Nuclear energy is the most reasonable alternative fuel source and should be considered as a renewable energy source, according to a Tuesday-night lecture on campus.
Barry Brook, from the University of Adelaide, South Australia, spoke to about 100 students and professors about his view of nuclear energy and where it fits in the broader energy spectrum. In order to wean ourselves off fossil fuels, we should consider nuclear energy as the only reasonable alternative, he said.
“I know it’s a controversial topic, but I think it’s important to take an evidence-based approach to the subject,” Brook said.
It isn’t clear how renewable nuclear energy is, and it’s not environmentally friendly because of the radioactive waste generated, according to the environmental advocacy organization Greenpeace. However, uranium is not considered a fossil fuel either, like oil, gas or coal.
Brook compared three different models for the future of energy in both the United States and in developing countries: The “Business As Usual” model, in which nothing changes about the makeup of fuel sources, the “Greenpeace” model, which relies almost entirely on renewable energy resources excluding nuclear, and the “Brook” model, which consists of more than 50 percent nuclear energy.
The “Business As Usual” model will consume fewer land resources than the other two models, but will nearly quadruple the volume of greenhouse gases. Oil, coal and natural gas make up the bulk of energy sources—three resources environmentalists are quick to point out as nonrenewable.
The “Greenpeace” model will consume the most land resources, Brook said, because solar and wind farms take up a lot of space. This model will also cost the most because it relies on relatively new technology.
“We need to accept that it takes a while to get technologies from the lab into the commercial world,” Brook said. “Many technologies look exciting in a lab, but they are no where near being commercialized.”
Finally, the “Brook” model, designed by Brook himself, stresses nuclear energy and renewable energy. Of the three models, this produces the least greenhouse gas on the smallest amount of land. Brook pointed out France’s economy largely runs on nuclear power with great success.
“The nuclear reactors of today are not your mother’s nuclear reactor,” Brook said.
Brook said advancements in nuclear technology has allowed for safer plants and nuclear waste recycling. Previously, nuclear waste took more than 300,000 years to decompose. With the nuclear recycling process, that time could be reduced to just 300 years, Brook said.
“It turns the problem into an engineering problem, instead of a philosophical one,” Brook said. “It becomes ‘what do I do with the waste’ as opposed to ‘can I justify creating this waste that will never go away during our current society.’”
Nuclear energy is also important because electricity usage is on a path to increase, especially if society begins to use fewer fossil fuels. Electricity is necessary for geoengineering—which alters the atmosphere directly—and for the production of fuels such as methane gas or ethanol.
“For a sustainable future, we need an abundant, cheap and low-carbon-producing energy source,” Brook said. “The only realistic way to increase electricity production without raising costs or relying on fossil fuels is through nuclear energy.”