Benefits of Nuclear Energy
The pros and cons of nuclear energy use are, broadly speaking, not unlike those associated with all other energy sources. Every natural resource used to generate electricity requires the expenditure of energy, the consumption of materials and the acceptance of some degree of risk.
The benefits of nuclear energy begin with the unparalleled energy density of the fuel used. Just one uranium fuel pellet – roughly the size of the tip of an adult’s little finger – contains the same amount of energy as 17,000 cubic feet of natural gas, 1,780 pounds of coal or 149 gallons of oil. Other advantages of nuclear energy include life-cycle emissions of carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide that are lower than all fossil fuel forms as well as solar photovoltaic and forestry waste biomass. From a land use perspective, multi-reactor nuclear power plants like Palo Verde in Arizona can – at a single, confined location – produce electricity in quantities that would require over 60 square miles of photovoltaic panels, and anywhere from 15 to over 180 square miles of wind turbines. And the electrical energy from nuclear power plants is available when needed, not just when the sun is shining or the wind is blowing. Only fossil fuels, hydropower and geothermal energy, which is powered by the radioactive decay of uranium deep beneath the earth’s surface, offer the same 24/7 availability.
At Idaho National Laboratory, the nation’s leading center for nuclear energy research, development, demonstration and deployment, work to increase the benefits and reduce the liabilities of nuclear power is under way in several key areas:
- Life extension for current generation light water reactors
- Fuel cycle research and development
- Advanced nuclear energy systems, like high temperature gas-cooled reactors
- Nuclear fission and fusion safety analysis
Other resources offering examples of nuclear energy’s capabilities, research opportunities and operating data include: