Can nuclear power be classified as a renewable energy source?
Renewable energy is one of the most discussed and argued topics nowadays, especially for those who believe in a human-made climate change and those who say humanity does not have enough influence to change the world’s climate. It is also seen as the only way to turn around climate change or at least to limit global warming to a maximum of 2 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial measurements. On the other hand, it is argued that creating a new business branch is the only entitlement of renewable energies.
Hence, this topic is of high interest all around the world and drives us to look closely at recent developments as well as the status-quo within this industry. To start our live thread, we will introduce you to general knowledge, like the definition of the term, renewable and fossil energy sources, pros and cons, the effect on the power industry in total and the impact on climate change.
The most critical information, when talking about energy, is that it actually can not be produced (created) or destroyed, but only transformed by turning mass into energy. This conversion takes place in every power plant, however, in different ways, e.g. a nuclear power plant sets energy free, stored within atoms, via controlled thermonuclear fusion, photovoltaic power plants convert sun insolation into electricity by using semiconductors and the underlying chemical process. In contrast, coal power plants are heating water by burning coal to create steam and eventually run a turbine generating power. The capacity of such power plants is measured in Mega Watt peak or even Giga Watt peak to estimate the maximum output a power plant can potentially produce when running at full throttle.
Splitting renewable energy sources and fossil fuels, we have to take a quick peek on definitions of the terms. The International Energy Association (IEA) classifies renewable energy as: ”derived from natural processes that are replenished constantly. In its various forms, it derives directly or indirectly from the sun, or from heat generated deep within the earth. Included in the definition is energy generated from solar, wind biofuels, geothermal, hydropower and ocean resources, and biofuels and hydrogen derived from renewable resources.”
The above definition illustrates very clearly, which primary energy sources can be classified as renewables, and allow the logic inference about what will be classified as fossil fuels. Namely: petroleum, coal and natural gas; not being indefinite in reserves and emitting CO2 when converted into electricity.
Although the classification above covers a broad spectrum, it yet leaves us with one remaining primary energy source, nuclear power, which isn’t satisfactorily incorporated at both groups. Hence, ongoing discussions are taking place within industry experts advocating different perspectives on this matter.
The most common nuclear power fuel is uranium-235 (non-renewable, according to the Energy Information Administration). However, the EIA doesn’t claim mixed oxide fuel (MOX fuel) to be non-renewable which, as well, is a nuclear fuel containing more than one oxide of fissile material and is mainly consisting of plutonium blended with natural, reprocessed or depleted uranium. On the contrary, nuclear power doesn’t emit any CO2 when generating energy but producing atomic waste to harm the environment significantly. Besides, the European Union encourages fission power by not including this way of generating electricity in its Emission Certificate Price system.
Would you see nuclear power as being a renewable energy source?