Is Nuclear Energy Green or Renewable?

Nuclear energy is often considered a source of green energy. Certainly, politicians will include it in their green energy mix. As you might expect, in reality it comes with environmental pros and cons.

On the positive side, nuclear power plants do not emit harmful greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides that contribute to the climate crisis and air pollution.

This, of course, makes nuclear a cleaner energy source compared to fossil fuels.

Another bonus is that nuclear power is extremely reliable, and has the potential to produce large amounts of electricity with a single plant, making it an attractive option in these troubled times of energy insecurity.

We will examine claims that nuclear energy is renewable in a moment, but first let’s consider the disadvantages of nuclear power.

The first thing that comes to mind is the devastating environmental and human health impacts of nuclear accidents.

In particular, following the three main nuclear accidents to have happened in recent times, at Chernobyl (1986), Fukushima (2011) and Three Mile Island (1979), the long-term effects have been severe, with contamination of soil and water, displacement of populations, and increased risk of cancer and other health problems.

The production of nuclear energy also has environmental and safety concerns. The process of uranium mining, which is the fuel source for nuclear power plants, can be extremely destructive to the environment, causing soil and water pollution and releasing radioactive materials into the air and water.

Additionally, the storage of nuclear waste is still a major issue, with no long-term solution for safely disposing of the highly radioactive waste that is generated by nuclear power plants.

Woodland marked as radioactive following the Chernobyl nuclear accident

Can Nuclear Power Be Classed As Renewable Energy?

The answer is no. Renewable energy is, by its nature, constantly replenished, such as sunlight for solar panels, wind for turbines or water for hydroelectric dams, that is topped up by the rain.

Because nuclear energy uses up radioactive fuel, it is not classed as renewable. While nuclear has the potential to provide a nearly limitless supply of electricity, the sources used to produce that energy are finite.

Nuclear energy relies on the decay of radioactive isotopes to produce heat and generate electricity. These isotopes must be extracted from the earth and are not naturally replenished over human timescales.