Is nuclear power really needed for a secure energy future?

Nuclear power, which for years was thought to be the holy grail of clean energy generation, has seen its share of ups and downs. With more than 430 nuclear power plants currently operating in the world and hundreds more either under construction or on the drawing boards, the future currently looks to be primarily fueled by atomic energy with a small share coming from the sun and the wind. However, when you’re dealing with something radioactive, you’ve got to be careful, as if anything goes wrong, you not only end up relocating nearby population and abandoning cities, which once bustled with life, but also have to spend billions of dollars and risk the lives of hundreds of people involved in the cleanup activity.

The world has seen the dark side of nuclear power on many occasions, with the most recent being the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster, which took on Japan – one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world. If it can happen in Japan, it can happen elsewhere too. Reacting to the incident Japanese government has announced that all of its 55 nuclear power plants, which were currently producing about 30 percent of its electricity demands, will be decommissioned and other ten power plants which were under planning will remain just on the drawing boards. A similar step has been taken by Germany, which has announced that all of its nine power plants currently operational will be phased out and no new power plant will be built.

With statements from Japan and Germany, which ended the nuclear power era in both the countries, all eyes are now set on the United States, which has the highest number of operational nuclear power plants in the world, with 104 facilities currently producing atomic energy and another 11 on the drawing boards. While after the Fukushima disaster, everybody started criticizing nuclear power, the nuclear energy generation kicked off initially because the world was desperately searching for a stable source of energy, which could fuel our energy hungry lives.

Let’s be honest here, nuclear power is definitely one of the most reliable source of base-load power and is also more efficient that any other form of power generation, not to mention that it does produce all that energy without emitting a single ounce of harmful carbon dioxide. The trend of nuclear power generation, which was born once the world realized the enormous amount of energy atomic bombs carried, helped fill the energy gap by producing 13.5 percent of the world’s electricity demands.

Although nuclear power plants cost much more to build than a traditional power generating facility, they help in producing a large amount of energy using comparatively cleaner and more efficient raw materials. So once Japan and Germany abandoned the nuclear energy race, what are the statements from other nuclear capable nations? The answer here won’t appease any environmentalist as most nations have stated that the Fukushima disaster happened because of an environmental disaster and poor design, which could not handle the crisis. After the disaster most countries stated that the nuclear power plants currently operational on their land have better safety instruments in place, which could have prevented a melt-down if something on the lines of Fukushima happened there.

However, the million dollar question is if Germany and Japan, nations who were sourcing a large chunk of their energy demands from nuclear energy, can completely get out of the race, why can’t other nations? The Japanese government states that they won’t completely swap their nuclear energy facilities with conventional fossil-fuel powered energy generators, rather they’re planning to better conditions for renewable energy investments, so that the country can proudly give a farewell to nuclear power while welcoming renewable energy.

While with the current technology, replacing a nuclear power plant with cleaner alternatives requires vast expanses of land dedicated to solar power plants or wind turbines, the end result is what the world is looking for – clean energy without any risks. With advancements in the renewable energy sector, which are bound to make renewable energy generation more efficient and cost-effective, the UN’s climate change science body stated that renewable energy, particularly solar power, could account for almost 80 percent of the world’s energy supply by 2050. The numbers look exciting and could well make the world a better place to live in.

To achieve those numbers, apart from building solar panels on vast expanses of land and erecting wind turbines on every possible location, energy companies have to figure out ways to store excess energy on a large scale. The sun doesn’t shine at all times, neither does the wind blow throughout the day, but when conditions are ripe for renewable energy generations, utilities should be able to store large amount of renewable energy so that they can be made available for unfavorable days or to cater to peak demands.

The current energy situations prevailing over the globe need some serious thoughts for a secure energy future. While the required figures are currently backing nuclear power generation, the risks associated with atomic energy are definitely outweighing the benefits. Countries over the globe should come up with plans on the lines of Japan, which can boost renewable energy investment and create infrastructure that is helpful for utility companies so that they can adopt clean energy by sacrificing nuclear and conventionally generated energy.

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