Issues of climate change and sustainability are of great concern today. The world’s future will be determined by steps taken to mitigate the impacts of climate change. The energy sector must undergo a complete redirection through decarbonization. The challenge, however, lies in ensuring the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions while at the same time meeting the increasing demands for electricity in the near future (Lesser, 2019). As the human population continues to proliferate, so is the electricity demand.
However, with more calls toward sustainable energy and concerns about the environment, more focus has been directed towards the reduction of carbon print to mitigate the impacts of climate change (Brook et al.,2014). This means that the decarbonization of energy production systems is the only route through which a significant impact on climate change will be achieved. A pragmatic analysis of current power production methods in a decarbonized setting indicates that as much as low-to zero-carbon technologies can be applied, nuclear technology is a viable option due to its low to zero carbon emission characteristics. The biggest hindrance to nuclear technology in the past has been previous disasters, including the 1986 Chernobyl disaster and the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011. However, there is a change in attitude toward nuclear energy as it is gradually gaining acceptance as it offers the most viable solution toward meeting the future power demands in a decarbonized world.
History reveals that humans have moved from simpler sources of energy to more sophisticated and efficient sources of energy. Prior to the 19th-century humans derived energy from tidal streams, wind and specially trained domesticated animals. For purposes of generating heat, humans depended on the burning of biomass such as wood and cattle dung (Ahearne et al., 2012). The early eighteenth century saw the widespread usage of fossil fuels with compact chemically stored energy, with coal combustion serving as the driving force behind the steam engine and, as a result, the industrial revolution. This usage of fossil fuels has served mankind well over the course of nearly two centuries, allowing the world population, with its accompanying infrastructure, to grow. Peat and coal were the main sources of energy, but they later moved to oil and natural gas. This period is characterized by the rapid growth of agriculture and industrialization, hence attaining high living standards among the populace than at any other time in history. However, the big question is the sustainability and capacity of fossil fuels to support the needs of the present-day and future consumption of power.
From a historical point of view, the period within which fossil fuel has been used on a large-scale basis to produce energy is relatively short hence casting doubt and uncertainty on depending on fossil fuel to meet current or higher demands of energy efficiently. Brook et al. (2014) argue that regardless of any environmental concerns associated with fossil fuel, redirection towards alternative energy sources is inevitable. This assertion is also in line with the recommendation of the MIT initiative report on the future of nuclear energy in a carbon-constrained world. According to this report, dependence on current electricity alone will not be adequate to meet the rising needs for power both domestically and commercially. While a combination of various zero-carbon technologies to produce energy is possible, nuclear energy’s contribution is indispensable (Jokopo et al., 2018). Therefore, it is not a matter of speculating on whether change is necessary but rather the time frame within which the change ought to be initiated.
The first reason why change has to occur is that continued dependence on fossil fuel as the source of energy has unprecedented negative impacts on the environment. Combustion of fossil fuels generates toxic gases that contribute to the depletion of the ozone layer resulting in climate change. The energy sector is one of the candidates targeted for decarbonization, and as such use of fossil fuels might be impossible in the future. The second reason the energy sector must look elsewhere is that the cost of extracting fossil and energy-intensive, resulting in low returns that do not meet the energy input and resources used. The third and most crucial issue of concern is the limited nature of fossil fuels. Yet, they are of great importance to non-energy related uses in the various manufacturing and processing industries. Depleting fossil fuel while there exists a viable alternative will be irresponsible, especially and a great injustice to future generations. Those who ignore the threat of anthropogenic global warming will realize that it is simply not viable to continue as previously in the next centuries
Clearly, global civilization must begin to reduce its reliance on large-scale fossil fuel burning, instituting a new mode of operation that limits the use of fossil resources to domestic consumption and fodder for industrial reasons. Industrialized countries should lead this transition because they are better equipped to do so, having created the requisite technological and economic infrastructure (Brook et al., 2014). However, this kind of significant change in the energy supply system cannot be completed in a few years without serious adverse economic effects that may be disastrous to society. Instead, it must be implemented steadily and deliberately that creates the fewest possible disruptions. Electricity generation, industrial process heat and space heating, and transportation account for similar amounts of energy consumption in industrialized countries. For electrical energy generation, nuclear energy is already widely used. As a result, expanding the usage of nuclear power plants for electricity generation would be the least disruptive and reasonable approach to begin lowering fossil-fuel consumption. Aiming for this would be well within reasonable parameters.
