order to point out a successful utilization of nuclear power, look no further than France. France derives nearly 75% of its power from nuclear energy, and because of this, it has an extremely low level of carbon dioxide emissions per capita from electricity generation. The rate at which carbon intensity of energy has been reduced in France surpasses every other country due to their reliance on nuclear power. 

If members of the Left want to posit policy that will radically restructure the American economy to the point of destruction instead of looking at the best solution sitting in front of them, they will continue to look extreme and dishonest on the climate change issue in the public eye.

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