When evaluating our nation’s current energy needs and sustainability, there are many forms of energy that we currently employ. There are several pros and cons of every energy source, but an evaluation and discussion of a large share of the United States energy production is necessary. When examining nuclear energy one only need to examine the unparalleled cleanliness and efficiency, the stellar safety record, and excellent economic benefits to realize its potential as a major source of energy production for the United Sates.
First, nuclear energy is the cleanest and most efficient of the major energy producers (Coal, natural gas, nuclear). “One Uranium fuel pellet has the equivalent energy to 1,780 pounds of coal and 17,000 Ft3 of natural gas” (Nuclear Energy Institute). Also, during plant operation the production of harmful greenhouse gases is very limited. “Nuclear Power plants do not emit carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, or nitrogen oxides as part of the power generation process” (EPA). Furthermore, all of the used fuel from all of the operation reactors in the world would consume a minute space as compared to the coal ash sites littered across the United States. In fact, “Over the past four decades, the entire industry has produced about 69,720 metric tons of used nuclear fuel. If used fuel assemblies were stacked end-to-end and side-by-side, this would cover a football field about seven yards deep” (Nuclear Energy Institute). The data shows that there is a lot of energy gathered from a small amount of fuel, and the overall environmental cost is lower with nuclear energy. However, the mining process has been brought into question regarding the overall lifecycle cleanliness of nuclear power.
Some might make the case that the mining process for Uranium does consume fossil fuels and that must be contributed to the overall lifecycle of nuclear power. To this end that argument is correct there are some greenhouse gas emissions from the processing cycle as there is with any form of widely used energy.
Fig. 1. Lifecycle CO2 Emissions from Electric Sources, Nuclear Energy Institute, Web, 5 Apr 2014
The above figure shows nuclear power has a greenhouse emissions profile that is close (within two or three tons per gigawatt-hour) to hydro and solar power and even less than wind when the full lifecycle is considered. Also, when compared to other widely used energy sources, nuclear energy is far cleaner and in some regards safer.
Second, nuclear energy as far as an industry is concerned is a safe industry. In the 40+ years on nuclear plant operations in the United States there have been no deaths linked to radiation as a result of nuclear accidents. Also, only one accident has occurred on US soil that has resulted in fuel damage that escaped the primary barrier, and that resulted in a minimal release of radioactive constituents to the atmosphere. In addition, the average dose (measure of radiation received in millirem) from living next to a nuclear...