by Antai Liu

With newfound awareness of a warming globe, increased environmental activism, and calls to save our Earth, climate change and renewable energy have become buzzwords since the start of this millennium. Being culprits of global warming, greenhouse gases naturally became the center of attention among the people, and governmental legislation followed suit. In a recent executive order that initiated the Federal Sustainability Plan in 2021, the Biden administration outlined the American plan to become zero-carbon by 2050. Along with the zero-emission craze came more focus on renewable energy, which promised sustainability, reliability, and most importantly, cleanliness.

After all, what’s there to dislike about renewable energy? Wind turbines appear much more appealing than the exhaust gas from a coal plant, and solar panels give a way more modern look compared to natural gas plants. Certainly, the wind and the sun have to be the most natural and cleanest energy sources we have.

Except they aren’t. To be more precise, while energy generation itself doesn’t produce carbon, the process of setting up infrastructure for wind or solar power doesn’t skimp on carbon emissions. Extraction, manufacturing, shipment—all stages to deliver the infrastructure that promises clean energy pollute the atmosphere with greenhouse gases and noxious gases. In fact, since the task of mining raw materials like iron and copper is often outsourced to less developed countries with fewer regulations in place, the demand for renewable energy infrastructure continuously exploits unprotected workers, exposing them to dangerous conditions in mines filled with toxic air and susceptible to cave-ins.

For all its promises of being humanity’s future, renewable energy isn’t even reliable. Germany tried to build windmills galore, only to realize that there wasn’t always wind to turn the turbines. Because the windmills couldn’t meet basic energy demands, the German government had to construct emergency coal plants to compensate for the fluctuation in supply. Equally volatile as wind power is solar power: the rays that hit the solar panels depend entirely on the weather, and a rainy day is an unfortunate day with no sunlight and no energy.

Despite being unreliable and providing less than one-seventh of the American energy supply, the renewable energy industry has still been receiving loads of subsidies from the government for decades—suppliers become richer, and prices go higher. For the common man, renewable energy is prohibitively expensive, and in contrast, traditional fossil fuels are more realistic alternatives. Economically disadvantaged countries rely on fossil fuels to power their lights, their vehicles, and their houses. Without a cheap and accessible energy source, a large chunk of the population around the world would still be languishing in the dark. Forcing the world to adopt renewable energy, then, is to rob them of their personal liberty and bind them to a schedule dictated by the whims of nature.

Renewable energy is seen as the holy grail, but it’s neither green nor cheap. On the other hand, nuclear energy, whose name evokes fear and panic, is ironically a better option. Much of recent history is embroiled in the fear of nuclear weapons, of a nuclear fallout that would wreak havoc upon the surface of the Earth and bring humanity to an end. Compounded with sensationalist reports of nuclear plant meltdowns at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima, nuclear has become synonymous with evil in the public’s mind. Yet, just as the public became conditioned to the propaganda of renewable energy, they have fallen victim to the fearmongering against nuclear energy. Looking past the eye-grabbing headlines, the number of deaths caused by nuclear energy is among the fewest of all energy sources, even after accounting for accidents.

More importantly, nuclear energy delivers on the promises that renewable energy fails to realize. Nuclear energy generation depends on nuclear fission, which is a process that emits no greenhouse gases or air pollutants. Compared to all other energy sources, nuclear energy has the highest capacity factor of them all—an astounding 92.5%—meaning that nuclear plants can operate at maximum capacity for over 330 days each year. For customers, nuclear energy provides a competitive price, being comfortably cheaper than fossil fuels. For the environment, nuclear plants take up much less land to produce the same energy that solar panels would need 34 times the land for. Moreover, the commonly cited concern of nuclear waste disposal has become a trivial issue. Because waste is concentrated at nuclear plants, it is realistically easier to control the radiation in nuclear waste than radiation from naturally occurring elements like uranium that permeate every corner of the Earth. Currently, countries like Finland have already set aside permanent repositories that are expected to accommodate all future nuclear waste for thousands of years to come.

From 2000 to 2040, the world energy demand is expected to almost double. Anticipating the future, immediate expansion of nuclear energy production is paramount. While a cautionary lesson against complete centralization of energy policies can be derived from Germany’s windmill debacle, the American federal government can still scaffold the market supply of nuclear energy from the background. An ideal federal policy would include the deregulation of the nuclear industry, guaranteed federal loans for constructing nuclear plants, and endorsing research and development in advanced nuclear techniques. Given an opportunity, nuclear energy will present itself as a viable energy source highly efficient in power generation, which will allow it to match the upward demand for energy in the market.

The world is currently caught between climate change and increasing consumption. The wanton demonization of anything nuclear-related has banished a reliable and affordable source of energy from the public eye. We have a dire need to increase the presence of nuclear energy—the energy that will cook the food on our stoves, power the appliances in our houses, and light the roads in our lives.


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