Here’s my case for why nuclear energy is better than solar and wind energy.

Like most things in life, the global energy debate is political. When an idea or practice becomes political, the information that represents that idea or practice flows through filters of carefully constructed narratives supported or rejected by its stakeholders.

Dig deeper ➝ 5 min


The problem with energy politics

I don’t trust Rick Scott’s tainted perspective on oil and gas. But I also don’t trust Governor Newsom’s obsession with solar energy. Because neither of these men makes policy decisions based on fact, reason, or science, their policies are motivated by campaign dollars.

As such, lobbyists, lawmakers, and citizens may hold convictions that might not always align neatly with scientific facts. Therefore, as an independent sustainability advocate, I find it my duty to outline the net positive benefits of adopting nuclear energy in the climate debate.

I think it is necessary to promote nuclear energy, and I would go so far as to say nuclear energy is not just a better form of sustainable energy than solar or wind. It is superior.

Nuclear produces less carbon pollution

According to IPCC data, solar farms produce four times more carbon pollution than nuclear.

Environmental Progress

For context, solar produces about 20 times less carbon than a coal-powered plant. That’s why we love solar.

Still yet, nuclear’s carbon impact is a fraction of solar!

Nuclear energy is also a very low-carbon form of energy generation. The process of uranium enrichment and fuel fabrication emits minimal carbon dioxide, and the operation of a nuclear power plant results in almost no emissions. This contrasts with fossil fuel-based power plants, which release large amounts of carbon dioxide and other pollutants into the atmosphere.

Solar and wind take up more land

Nuclear power has a tiny footprint. The land required for a nuclear power plant is much smaller than that needed for other energy generation, such as wind or solar. This is because a nuclear power plant can generate a great deal of electricity from a minimal amount of uranium.

When I was driving through Central California this summer, I passed through many oil fields and solar farms. And the oil fields near Bakersfield were ugly.

The process of shoveling dirt to excavate geological masterpieces is certainly no friend of the Earth. But let’s be consistent… solar farms are no walk through Yellowstone.

Mile after mile down highway I-5, I could see solar panels engulfing open pastures.

As the Plaid Zebra notes, nine million solar panels have been laid out across the California desert in the last two years alone.

That includes the world’s largest solar farm at nine and a half square miles. That’s a lot of land only to make up 15.43% of your state’s energy use.

Meanwhile, nuclear energy requires a fraction of land use for the same energy output with lower carbon pollution. I heard a statistic that all the waste ever produced by nuclear in the last 50 years could be stacked 50 feet high into one soccer pitch.

Solar and wind require more materials

OK, so wind and solar cause more pollution than nuclear energy. And they take up more land. Then wind and solar must produce less waste then, right? That’s why Greta Thunberg keeps talking about it and riding sailboats, right? Wrong.

Environmental Progress

As we just learned, California is building millions of solar panels. That’s a lot of steel and a lot of cement. Who’s to say (or regulate) how much of those materials come from fossil fuels? How are we factoring that into the carbon footprint of solar panels?

Meanwhile, these millions of solar panels still produce just 15% of its state’s power. The weak input-output from California’s solar energy market continues, despite the cost of solar energy being at an all-time low to produce.

Solar and wind require significantly more materials to produce equivalent electricity output for nuclear energy.

Nuclear energy is more reliable

OK. So nuclear produces less carbon, less waste, and fewer materials. Now you’re telling me it’s more reliable too?

This is as much about nuclear’s reliability as wind & solar’s lack thereof.

Wind & solar rely on the… wind and the sun. Therefore, they cannot continuously operate, which requires other forms of energy… the fossil fuel kind.

As Leah Borrows of the Harvard Gazette notes, to have enough wind turbines “to cover the actual electricity demand of the USA… [we] would increase the continental surface temperature of the USA by 0.24° C, with the biggest increase occurring at night, when the surface temperature increase would be 1.5°C.”

Nuclear, on the other hand, is highly reliable.

Nuclear energy provides many benefits over other forms of energy generation. Its high capacity factor and low carbon emissions make it an attractive option for countries looking to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and meet their energy needs cleanly and efficiently.

