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Clean Nuclear Energy

QUESTION: Is Nuclear Energy Clean Energy?


Nuclear energy is one of the cleanest energy sources in the world. Currently, the 104 nuclear reactors in the United States produce about 70% of the country’s emissions-free electricity. For those concerned about carbon emissions, nuclear energy was responsible for avoiding the emission of 644 million tons of CO2 in 2009. This is the equivalent of taking 125 million cars off the road.

Interestingly, some environmental groups and politicians don’t consider nuclear energy as “clean” energy. However, a University of Wisconsin study found that the emissions from the entire nuclear energy life cycle are less than hydro, solar and biomass, and on par with wind and geothermal -- and all of these are considered “clean” energy supplies.

In the end, many environmental groups are now coming around to the benefits of clean nuclear energy. Even the biggest proponents of climate change (formerly known as “global warming”) are saying nuclear energy deserves a place at the table. When it comes to the politicians, should this even be a matter for them anyway? Do we really need politicians mandating what clean energy sources to use, or should we allow the clean energy alternatives to compete in the open market and see what happens?

Clean Nuclear Energy – Reduced Carbon Emissions
Today, the world is seeking new ways to generate more electricity, while reducing the emissions from traditional power plants. The experts love to tell us how 1 gigawatt (GWe – a billion watts) of “clean” electricity will save approximately 6 million tons of emissions. But what does that really mean?

While dilute sources of power such as wind and solar may have roles in the new energy landscape, they require huge footprints to deliver any kind of real power. For instance, to replace that one gigawatt of “old school” electricity, wind farms require 250 square miles of pole-to-ground or pole-to-water area, while solar panels require 50 square miles of bulldozed land.

A one gigawatt nuclear reactor could accomplish the same energy goal with a very limited footprint, even added capacity at an existing nuclear site. When compared to the other energy alternatives in the discussion, nuclear is a very efficient way to produce more electricity.

Content created in association with the Nuclear Energy Policy Group at The Heritage Foundation, and ColdWater Media, Inc. Copyright 2011 – All Rights Reserved in the Original.

Facts derived from the Nuclear Energy Institute,, including specifically, “Myths and Facts about Nuclear Energy” (August 2010).

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