Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Nuclear power has some major environmental benefits

The recent Fukushima nuclear accident is together with Chernobyl an example of how nuclear power can have devastating impact on our environment. But nuclear power needs to be look at from all perspectives, not all of which are necessarily bad.

The new study that was published in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology argues that nuclear power on global level prevented approximately 1.84 million air pollution-related deaths and release of 64 billion tons of greenhouse gases that would have resulted from burning coal and other fossil fuels.

The properly controlled nuclear power has the potential to help control both global climate change and negative health effects associated with air pollution, even despite serious questions about safety, disposal of radioactive waste and diversion of nuclear material for weapons.

This new study concluded that nuclear power already accounted for a major positive environmental impact, based upon calculations of prevented mortality and greenhouse gas emissions for the period 1971-2009. The conclusion was that „nuclear power could prevent from 420,000 to 7 million additional deaths by mid-century, and prevent emission of 80-240 billion tons of the greenhouse gases linked to global warming“.

If the role of nuclear power continues to decline significantly in the next 20-30 years, the world will have very tough task to achieve the major reductions in greenhouse gas emissions because the emerging low-carbon technologies are still far off from reaching their full potential, especially in terms of cost-efficiency ratio.

The Fukushima accident in Japan has largely overshadowed the benefits of nuclear energy shifting focus to other energy sources such as renewable energy and natural gas. It still remains to be seen what kind of effect this shift in energy policy will have on environment, most notably climate change.