Shifting Nuclear Energy Toward a Sustainable Future
When it comes to addressing the urgency in reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and global warming, the world still needs to significantly increase the energy supply in the future, particularly in the form of cleanly generated electricity. Electricity demand is growing twice as fast as the overall energy use and is projected to increase by over 50% by 2040. Currently, more than 40% of energy-related CO2 emissions comes from burning fossil fuels for electricity generation, whereas nuclear power reactors do not directly produce carbon dioxide. Nuclear energy is on the rise globally with a growth rate of 3.5% in 2021 according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). Reports on future energy supply from various major organizations indicate that nuclear power will play a larger role as an environmentally-friendly method of producing reliable electricity on a large scale.
CURRENT NUCLEAR LANDSCAPE
In the present day, several nations have already made nuclear energy a key part of their future energy landscape. Although there has been debate over just how green nuclear power is, it currently contributes approximately 10% of global electricity generation, as a proven zero-carbon electricity source. Its contribution is not expected to decrease, despite concerns regarding safety, long-lived waste, and proliferation associated with nuclear energy. Particularly, high-level radioactive waste (used nuclear fuel) accounts for only 3% of the waste volume, but contains 95% of the radioactivity, posing risks to both human health and the environment. Managing and disposing of this waste present a significant challenge. The most current approach involves storing the waste in pools of water or dry casks at nuclear power plant sites until a permanent disposal solution is available.
PROMISING SOLUTION FOR THE FUTURE
Time is ticking for new solutions to effectively tackle the climate crisis and meet the increasing energy demand. Thorium-based nuclear energy, a low-radioactive metal found worldwide, has the potential to replace uranium-based nuclear energy as a future fuel source for electricity generation. Although thorium-based nuclear energy is still in the research and development stage, with commercial deployment not expected before 2030, it is considered a promising possibility for the future. It offers competitive advantages, including improved safety, reduced waste production, GREATer resource utilization, and the potential for higher burn-up levels. Improved safety stems from the thorium’s low weaponization property. Waste production can be significantly reduced by transforming the most dangerous and long-lasting radioactive waste from the current nuclear industry into shorter-lived waste. Subsequently, reducing its lifespan by a factor of 1000, going from 300,000 years to 300 years. Furthermore, thorium, being a low-radioactive metal abundantly found worldwide, is approximately three times more common than uranium, contributing to GREATer resource utilization. However, to fully unlock this thorium-base nuclear energy, the adoption of a collaborative mindset is vital. Without a clear business case and strong government support, the development of this nuclear energy transition may remain unrealized, given the costly processes involved.
Taking into consideration the escalating energy demands of the world and the urgent need to combat CO2 emissions and global warming, nuclear power assumes a larger role in the future energy landscape. Acting as a reliable and environmentally friendly option, however, it is essential to address key areas of challenge such as improved safety, waste reduction, and enhanced resource utilization. These are necessary steps to take, in order to fully maximize its potential and the advancement of thorium-based nuclear energy shows promise in these domains.
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