In the 1950s, the focus shifted to the safe and controlled use of nuclear fission for electricity generation. Nuclear power facilities are already active in 32 nations worldwide, with more than 18,000 reactor years of experience. Many more nations rely on nuclear-generated power to some extent, thanks to regional transmission lines; Italy and Denmark, for example, import almost 10% of their electricity (Rappier, 2022). Nuclear technology is undoubtedly the future of energy due to its capability and potential as a large-scale power generator with little to zero carbon emission to the environment.
Types of Nuclear Energy
Energy is generated from simple physical and chemical processes. Nuclear technology uses the energy generated when atoms of specific are separated, resulting in massive energy. Nuclear technology uses the energy generated when atoms of specific are separated. This technique was first devised in the 1940s, with research initially focusing on the production of bombs during Second World War. Fission and fusion are two physical processes that use atoms to generate quantities that are millions of times more than other energy sources.
Nuclear fission is a nuclear power generating process that pertains separating of atoms to produce the binding energy of atom nuclei. This massive energy is released in the form of heat plus radiation. The heat is utilized to boil water into steam to spin a turbine and power generators to produce electricity at a nuclear power station (Ball, 2021). The nuclear fission process produces no carbon emissions because it uses uranium rather than fossil fuels to produce heat (Nuclear Energy). The splitting of atoms is achieved by placing uranium in enclosed metal cylinders within a steel reactor vessel. The uranium atoms are then bombarded by neutrons, forcing them to separate and release more neutrons. The neutrons bombard with other atoms, generating a chain reaction that further divides more atoms releasing even more energy in the form of heat and radiation.
Unlike the process of nuclear fission, the nuclear fusion process as it produces energy by combining atomic nuclei instead of separating them. It occurs naturally in the cores of stars such as the Sun and does not produce long-term toxic material or carbon emissions (Ball, 2021). Fusion reactors work in the same way as fission reactors because they use the heat produced as a consequence of atomic reaction to boil water, generate vapour, drive turbines, and produce energy. However, creating the conditions necessary for the process of nuclear fusion without consuming too much energy than its energy output has proven difficult. A fusion reactor utilizes a gas – commonly deuterium, a hydrogen isotope mainly found in seawater. When deuterium atoms are exposed to extreme heat and pressure, electrons are driven away from them, resulting in plasma. This plasma is an ionized, superheated gas that can only be contained through strong magnetic fields (Nuclear energy). However, this process of harnessing nuclear energy through fission is still under development.
The Current State of Nuclear Energy
Nuclear power generation in the United States, the world’s greatest generator, has stagnated for two decades. According to Ahearne et al. (2012), nuclear energy production in the U.S. and the rest of the world rose steadily in the early 2000s but took a downward turn after 2007. The stability in the production of nuclear energy resulted from amortization and lower cost of production compared to energy production through fossil fuel and renewable substitutes. However, energy production shifted towards utilizing less costly natural gas, making the nuclear sector less competitive in the market. In the aftermath of prior nuclear disasters such as Chernobyl in 1986 and the Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011, there are admittedly still a lot of headwinds for the sector (Ahearne et al., 2012). Another catastrophic tragedy must be avoided since it would be a tremendous setback for this vital instrument for generating reliable, scalable power with a low carbon impact.
Despite the uncertainties on nuclear energy production there seem to be a change in attitude towards it. Nuclear power facilities now generates around 14% of the world’s electricity. According to the International Energy Agency, there is a need for continued and robust government assistance to keep nuclear energy production back to its potential (Ahearne et al., 2012).Aherarne (2012) however, warns that if governments do not assist the nuclear energy sector, the nuclear production ratio will drop to around 10% by 2030 However, with the gradual acceptance of nuclear technology worldwide, nuclear energy makes this option viable in meeting future energy needs. The commissioning of Sothern’s Vogtle Units in the United States is one of the most significant indicators of revived interest in nuclear energy (Rappier, 2022). These will be the country’s first nuclear reactors in more than three decades.
