An unjustified fear of nuclear energy is holding the industry back
Governments overwhelmingly support nuclear power, but fears of disaster persist, with any accident having the potential to derail the great nuclear resurgence. While governments are backing nuclear projects for the first time in several decades, in an effort to bolster their energy security, many continue to fear nuclear developments for safety and environmental reasons. But will the leaders be able to convince public opinion of the need for nuclear power in the context of a green transition? Nuclear power was hailed years ago as the cleaner alternative to fossil fuels that could provide reliable power to countries around the world. But as it grew in popularity, with several major global developments taking place, three notable disasters undermined the potential for widespread nuclear development. The events of Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania in 1979; Chernobyl in 1986; and Fukushima in Japan in 2011 led to an abandonment of the development of nuclear projects in favor, in large part, of fossil fuels.
However, with growing energy insecurity felt around the world, in response to Russian oil and gas sanctions; a rapid shift from fossil fuels to greener alternatives; and rising energy prices, several governments are putting nuclear back on the agenda. With its carbon-free power generation capabilities, it appeals to governments that have made ambitious carbon commitments, while offering them greater medium-term energy security than other renewable energy projects that can take longer to grow to the scale required to meet growing demand.
In the United States, nuclear power accounts for about 20% of the country’s electricity and 50% of its carbon-free electricity. And with large public and private investments being injected into research and development, countries around the world are hoping to build nuclear reactors that are more efficient, cheaper and smaller than what we have traditionally seen. If all goes well, the US Department of Energy expects demand for nuclear reactors to reach 1 trillion dollars in the world.
But according to several energy experts, a single incident could radically worsen the already negative public perception of nuclear energy. A multitude of studies consider nuclear energy to be the safest form of electricity generation, and yet many people around the world who have experienced nuclear disasters are still opposed to the development of new nuclear projects because of the danger that is associated with it. Others believe that nuclear energy is not as green as claimed because although it creates carbon-free energy, there is still the problem of waste management.
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So why are we so afraid of nuclear power? Despite a lack of public understanding of nuclear technology, which means it can sometimes be confused with nuclear weapons, there was general optimism around nuclear power when it first emerged a year ago. several decades. It seems that the current negative public perception of nuclear energy stems mainly from the nuclear disasters that have been observed around the world in real time.
Although relatively few people died during these incidents compared to deaths worldwide resulting from other energy operations, the incidents were widely televised and the Afraid of the unknown spread quickly. Governments reacted to it differently than to other energy disasters, mainly because it was unclear how many people needed to be evacuated and how best to respond to the disaster on the ground. This made people more panicked than when other events occur, such as an explosion on an offshore oil rig or a fire in a refinery. Political overreaction to a nuclear accident has led to widespread distrust of nuclear technology. Moreover, the depiction of nuclear disasters in several television series and films exaggerated the dangers associated with nuclear energy.
In reality, fear-inducing nuclear incidents have resulted in relatively few deaths. No one died from radiation in the Three Mile Island or Fukushima disasters, and less than 50 died during and after Chernobyl. While that may seem like a lot, if this is the only nuclear incident that has resulted in fatalities in the current lifetime of nuclear power generation, that figure is far lower than other sources of energy, especially fossil fuels which continue to create deadly air pollution.
Perhaps the only way to improve public perception of nuclear energy is through re-education that highlights the relative safety of the technology compared to other energy operations. Furthermore, as the public and international organizations pressure state governments to go green, better commercialization of nuclear energy could help change public perception, as people begin to consider the carbon-free energy source as needed for a green future. However, for now, governments are feeling increasing pressure to “get it right”, with the potential for any mishaps to add to the long-term demonization of nuclear power.
By Felicity Bradstock for Oilprice.com
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