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Nuclear Power: A Catalyst for Economic Prosperity and Environmental Progress

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By Anais Penin

Edited by Melanie Fourtanier


Nuclear energy has made a comeback to the forefront of the global transition to sustainable decarbonised energy. The European Commission recently announced its plans to rely on the new SMR (Small Modular Reactor) nuclear technology to achieve its climate targets. With the urgent need to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and combat climate change, nuclear power should be seen as a beacon of hope. But why is nuclear energy worth using?


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Demystifying Nuclear Energy


Contrary to popular belief, today, nuclear energy is one of the cleanest sources of generating power and is comparable to (if not better than) wind and solar energy when considering its lifecycle emissions. Public opinion needs an update: nuclear energy is an essential part of our future energy landscape: decarbonised, modern, and secure. The scientific advances made in nuclear energy, in particular SMR and atomic fission, make this type of energy generation very attractive.


Nuclear power is a non-negligible issue, since it is a low-carbon way of producing energy, averaging emissions of only 12 grams of CO2/kWh. When compared to other types of energy produced with coal or oil, nuclear energy boasts substantially lower carbon emissions. 


Life cycle assessment, or LCA, is used to compare the environmental footprint of different types of energy sources by examining all aspects of the energy process, from resource extraction to disposal. Even when compared to renewable energies like wind turbines, LCA of atomic energy shows that it has a lower environmental impact than wind power.


Strategic Advantage: Accessibility and Abundance of Uranium


The key to nuclear technology lies in uranium, a widely available resource with over 8,070,400 tonnes of uranium (tU) identified by the NEA and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). This chemical element is usually sourced from politically stable regions, ensuring a reliable energy supply, and is available in many countries, with most deposits in Australia, Kazakhstan, and Canada.


Traditional uranium mining has been environmentally invasive and resource-intensive, but today we're gradually being able to go beyond these negative impacts and reduce the environmental footprint of this activity.


There is an abundance of uranium in the seabeds too, and it can be extracted more sustainably today than it was previously, thanks to advances in materials science and chemical engineering


Nuclear power was abandoned by some countries, such as Germany, now forced to come back to coal, but recently many countries have returned to this stable, low-carbon energy source. The obvious environmental and economic potential of atomic energy, coupled with recent technological advances in the field, compelled countries like China, France, and even the European Union to develop their nuclear policy and reactors. This trend is promising for nuclear power use, but also requires considerable funding for research and development.


Energy Sovereignty, Price Stability, and Economic Growth 


Electricity demand is likely to increase considerably, largely driven by the transition to greener energies and electrification. The European Union’s continuing dependence on fossil fuels from Russia, for instance, is raising fears among countries about price stability and energy supply, especially in winter.


Reaching energy sovereignty in Europe would be a significant advantage, and would help maintain stable energy prices and supply. In addition to price stability, nuclear energy represents an economic asset because it is not expensive in the long term and requires little infrastructure maintenance. 


Contrary to what the general public tends to believe, nuclear power plants are not necessarily costly. They do require high initial construction costs, but low operational expenses balance these. If properly maintained, nuclear power plants can reach almost indefinite lifetimes up to 80 years today, unlike wind turbine installations that need to be changed every 20-25 years.


In the US, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has extended the operating licenses of over 90 reactors to 60 years and is considering further extension to 80 years. This source of energy thus became cost-effective.


Overcoming Challenges: Safety Concerns and Public Perception  


Current misconceptions about nuclear energy are largely caused by a lack of understanding and negative media portrayals, especially inspired by incidents like Fukushima and Chernobyl. Yet, we have learned from these mistakes today, and power plants are very closely monitored.


The media portrayed the disasters in very different ways in different countries, notably France versus Germany, which created very divergent opinions among the member states, and difficulty in finding fruitful agreements on nuclear energy in Europe.  


Modern nuclear safety standards and technologies have significantly evolved since the two incidents and the International Atomic Agency (IAEA) reports continuous improvements in nuclear safety protocols. Today, in developed countries like the United States, nuclear power plants are considered among the safest industrial facilities in operation. 


However, challenges such as treating nuclear waste, or implementing nuclear power plants in less developed countries, which may struggle to maintain safe power stations, remain.


Nuclear Energy's Essential Role in a Sustainable and Prosperous Future


Nuclear energy presents itself as a crucial pillar in achieving a sustainable future. Despite past concerns, evolution in safety protocols and the development of small modular reactors have dispelled previous doubts, revealing a future with cleaner energy, a healthier planet, and more stable societies. As we move forward, it is clear - nuclear power is not an option, but a necessity. Through ongoing international cooperation and relentless innovation in nuclear technologies, we will build a greener and more prosperous future.


Sources:  Devdiscourse, Energy.gov, Euractiv, International Environmental Agency, Reuters, The Guardian, World Nuclear Association



Written by Anais Penin

April 2024


The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author(s). They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of MJPE or its Board. The designations employed in this publication and the presentation of material therein do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the MJPE concerning the legal status of any country, area or territory or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers.





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