One sixth of the world’s population (1.27 trillion people) lives in developed countries. These developed countries are typically run on baseload electricity or 24/7 electricity. The three major sources of baseload electricity are: Fossil Fuels (coal and gas): United States 71.4% World 66.1%, Hydro: United States 6.5% World 16.1%, Nuclear: US 19.3% World 15.7%. Wind, Solar and the other renewable energies are not able to be considered baseline yet due to the inconsistency of the sources. To compare, nuclear waste for 1 gigawatt (a years worth of energy) = 20 tons which goes into two casks stored on sight, while coal waste from 1 gigawatt puts 8,000,000 tons of CO2, into the atmosphere.
Wind, like solar, is a relatively sparse source of energy and requires a lot of land and materials. In terms of materials, 5 to 10 times what is used for nuclear. To get 1 GW of electricity would require 250 square miles of wind farm. Also with solar farms 1 GW would require 50 square miles of land.
The new generation of nuclear reactors includes small safe and sustainable reactors referred to as nuclear batteries. These reactors can produce 10-125 MW of electricity. Typically these nuclear batteries are put in the ground, where they are weapons proliferation-proof. The nuclear batteries would utilize their nuclear waste for fuel. Bellow I have attached a few designs for nuclear batteries. 1) The Gen4 Module (G4M) 25MW 2) NuScale 45MW 3) Russian barge-mounted reactor, 35MW 4) SSTAR 10-100MW
Nuclear power puts out slightly more CO2 emissions in comparison for wind and concentrated solar, when taking into consideration the total construction time of each. From planning to operation it takes 9-19 years to put up a nuclear power plant. This includes about 3 to 6 years for a site permit, 2 to 4 for a construction permit, and then 4 to 9 for actual construction. While waiting for the completion of these we have to run the regular power grid, which in the United States and around the world is mostly coal. For wind and solar the total construction time can be 2- 5 years. With this difference in opportunity cost, nuclear is putting more C02 emissions. Nuclear reactors do run the risk of nuclear energy proliferation, which would cause the equivalent damage of nuclear bomb. While the spacing required for wind farms is large the actual footprint would be just where the pole touched the ground. To put this in perspective, the entire US vehicle fleet could be powered with 73,000 to 140,000 5-MW wind turbines. This would take from one to three square kilometers of footprint on the ground. There is also the possibility of putting wind turbines off the coast to reduce this footprint. With advance wind mapping, turbines can be more consistent and possibly become a source baseload electricity in the future.
Nuclear power allows for low carbon emissions, consistent and efficient energy production, but faces long delays associated with building new plants and some serious risk factors. Where does nuclear power fit in the future? Is it worth the risk? Should we focus on renewable energy only or do we need both?