The world could significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions if it managed to overcome its fear of nuclear energy, because renewable energy, although it has a high growth rate, cannot meet the world’s demands for an ever-increasing amount of energy.
Renewable energy grew at an incredible rate in 2021, but renewable energy cannot keep up with total energy demand. That is the challenge the world is facing. Although global consumption of renewable energy increased by 5.1 exajoules, global energy demand increased by 31.3 exajoules in 2021, more than sixfold.
The growth rate of renewable energy has been far greater than any other energy source. However, renewable sources still represent a relatively small part of our total energy consumption. Therefore, those enormous growth rates still do not have a significant impact on energy consumption that would stop the growth of global fossil fuel consumption. This presents a serious challenge when global carbon dioxide emissions continue to rise.
Nuclear energy is unique among energy sources. It can be built in the form of very large plants, has reliable power, is available when needed and does not produce carbon dioxide while producing electricity.
A 2017 paper from the University of Texas identified nuclear power and wind power as the energy sources with the lowest carbon dioxide emissions. The levelized carbon intensity is calculated by dividing the emissions of the power plant during its lifetime by the total expected electricity production.
Nuclear energy and wind amounted to 12 and 14 grams of CO2-eq (grams of CO2 equivalent) per kWh of electricity, respectively. In contrast, energy produced from coal emits more than 70 times more CO2-eq per kWh of electricity. Coal-fired thermal power plants are still the largest source of electricity in the world.
Based on coal consumption statistics in the latest BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2022, global coal consumption is responsible for nearly half of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. Replacing the world’s coal-fired power plants with nuclear plants could reduce carbon dioxide emissions to levels last seen in the 1970s.
It seems simple. Well, why don’t we do that?
You have to wonder how things would be today if the Chernobyl nuclear disaster hadn’t happened in 1986. The world’s appetite for nuclear power grew rapidly, until the accident drastically changed the growth trajectory.
Global nuclear energy production from 1965 to 2021.
Chernobyl had a significant impact on the global growth rate of nuclear power. During the next 25 years after Chernobyl, nuclear power continued to grow around the world. A significant step back was made after the Fukushima disaster in Japan in 2011.
Those two incidents contributed to public distrust in nuclear power. That’s understandable. If they see nuclear accidents due to which people have to immediately leave their homes permanently, of course people will distrust nuclear energy. The general public has a fear of radiation that is in many cases irrational.
While we cannot change the past, we can work to improve public attitudes toward nuclear power. It is possible to build, design and operate nuclear power plants that cannot have consequences like those of Chernobyl and Fukushima. Of course, it will take some time for the skeptical public to be convinced of this.
But the stakes are too high. It takes energy and resources to do this. Otherwise, seriously reducing global carbon emissions may be an insurmountable challenge. I say this based on the overall growth in energy demand and the inability of renewable energy sources to keep up with demand growth.
It is easiest to act in the Asia-Pacific region, which is already the source of the largest share of the world’s carbon emissions. More must be done to get countries like China and India to switch from coal to nuclear power.
E2 portal (Energy of the Balkans)
Source: E2 Portal by www.e2.rs.
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