Updated 1 month ago

The pros and cons of nuclear energy in 2024

Written by Jamie Smith , Edited by Catherine Lane

The pros and cons of nuclear energy in 2024

For decades, there has been a huge debate about whether to utilize nuclear energy. Despite its controversy, the U.S. Energy Information Association estimates that nuclear energy still makes up almost 20% of all the energy generation in the country.

Nuclear energy has several advantages – it gives off zero carbon emissions, creates a huge job market, is a low-cost source, and more! 

But it does come with some huge disadvantages – such as its negative environmental impact, it's a non-renewable source, and the power plants (where nuclear energy is harnessed) pose risks for nuclear disasters!

Pros and cons of nuclear power 

Pros of nuclear power: Low-cost energy, reliable power source, creates jobs, Zero carbon emissions, high energy density. Cons of nuclear power: Environmental impact, water-intensive, risk of nuclear accidents, radioactive waste, non-renewable energy source.

Nuclear power is a low-cost energy source, it’s reliable, the industry creates jobs, it produces zero-carbon emissions, and has a high energy density. 

Nuclear power cons include the negative environmental impact it has, it’s water-intensive, it poses risks of nuclear accidents, it produces radioactive waste, and it’s a non-renewable energy source.

Advantages of nuclear power

There has been a lot of negativity surrounding the use of nuclear energy, but the power source has several benefits.

Low-cost energy

The cost of nuclear energy has gone down tremendously in the last decade, dropping to $29.13 per megawatt as of 2021. 

This means a single kWh of nuclear energy only costs $0.03 to produce!

Along with the power itself being cheap, nuclear energy also has low operating costs. The only expensive part of nuclear energy is building the power plants to store it all. 

Reliable power source

Nuclear energy is a reliable power source because it can be generated anytime.

Unlike solar power, where you need the sun to shine, nuclear power doesn’t rely on weather. A nuclear power plant can produce energy nonstop, and you won’t have to worry about lower output or delays in production. 

Creates jobs

Nuclear power is one of the largest energy sources known to man, and it creates an entire industry of workers. 

A single nuclear power plant employs between 400 and 700 employees.

Salaries to work in this industry are 30% higher than the U.S. average. So, not only is there a promising job market, but there is also the potential for excellent pay. 

Zero-carbon emissions

Unlike fossil fuels, nuclear energy does not release any harmful carbon emissions into the atmosphere. 

In fact, the amount of nuclear power generated in one year saves 470 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions from being released into the atmosphere. According to the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), that’s the equivalent of taking 100 million passenger vehicles off the road.

Excess carbon emissions are one of the leading causes of climate change. Therefore, the less carbon and greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere, the better. 

High energy density

The amount of energy released from a nuclear power reaction is estimated to be ten million times greater than the amount released from fossil fuels. 

The amount of nuclear fuel required in a nuclear power plant is much lower than in other types of power plants. Having this much energy production contributes to the low cost of nuclear energy. One power plant alone can produce thousands of megawatts of energy.

Disadvantages of nuclear energy

The advantages of nuclear energy make the source sound very appealing, but there are a few significant drawbacks.

Environmental impact

Nuclear energy releasing zero carbon emissions sounds great on the surface, but nuclear power still has a substantial negative impact on the environment, mainly through mining and water discharge. 

Uranium is used to produce nuclear energy and is obtained by mining. Mining of any kind has negative environmental impacts. Mining uranium, in particular, is known to release arsenic and radon into the surrounding area – which can seriously affect the health of anyone living close to uranium mines. 

Also, since these power plants rely on water, they are usually built by lakes or oceans. Nuclear power plants largely affect any wildlife living in bodies of water through something called ‘thermal pollution.’  Thermal pollution is a rapid change in temperature in a natural body of water. Thus, when hot water from power plants is dumped into these lakes or oceans, the rapid temperature increase can harm the plant and animal ecosystems living in them. 
Water intensive

Nuclear power plants rely heavily on water as they use a lot of it to produce energy. In 2015, the United States consumed 320 billion gallons of water to generate nuclear power. 

As water continues to become scarce, especially in the face of climate change, this enormous water consumption could become unsustainable.

Risk of nuclear accidents

Although nuclear power plants have strict safety measures in place, there is always the risk of a nuclear accident. 

A meltdown at a nuclear plant can have a catastrophic impact on the surrounding areas. We know this because it’s happened at different points in history – take horrific events like the Fukushima disaster, Chernobyl, and Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania, for example. 

In the event of a nuclear meltdown, harmful radiation can leak. Exposure to harmful radiation is detrimental to the environment and human health. The Chernobyl disaster wiped out an entire town due to radiation exposure and caused mass casualties. 

It’s important to remember that these events are very rare, but the potential disaster is so great that it’s most people’s number one reason against nuclear power. 

Radioactive waste

Radioactive waste is a byproduct that comes from nuclear reactors. Radioactive hazardous waste remains dangerous to human health for thousands of years. 

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) governs how it is handled, transported, stored, and disposed of to protect human health and the environment. 

However, the more this waste is accumulated, the more of an issue it will become to store it. Plus, if there is a compromise in the storage facility (such as a leak), the effects of the radioactive material could be detrimental to surrounding areas. 

Non-renewable energy source

A renewable energy source is a source of energy that is not depleted when it is used. In simpler terms, a renewable energy source will never run out. 

Examples of renewable energy include wind power and solar energy because the sun's rays and the earth's wind won't run out in this lifetime.

This is not the case for nuclear power. The fuel used in nuclear reactors, uranium, is a finite resource. As we continue to mine uranium, we deplete the amount that is available, and it cannot be replenished within a human lifetime. 

The current uranium supply is estimated to be consumed by the end of the century, and new sources of uranium are difficult to find. If the demand for uranium increases and the supply does not keep up, the price for the source can skyrocket – with sources predicting the price to double as soon as 2030. Higher uranium prices would mean nuclear power would no longer be such a cheap source of energy. 

The greener solution: Solar energy

Although nuclear energy production has zero carbon emissions, it’s not necessarily the most environmentally friendly solution to produce electricity. On top of that, nuclear power plants are a risky business. 

Invest in a solar energy system to participate in a safer and cleaner way to produce electricity! You can use solar panels to reduce your monthly electricity bill to zero! Plus, when you pair your solar system with energy storage, you can power your home even when the sun isn’t shining. 

Calculate how much clean energy solar panels can generate on your roof
Written by Jamie Smith Content Specialist

Jamie is a Content Writer and researcher at SolarReviews. A recent graduate of La Salle University in Philadelphia, Jamie earned her B.S. in communications with a concentration in journalism, mass media, and public relations. Jamie has previously worked at a marketing company where she had the opportunity to highlight and promote small business owners through long-form stories and interviews. With a deep-rooted passion for creativity, Jamie stri...

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