Why is nuclear power considered to be a “clean” energy source when its waste is so contaminating/dangerous?


Like. Nuclear waste/disasters contaminate areas for thousands of years and cause cancer. Why is that “clean”?

In: 9

The main thing is that we have gotten much better about storing nuclear waste safely, and making better reactors that are far less likely to have meltdowns. So compared to a power plant that’s burning coal or oil, modern nuclear plants are much better for the environment.

Nuclear waste is *very* small…compared to virtually any other it’s incredibly low volume and relatively easy to store. Coal plants actually emit far more radiation than nuclear plants (coal is mildly radioactive and it all goes out the stacks).

The entire volume of all nuclear waste that humanity will ever produce could fit in an area about the size of a single power plant. It lasts a long time, which is a problem, but if you contain it it’s harmless. That’s *NOT* true for most other power generation technologies.

Clean in the context of global warming. Nuclear energy produces very little GHG potential per kWh of energy produced.

Further; the overwhelming majority of “nuclear waste” is actually produced away from nuclear power and nuclear weapon facilities. It’s basically just either mildly irradiated trash (that has to be allowed to “cool off” for lack of a better word before being disposed of normally)…or is just *suspected* of being mildly irradiated trash. The actual total amount of the real scary nuclear waste produced by all civilian nuclear projects would fit in an olympic swimming pool with room to spare.

Because regardless of how dangerous the waste is, we have control over it. We know exactly where it is contained, buried down in bunkers or drown in pools. That is opposed to carbon dioxide that is simply released in the atmosphere and that we cannot grab back.

Also, the quantities are relatively small. About 2000 metric tons of nuclear waste per year in the US, versus 5 BILLION metric tons of CO2.

Obviously accidents happen – Chernobyl and Fukushima -, and that tilts the balance, but we are talking about normal circumstances.

Among experts, it sort of isn’t. But sort of is. In my environmental science classes many years ago, energy was divided into three categories: fossil fuels, renewable, and nuclear. It’s just so much its own thing in terms of upsides and downsides and tradeoffs that it goes in its own category.

Certainly as global warming has become more and more accepted politically (it was accepted scientifically decades ago) people are liking nuclear for its low carbon footprint and its reliability (AFAIK hydroelectric is the only renewable power source that’s as controllable).

On the other hand, it dismays me how much reddit in particular has gotten pro-nuke in recent years and just dismissing out of hand the known and potential problems. If there’s one thing Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and Fukushima should have taught us is that the *next* nuclear power catastrophe will almost certainly not happen in a way that the last ones did, and by extension we don’t really know as much as we’d like to about the safety engineering of the technology particularly if we scaled it up as much as we’d have to to use it as part of a global warming solution.