Could Nuclear Energy Be the Answer?
Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine has been difficult to witness these past few weeks, and I can only imagine how hard it’s been for the Ukrainian people. The invasion has united Western countries, many of which have banded together to impose sanctions on Russia and to assist Ukraine and its people, especially the ones who have become refugees fleeing to safety in other neighboring countries.
Even here in the U.S., there has been a united front among both Republicans and Democrats to stand with Ukraine. That the U.S. should offer Ukraine the help that it needs to defeat Russia’s invasion. This current crisis has also given the U.S. and other countries the opportunity to reconsider their dependency on Russia as one of the largest natural gas exporters.
Many European countries depend on Russia for oil, and even though these countries stand with Ukraine, they can’t bring themselves to entirely ban Russian oil and gas imports. Trying to reduce or eliminate dependence on Russia for oil has raised a big question for these European countries — where will they get their energy if not from Russia?
There needs to be a new plan and it needs to happen quickly. European Union leaders met last week to attempt to draft a plan that would phase out the EU's dependency on Russian gas, oil, and coal imports as soon as possible. One potential solution to this problem for Europe and the U.S. could be funding new developments that involve nuclear energy.
Nuclear power plants have been surrounded by controversy because of the nuclear accidents that occurred at Chernobyl and Fukushima. Critics of nuclear energy tend to point out that it is surrounded by dangerous risks like those accidents and even potentially the weaponization of nuclear. However, nuclear energy has picked up a little more steam in the last decade.
While Chernobyl and Fukushima were devastating, they have become examples of the why we need to make nuclear energy safer — to prevent those types of accidents from happening again. Rolls-Royce, a British multinational aerospace and defense company, has been developing miniature versions of nuclear power plants called “small modular reactors,” or SMRs.
An SMR can power approximately 1 million homes and can be assembled in factories and transported on trucks. Last week, the U.K. government asked the Office for Nuclear Regulation to begin the approval process for the SMR design. These smaller designs offer many benefits. They are smaller, can be delivered quickly, and could have less of an impact on local communities. Rolls-Royce has estimated that it could create up to 40,000 jobs with the SMR business, which could bring some optimism and opportunities to the U.K.
Dan Gould, the head of communications at Rolls-Royce, said, “Once a nuclear power station is running, it’s virtually carbon-free.” That is another massive benefit that nuclear could have to the world. It could assist with reducing the carbon footprint to improve and prevent future damages to the environment. The U.K. isn’t the only country that has recently been considering and encouraging nuclear energy. France, Slovakia, South Korea, and Canada still retain significant nuclear sectors. The U.S. has been considering the shift toward nuclear energy. John Kotek, senior vice president for policy development and public affairs at the Nuclear Energy Institute, said, “People realize that nuclear can play a really valuable role in energy security.”
If nuclear were to somehow, you know, be taken off the table or support for it was withdrawn, that’s going to further undermine energy security in Europe, here in the U.S., and beyond, and really plays into the hands of those who want to use energy as a weapon.
It’s important not to live in the past when it comes to nuclear energy. Some accidents have happened, but people have learned. We have advanced. We can't disregard a reliable energy source, especially at a time when we’ve essentially painted ourselves in a corner. We rely heavily on certain countries for resources, and that gives the advantage to those countries. And the people who are paying for it are average citizens.
Maria Korsnick, president and chief executive office at the Nuclear Energy Institute, said:
The draft taxonomy issue by the European Commission is an important step forward as Europe seeks a pathway to meet its sustainability and climate goals. It illustrates the consensus opinion that existing and new nuclear generation are critical to global decarbonization efforts. However, the draft taxonomy fails to create a level playing field in which all carbon-free sources — wind, nuclear, solar, and hydropower — can work together to decarbonize economies. Significant changes to the draft are needed to remove unnecessary barriers to existing nuclear generation and the development of new nuclear projects. Nuclear carbon-free generation can and should be the foundation of a just clean energy system of the future.
Exploring nuclear energy and its possibilities will help us work toward a future that allows countries to become less dependent on only a few countries for their source of energy. If we open up the energy market so that there isn't one country that dominates it, it'll be a fair market. Nuclear has the potential to be a valuable source of energy to many countries, and it's something they could do in their backyard.
Until next time,