Nuclear Energy: Renewable or Non-renewable.
The question about whether Nuclear energy is renewable or not is a very debatable one. The debate has been going on for decades. Even though it is more accepted as non-renewable energy, the debate still goes on till date.
In this post, you will learn about:
- How energy is classified as renewable or non-renewable
- The nature of Nuclear energy
- The debate on classifying nuclear energy as renewable or non-renewable
- Whether Nuclear energy is renewable or not
- Whether energy can be both renewable and non-renewable
First off, take a look at how energy is classified as renewable or non-renewable
How Energy is Classified as Renewable
Energy is renewable if it can naturally be reproduced or replenished (within a short time) after been used. Their supply is unlimited. Examples are solar, wind, water (as in Hydro), biomass, geothermal and tidal.
The sun produces solar energy day after day with no sign of ever stopping. And even with its constant use, it doesn’t seem to deplete. It probably will never deplete. So, it is renewable.
The same goes for wind energy. Although it is available more in some places than the other, it blows every day. No matter how it is used it doesn’t reduce how much that will be produced the next day.
Also, water. 70% of the earth’s surface is filled with water. It doesn’t actually reproduce itself, but recycles. It is classified as renewable because it doesn’t deplete. One way or the other, water is always available on earth.
In essence, energy is said to be renewable if it has an unlimited supply and can replenish itself in a short time
How Energy is Classified as non-Renewable
Non-renewable is the opposite of renewable. Non-renewable energy cannot easily be replenished naturally after been used. Their sources deplete and most times, take too much time to reproduce. Examples are coal, fossil fuel, etc.
Fossil fuel is gotten from remnants of dead plants and animals which has stayed several feet below the sand for millions of years. It has a limited supply and also takes too much time to form.
The same goes for Coal. It is in limited supply and also takes millions of years to replenish.
In essence, energy is non-renewable if it is in limited supply and takes too much time to replenish after use.
What is the nature of Nuclear Energy?
Nuclear energy is form of potential energy that is present in the nucleus of an atom. It is the energy that holds atoms together. And It can be released from the nucleus through the process of nuclear fission or fusion.
For example, the sun releases its solar energy through nuclear fusion while in a nuclear power plant releases, nuclear energy is released through nuclear fission.
Nuclear power plants make use of nuclear energy sources (like Uranium) to generate electricity. The most common sources of nuclear energy used in power stations is the Uranium and Plutonium.
The Debate about Nuclear Energy being Renewable or not
This debate has been going on for many years. Some experts believe nuclear energy is renewable because it possesses certain characteristics of renewable energy while others believe more in its non-renewable nature.
Why some classify nuclear energy as Renewable
Here are the reasons why some consider nuclear energy a renewable:
- Nuclear energy is available in every atom that makes up the earth. So, it can’t be exhausted.
- The amount of Uranium actually in existence is more than accounted for.
- It has a low carbon emission. The nuclear energy source (most commonly Uranium) in nuclear power stations does not pollute the air like the non-renewables. So, its use in nuclear power plants does not cause any climate problems.
- Nuclear energy sources used in power plants might be limited but with the new technologies like Breeder reactors, they can serve as an infinite fuel for Nuclear power plants. This, Professor Bernard Cohen, argued in his paper
- If geothermal is considered renewable, then Nuclear energy should be considered renewable too. Uranium, a major source of nuclear energy on earth, is responsible for the heat generated in the earth’s crust. This heat is what leads to geothermal energy.
Why some classify nuclear energy as non-renewable?
Here are the reasons why some feel nuclear energy is non-renewable:
- Although Nuclear energy (in general) is available in unlimited quantities, the nuclear energy sources (Uranium, plutonium, etc) used in Nuclear power plants are in limited quantities.
- Nuclear energy used in power plants might not emit carbon but it does emit radioactive waste which could be quite toxic to animals and plants exposed to it.
- The nuclear waste produced from nuclear power plants can be hazardous to the environment.
The Conclusion of the Nuclear Energy debate
Nuclear energy is broad. They come from various sources like Uranium, thorium, Plutonium, etc. Each of those sources exists in various isotopes and have their individual characteristics.
In some ways, nuclear energy is renewable while in other ways it is non-renewable. But, for the fact that nuclear energy sources are limited and produce hazardous radioactive and nuclear wastes, it is considered to be non-renewable.
Also, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) doesn’t include nuclear energy in its renewable energy list.
The whole debate all boils down to the definition of renewable. As there is no generally accepted definition of renewable energy, it could be tough to determine what is renewable or not.
This debate about whether Nuclear energy is renewable or not might make you wonder if energy can be both renewable and no-renewable.
Can Energy be both renewable and non-renewable
Not everything in this world has a name. And that can, sometimes, be a problem. Imagine you were asked: is the internet bad or good? Now, you have to choose good or bad. But you do know that the internet has its bad and good side. Unfortunately, there is no name for classifying something that is good and bad.
If on analysing the internet, you conclude that the internet has more good than bad, would you say the internet is good or bad? You would say ‘good’, right? That is fair enough.
The same goes for classifying energy as either renewable or non-renewable. Some energy types have both renewable and non-renewable characteristics. If you are asked to classify energy as renewable or non-renewable, you classify it as what is more of. If it has more renewable characteristics, it is fair to say it is renewable.
Energy is renewable if it has an unlimited supply or can replenish in a reasonable amount of time
Energy is non-renewable if it has a limited supply or can only be replenished after a very long period of time.
Nuclear energy is argued to be renewable because it is found in the atoms that make up the earth, does not emit carbon and its use can be made unlimited by the use of technologies.
Nuclear energy is non-renewable because its sources are unlimited and can produce nuclear and radioactive wastes that can be hazardous to plants and animals.