There are a lot of misconceptions about nuclear power – many of which have led Americans to be wary of a future that could see the construction of 20 to 25 new units built by 2040 according to Department of Energy forecasts. The truth is, as the nation continues down the path to a cleaner and safer future, nuclear power should continue to play a significant role based not only on the fact that it is an affordable and sustainable power source, but that it also has no greenhouse-gas emissions
“Along with increased energy efficiency and conservation,” said Buzz Miller, Southern Company President of Nuclear Development, “…it will be essential to build new nuclear power generation, the only proven large-scale generating technology that produces no greenhouse gas emissions.”
Electricity generation is the primary source of industrial air emissions in the nation today with fossil fuel plants creating 67 percent of the nation’s sulfur dioxide emissions, 23 percent of nitrogen oxide emissions, and 40 percent of man-made carbon dioxide emissions.
Coal, although its projected to retain the largest share of the electricity generation mix through 2035, is expected to see a significant decline due, in large part, to environmental concerns.
Coal releases carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and mercury compounds into the air as its burned. Its average emission rates in the U.S. are: 2,249 lbs/MWh of carbon dioxide, 13 lbs/MWh of sulfur dioxide, and 6 lbs/MWh of nitrogen oxides according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Burning oil at power plants also produces nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and carbon dioxide. In addition, oil also produces methane and mercury compounds as well. The amount of sulfur dioxide and mercury compounds produced vary greatly depending on the sulfur and mercury content of the oil itself, but the average emissions rates are: 1672 lbs/MWh of carbon dioxide, 12 lbs/MWh of sulfur dioxide, and 4 lbs/MWh of nitrogen oxides.
Natural gas, while cleaner than both coal and oil, still produces nitrogen oxides and carbon dioxide and has the potential to produce methane as well if not burned completely. The average emissions rates in the United States from natural gas are: 1135 lbs/MWh of carbon dioxide, 0.1 lbs/MWh of sulfur dioxide, and 1.7 lbs/MWh of nitrogen oxides.
With the expectation of a 28 percent increase in the nation’s demand for electricity by 2040 hundreds of power plants are expected to be built to meet this growing demand. When considering the amount of emissions that are produced by the various options it becomes clear that careful consideration needs to be given as we move forward. If we are truly seeking a clean energy future then nuclear must play a prominent role.