By virtue of a small volume, solid waste product, nuclear power plants produce electricity with a tiny environmental impact. Generating a year’s worth of electricity produces only about 39.5 grams of radioactive waste per person. Compare that to the 10,000 kilograms of CO2 produced by generating the same amount of electricity by burning coal and natural gas. If all the electricity that a person used in a lifetime came from nuclear power, the waste product would fit into a soda can.
Unlike hydrocarbon wastes, which can last indefinitely, nuclear wastes spontaneously convert themselves into non-radioactive forms. Within a few hundred years of their creation, nuclear wastes are less radioactive than the original uranium ore. Although the location of a long-term nuclear waste storage facility is still hotly debated, the technological solutions for containing the radiation are ready for implementation.
Nuclear-electric power stations account for 20% of the electricity generated in the US, and over 10% of the electricity produced worldwide. Unlike other clean energy sources, it has the capacity to satisfy the world’s demand for electricity now.
For more information on how nuclear reactors can provide clean, sustainable energy—and current challenges in the nuclear power industry—visit the What is Nuclear? website, set up by nuclear engineering alumni from U-M and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences