The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

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Nuclear power finds little space of its own in the climate change discussion

The current focus in the climate change discussion is the introduction of cleaner energy. With increasing evidence of global warming and the risks greenhouse gas emissions bear on future generations, the world sees itself challenged to reduce its carbon emissions. It is essential to lower dependence on oil, and to focus on carbon-free energies. Yet, there is little agreement on the forms of energy we should focus on: renewable resources, or other resources such as nuclear energy.

Current discussions tend to not focus on nuclear power as a means of future energy supply. Nuclear power proposes a highly efficient, essentially carbon-free, form of energy. Still it seems that a majority favor renewable forms of energy.

Nonetheless, there are sound reasons for such attitudes.

While nuclear power might be highly efficient, it does bear some challenges in regard with timing and costs. According to Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, it takes approximately 10 years to start a new nuclear plant, plus another decade to have any effects on the climate. This is far too long. Today’s world is looking for immediacy. Additionally, the construction of a nuclear reactor is expensive. It costs between $6 and $9 billion to build a new reactor and returns on such investments are not immediate. As a result, few investors see themselves
motivated to take on such a risk.

Another major factor concerns nuclear energy’s role in replacing oil, petroleum and natural gas as a source of energy.

While nuclear power has found its application in electricity-related power, it has fewer applications in terms of transportation. To replace oil with nuclear energy would take at least 20 years, the Carnegie report states.

Despite this, reliance on nuclear plants as an energy supply cannot be put out of the question. As President Obama noted in his speech at MIT on Oct. 23, “energy supplies are growing scarcer, energy demands are growing larger.”

The need for a highly efficient carbon-free form of energy-supply is urgent. In 2008, the U.S. consumed approximately 3.6 trillion kilowatts of electricity according to the Energy Information Administration.

This number has been on the increase since 1970, and still continues to increase.

Nuclear power would pacify such increases in demands for energy safely and efficiently. Today, however, it only supplies less
than seven percent of U.S. energy.

Renewable energies, on the other hand, comprise less than one percent of the country’s current energy supply. While they bear fewer timing constraints and, with great effort, would certainly help to mitigate the climate crisis, they are less cost-efficient. To rely solely on renewable forms of energy would prove costlier than to invest in a few nuclear power plants.

Considering the realities of our time,
greater focus needs to be placed on nuclear forms of energy, though it needs not to be an exclusive focus.

Renewable forms of energy, while less efficient, need to also be utilized in order to put to work immediate measures to mitigate climate change. The addition of nuclear power plants would secure a greater future supply of carbon-free energy, allowing for the replacement of oil as a fuel.

It is clear that changes will not be
immediate. However, the great levels of energy efficiency and conservation of nuclear power in prospect make it clear that it is a form of energy that will bear great future advantages to the environment and gradually provide for the transition from traditional, highly-pollution,
carbon-reliant forms of energy.

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