Globally we are trying to reduce GHG emissions. In Alberta and Saskatchewan, we are desperately trying to clean our electricity grids.

Yet, despite the fact that uranium deposits are abundant in Saskatchewan, no one is talking about nuclear power as a solution. In this blog series, we will give three reasons why nuclear should be part of the conversation: (1) it’s clean; (2) it’s cheap; and (3) the future is promising.

In this post, we look at (1) Nuclear energy is clean energy.

Nuclear energy is clean energy

“Clean” might not be the first word people associate with nuclear energy – but when it comes to GHG emissions, it is an accurate statement.

Spent fuel has the potential to be hazardous – but as long as reactors are operating correctly, with no breaches or leaks, they are not directly harmful to the environment. Fortunately, breaches in nuclear cores are already rare, and, from technological upgrades to modernized reactor units, things are getting even better.

The amount of waste that is produced by nuclear energy is also relatively small. A typical nuclear power plant generates roughly 20 metric tons of used nuclear fuel per year. The current nuclear industry generates about 2,200 metric tons of used fuel per year.

Over the entire history of nuclear power generation, the worldwide industry has produced just over 75,000 metric tons of used nuclear fuel. If spent fuel – which is mostly made up of solid assemblies rather than the green sludge often depicted in cartoons – was stacked end-to-end and side-by-side, it would cover a football field about seven meters high. As long as this manageable amount of waste is handled properly, no environmental hazards will occur.

Right: Underground nuclear waste repository for low-level radioactive wastes, stored in steel drums. 

There is, however, still a long-term concern about what to do with nuclear waste even if it is stored properly. Again, there are promising advancements on this, including major developments discussed in part three of this blog series, that deplete accumulated waste while generating more electricity.

Assuming waste can be handled effectively – and some new technologies assist with depleting accumulated spent fuel ­– nuclear deserves at least a good, hard look as a possible solution for increased carbon-free electricity due to its high capacity and low carbon footprint. And that’s not even considering its affordable, modular and scalable nature.

Coming soon:

Part two: Nuclear energy is cheap energy

Part three: The future of nuclear energy is promising

– Jordan Flagel is a policy analyst at the Canada West Foundation