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Is Nuclear Energy the Answer to Global Warming?

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The main cause of global warming is the increased emission of what is known as greenhouse gases, in particular carbon dioxide. These greenhouse gases have an average lifetime in the atmosphere of 50 years to 200 years. This means that even if we stopped the emission of greenhouse gases completely tomorrow, global warming would still continue for decades to come. In other words, it is impossible to stop global warming immediately, it is only possible to gradually mitigate its effects through a drastic reduction of the emission of CO2.

The major portion of carbon dioxide emissions is from power stations that use huge amounts of fossil fuel every hour to supply us with electricity. As the world’s energy consumption has increased year by year, politics and industry made sure that the demand of energy was always fulfilled. While the supply increased to keep up with the demand, sustainability was rarely looked at.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) records the energy consumption worldwide and produces a forecast for the next 25 years. In their last energy outlook published in Autumn 2006, IEA predicts a strong increase of the carbon dioxide emissions by the year 2030 as a consequence of the increasing demand for energy worldwide. Additionally, IEA investigated to which extent the above mentioned emissions of CO2 could be prevented if politics applied rigorous measures. One of many measures investigated was massive facilitations and incentives for building additional nuclear power plants.

Nuclear energy is used to generate electrical power without any sort of fossil fuel involved in the process. Therefore, CO2 emission can indeed be reduced, if electricity power plants driven by fossil fuels were replaced by nuclear power plants. Yet, the application of nuclear power is highly risky and problematic; and so the problem of CO2 emissions must not be looked at independently of all other risks and problems.

Some critics claim that nuclear energy’s emissions can compare to those of fossil-fuels’ when the life-cycle impacts of nuclear power are considered. Although nuclear power plants do not emit greenhouse gases when generating electricity, certain processes used to build and fuel the plants do, such as hauling the fuel to the plants in trucks. This is true of all energy facilities. However, numerous studies show that nuclear plants life-cycle impacts are actually more comparable to renewable forms of generation, as wind and solar, and far less than those of coal- or natural gas-fired power plants.

The USA, as one of the countries that adopted this philosophy many years ago, estimates that every year nuclear energy industry prevents at least 681.99 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions. Today, the yearly volume of greenhouse gas emissions prevented by the US nuclear units is equivalent to taking 96 percent of all passenger cars off America’s highways for one year.

In the end we can say that nuclear energy could significantly contribute in reducing the cause of global warming. Having said that, it can also be a highly risky option if we shut the eyes to the many risks of nuclear power.

References

nuclearenergyfortexans.org
scientificamerican.com

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