Since the age of the Industrial Revolution, coal and fossil fuels have dominated the power industry. As we now know, fossil fuels and other non-renewable sources of energy often have serious negative effects on the environment and our Earth as a whole. There exist alternatives, such solar, wind, geothermal, and nuclear, and these have began to be more commonplace. Despite this, coal is still a major source of energy in the US. In 2015, 9% of our country’s energy was produced from nuclear power, with coal and natural gas constituting over 50% of the total. Not only is coal more impactful on the environment, but it also seems to be inefficient in comparison to certain alternatives. Why is this?
Between our available sources of power, trade offs exist in different ways. Fossil fuels, it seems, are a great source of energy, but leave an enormous carbon footprint. Renewable sources such as geothermal, solar, and hydro are delightfully clean, but are ill proportionate for todays demands on electricity. This leaves nuclear energy. Nuclear energy’s main attraction is that it is not only incredibly clean (zero carbon emissions), but exceptionally consistent. Aside from its aspects of energy production, it has some economical implications.
Mainly, power plants are expensive. Reaching costs in the billions, private companies and even government is discouraged from building nuclear plants. Being incredibly hard to finance, nuclear power can be hard to implement. It could, however, prove to be an investment with worthy return. Creating jobs, consistent energy, and sustaining low operating costs, nuclear power plants could be a long term solution. Supplemented with other, renewable forms of energy like solar and hydro, fossil fuel consumption could be severely limited, or even eliminated.
Our own state of Michigan holds three nuclear power plants of its own. Michigan follows the national trend of heavy coal usage; and upwards of 50% of our energy derived from it. However, a meager three nuclear plants supplements nearly a quarter of our energy production here in Michigan. These stations individually produce an average of 1000 megaWatts per hour. Compared to the relatively meager 10 mW output of most hydro plants, or the typical 300 mW output of a natural gas facility, these results can be tremendous.
Although non-renewables have been a consistent source of energy in the past, this may not always be true. Dwindling fossil fuels, combined with the consequences of a severe carbon footprint, should us wondering if nuclear is a cleaner alternative.