Nuclear plants operate at high capacity, meaning they produce a large amount of electricity relative to their size. This is because nuclear reactions can be controlled very precisely, allowing plants to run at optimal conditions for long periods. This high capacity factor results in a low cost of electricity production, making nuclear an economically attractive option.

The Complete Case for Nuclear - English.034.jpeg
Environmental Progress

Nuclear is not dangerous

Still not convinced? Oh, you’re worried about Chernobyl or Three Mile Island happening in your neighborhood.

Well, a lot of time has passed since these tragic events. Just like GM doesn’t build Cadillac Eldorados anymore, nuclear technology has vastly improved since the 1970s. And it will keep improving.

But let’s say it did happen again. With a little context, it is plain to see how these unfortunate events were not as dangerous as one may think.

Environmental Progress is quick to point out that you are 2.8 times more likely to die from pollution in a big city than you are to die from radiation as a Chernobyl clean-up worker.

The Complete Case for Nuclear - English.030.jpeg

Meanwhile, we get more radiation from our food, and global deaths from human conflicts have been steadily decreasing for the first time in 600 years since the invention of nuclear weapons. Scary stuff!

Nuclear isn’t perfect. It’s just better

Overall, nuclear energy provides several benefits over other forms of energy generation. Its high capacity factor, low carbon emissions, and small footprint make it an attractive option for countries looking to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and meet their energy needs cleanly and efficiently.

In addition to the environmental benefits, nuclear power provides certain economic benefits. The construction of a nuclear power plant creates many high-paying jobs, both in the construction itself and the operation of the plant. Nuclear power plants also tend to be very stable sources of employment, as they often have long operating lifetimes.

Examples of countries using nuclear energy effectively

France meets about 75% of its electricity needs through nuclear power, and Sweden meets about 50%. These countries have achieved such high levels of nuclear power use due to many factors, including a commitment to nuclear research and development, a supportive political environment, and a favorable geographic location.
Ways nuclear energy is better than solar and wind energy

To summarize, here are five reasons why nuclear is better

  1. Nuclear plants can operate at a very high capacity, meaning they produce a large amount of electricity relative to their size. This is because nuclear reactions can be controlled very precisely, allowing plants to run at optimal conditions for long periods. The high capacity factor of nuclear plants results in a low cost of electricity production, making nuclear an economically attractive option.
  2. Nuclear energy is a very low-carbon form of energy generation. The process of uranium enrichment and fuel fabrication emits minimal carbon dioxide, and the operation of a nuclear power plant results in almost no emissions. This contrasts with fossil fuel-based power plants, which release large amounts of carbon dioxide and other pollutants into the atmosphere.
  3. Nuclear power also has a minimal footprint. The land required for a nuclear power plant is much smaller than that needed for other energy generation, such as wind or solar. This is because a nuclear power plant can generate a great deal of electricity from a minimal amount of uranium.
  4. In addition to the environmental benefits, nuclear power provides certain economic benefits. The construction of a nuclear power plant creates many high-paying jobs, both in the construction itself and the operation of the plant. Nuclear power plants also tend to be very stable sources of employment, as they often have long operating lifetimes.
  5. Overall, nuclear energy provides many benefits over other forms of energy generation. Its high capacity factor, low carbon emissions, and small footprint make it an attractive option for countries looking to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and meet their energy needs cleanly and efficiently.

Final thoughts on nuclear energy versus solar and wind

The main takeaway here is not to believe everything you’re told. The words ‘wind’ and ‘solar’ give off a feeling of cleanness and helpfulness. On the other hand, ‘nuclear’ is perceived as dirty or violent.

In reality, energy derived from wind turbines and solar panels pollutes more carbon, produces more waste, requires more land, generates less electricity, and costs more money in the long run.

Nuclear energy is better than wind & solar power.

I’ll leave you with this: If a team of rational aliens with zero human bias tasked themselves with saving the human energy problem, they’d be fools to not at least seriously consider the worldwide expansion of nuclear energy.

This article was originally published on October 26, 2021.

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