The Trump administration has reopened the books on Yucca mountain, a long-proposed national nuclear waste repository that can be found in the proposed 2018 budget. Trump’s support of nuclear energy storage is no surprise as he is very focused on creating jobs and supporting policies that would reverse many of the Obama administration’s policies, including energy policies. While Trump is by no means this generation’s climate change messiah, his public support of nuclear energy suggests there is some hope for our country to pursue some clean energy sources during the next four years.
Nuclear Energy is Clean Energy
Nuclear energy is regarded as a clean, low carbon energy source, as it produces little greenhouse gas emissions— just like solar and wind energy. The only concern is that nuclear energy produces radioactive waste when the energy is spent, but this waste is always stored in safe storage facilities.
While Uranium-235, the predominant material in nuclear power plants, is a finite resource like coal and other fossil fuels, it is much more energy efficient than these other finite energy sources. The Nuclear Energy Institute states that the energy stored in a uranium fuel pellet the size of a fingerprint is equivalent to the energy provided by 1780 pounds of coal or 149 gallons of oil, which shows the power of nuclear energy. The only downside is the cost and energy it takes to mine and enrich uranium, but even when accounting for this, nuclear energy is still more energy efficient than fossil fuels.
While the National Energy Institute advocates the safety of nuclear reactors in the United States it’s hard to tell, especially when reputable organizations are challenging the rigor of existing safety rules set forth by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. But, we don’t have to worry about reactor explosions, as reactors similar to the danger-prone RMBK class nuclear reactors (think Chernobyl) are long-gone and existing nuclear reactors are very safe to operate. In fact, there are mechanisms that would prevent a nuclear fallout from occurring. Of course, there are relatively strict maintenance protocols that power plant operators follow every day.
While opening more nuclear reactors would technically increase the potential for power plant disasters that would directly impact nearby residents, the risk would be calculated and very low, meaning that the buildings are designed to operate daily and withstand almost all circumstances. However, it is uncertain whether nuclear power plants could withstand terror or any other militarized attacks.
How Opposing Nuclear Energy Harms Communities
Historically speaking, nuclear power plants have supported many communities by providing an economic stimulus in the form of jobs, taxes and even private welfare provided by socially-responsible nuclear companies. This has translated to improved standards of living in many rural communities, where large-scale projects can be scarce.
Supporting nuclear energy might be difficult for some, especially with the discomfort related to nuclear-explosions and atomic bombs that are well-documented in our time and in the past, but nuclear energy brings economic benefits to many lower-income communities. For example, many communities in Illinois financially depend on the local taxes that are paid by nuclear power plant companies to provide funding for many programs, such as public education. Nuclear power plants also support jobs that stimulate local economies. However, closing these power plants would also create economic hardship in the form of raised taxes on residents and lost jobs. Cities like Zion, Illinois have suffered due to the presence of radioactive waste that has discouraged economic growth as well as tax raises to make up for the loss in tax revenue. The struggles of these cities is partly why many companies have been urged to remain in these towns and the Illinois state government has also supported nuclear energy by passing the Future Energy Jobs bill to subsidize and support some nuclear power plants in Illinois. Now, the hope is that these nuclear energy companies will continue to support these towns and that other nuclear energy power plants are built soon to replace dirty energy sources.
Nuclear Energy is a Positive Direction toward the Future
Whether you like it or not, having an energy infrastructure that invests in clean energy will help relieve the anthropogenic climate change burden that we face today. Wind and solar energy will always remain in limbo if climate change skepticism continues to exist in Washington D.C., but nuclear energy offers hope for us to steer away from dirty energy right now.
Despite the overwhelming opposition in Nevada against reviving Yucca mountain, this is the only location that seems to be the most feasible way to properly store nuclear waste while minimizing the economic damage that nuclear waste poses on many communities— including Zion– today. Much is to be said about existing pessimism against Yucca mountain or other possible national repositories, but a safe storage location is needed for us to proceed with nuclear energy in the years to come.