Although proponents hoped for broader acceptance, nuclear energy’s expansion has slowed in recent years due to reduced prices for substitutes such as natural gas and a sharp decline in public support following the reactor disasters at Three Mile Island and Chernoby (Lesser, 2019). After 1978, escalating prices and growing environmental movements of the 1960s in the United States halted all new planned developments. However, several countries, such as Japan, France, and the Republic of Korea, have assiduously courted nuclear energy. This indicates revived interest in nuclear energy and gradual acceptance that this is a viable solution to meeting energy demands in a decarbonized world.
The Future of Nuclear Energy
Nuclear energy could struggle to achieve a significant market share due to two factors: global power consumption is expected to increase, and ageing reactors will need decommissioned. However, many more nations are looking at nuclear energy as a feasible alternative to effectively respond to the increasing power demand, concerns about energy security and tackling climate change. Since 2005, at least 27 countries have announced their intention to install nuclear power for the first time, with 65 countries taking an interest in the International Atomic Energy Agency (Evans, 2022). This is, however, in contrast to the thirty nations that have nuclear power facilities in operation, including Taiwan. To tackle all of these problems, the Nuclear Energy Agency of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) projected in its 2008 Nuclear Energy Outlook that the world might build 54 reactors each year in the future decades.
The most recent report on nuclear energy indicates that nuclear technology is increasing globally. According to a figure by the International Energy Agency (IEA), nuclear sites increased by 3.5 per cent in 2021 compared to 2020, reversing a nearly 4-percentage-point dip caused by the COVID -19 epidemic (Evans, 2022). However, the IEA claims that present levels would not be sufficient to meet global decarbonization ambitions and that a doubling in annual capacity will be required to attain this objective. Although there has been recent controversy about how environmentally friendly nuclear power is, numerous countries have already made it essential for their future energy landscape. The World Nuclear Association reports that 55 new nuclear reactors are currently under construction worldwide (Evans, 2022). Whereas plans to build nuclear plants are predominantly in Asian countries, this happens to be equally future plans of every continent.
The Future Nuclear Systems
The U.S. Department of Energy launched the Generation IV initiative in 1999 in response to the challenges of establishing nuclear power’s long-term viability, a high level of safety, and a competitive economic base. Generation IV comprises four broad nuclear designs: prototype reactors (Generation I), the modern-day sizable central facility (Generation II), the sophisticated light water reactors as well as other systems with inbuilt safety mechanisms that have been developed in latest years (Generation III), and the next-generation systems to be built and designed in the next twenty years (Lake et al., 2009). By 2000, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, France, and Japan had formed a nine-country coalition to support the Generation IV initiative. The study and development of future nuclear energy systems are being mapped out and collaborated on by participating governments. Although the Generation IV program looks at a wide range of novel systems, a few examples show the broad methods reactor designers are taking to achieve their goals. These next-generation reactors fall into three categories: water-cooled, fast-spectrum and gas-cooled reactors (Lake et al., 2009). The future is based on increased electrification that can only be met through the massive capability of nuclear technology.
It is undeniable that humanity can no longer rely on fossil fuels to meet its increasing energy needs. This means that alternative sources of energy that is not only effective in energy production but have to exhibit zero carbon emission. According to studies and expert knowledge in energy production, in modern times, nuclear technology is the only established source of energy with the capacity to run the modern and future industrialized society securely, economically, dependably, and sustainably. Nuclear power has a number of apparent advantages over renewable energy sources. Unlike wind and solar electricity, nuclear power is constantly on and requires no backup. Nuclear power plants also don’t need large tracts of land. Furthermore, nuclear energy offers “resilience” to the power grid, functioning as a stabilizing factor that can mitigate the effects of severe weather and other interruptions. Increasing the number of environmentalists feel that nuclear power is the only practical solution to sufficiently reduce carbon emissions to mitigate climate change.
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