Image courtesy of Bjoern Schwarz, Flickr (2010)

Image courtesy of Bjoern Schwarz, Flickr (2010)

 

I don't think it's a controversial statement to say that carbon neutral energy should be the aim of the world at large.

To that end, we should surely invest entirely in renewables, like solar, wind and geothermals. However, that doesn’t mean we should disregard nuclear fission. Even if it were possible to generate all of our energy through renewable sources (and in the UK, that would look like solar and wind), we’d still need energy on those cloudy, windless days that come along all the time. One of the main issues with renewable energy sources is that it’s impossible to control when they generate energy, and very difficult to store that energy. Fission helps smooth out the unpredictable nature of that energy generation.

We only have around 30 years to reach zero global CO2 emissions to prevent the worst effects of climate change – this will simply not happen without fission. We’ve known that we were having an impact on the climate since the 1960s, and by the 1980s were aware that we were having a substantial impact. Since then, very little has been done to avert climate change, and we’re already starting to see the adverse effects.

Not to mention the fact that the vast majority of the radiation emitters we use in medical physics are sourced from reactors. Ever had an x-ray, a CAT scan, a PET scan? That’s only possible with fission creating the radionuclides.

And yes, counter-arguments exist to supporting nuclear energy – it does tend to be slightly more expensive than fossil fuels, storage of spent fuel rods is difficult, and accidents do occur. But zero CO2 emissions? That’s something I can really get behind.

Nuclear energy gets really bad publicity. Because nuclear accidents, when they unfortunately do occur, tend to be far more dramatic than with other energy sources, nuclear energy is viewed as extremely dangerous. It is, however, statistically the safest energy source - and what's more, the gap is massive. According to a study by Dr James Conca, a geochemist for the last 30 years, nuclear energy causes 0.09% of the deaths globally that coal does, annually.

So whilst yes, I look forward to a future without the need for fission, that's still a few years off. Fusion is the ultimate energy source, but that is at least 30 years off yet. The future is nuclear, and for now that’s fission, not fusion. Until then, any environmentalist should support nuclear energy.