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UN Climate Conference Renews Global Push for Nuclear Energy

At the recent United Nations Climate Summit (COP 28) in Dubai, the United States and twenty-two other nations committed to a bold energy initiative — tripling nuclear energy capacity by 2050. With its goal of near-zero carbon emissions in the coming decades, this pledge is a crucial step toward a more sustainable future. However, there are still many challenges to implementing reforms, such as public fears and funding. 

White nuclear power plants against a partially cloud sky
Nuclear power plants. (Lukáš Lehotský/Unsplash)

Nuclear power is a renewable source of energy that is often overlooked in clean energy reforms. It offers a more sustainable alternative to traditional fuels, like fossil fuels. Nuclear energy does not directly contribute to carbon emissions and has the potential to provide far more energy in concentrated areas than other forms of renewable energy. However, it is more dangerous, expensive, and politically controversial.


Nuclear energy is generated through a process known as nuclear fission. This is where the fuel atoms (uranium-235) are split by a particle fired at them, creating two smaller atoms and neutrons. After this, a chain reaction occurs where the released neutrons collide with other atoms, causing them to split, amplifying the process. This separation, called fission, generates a substantial amount of heat. A liquid, usually water, is then used to turn the heat into steam, which is circulated into turbines that rotate generators, producing electricity. 

To read more about nuclear energy, see Kids Fight Climate Change’s overview of it.

Despite ambitious promises, there are still some drawbacks to nuclear energy. Critics are afraid of a possible nuclear meltdown event, such as the historic ones that took place in Japan and Ukraine. A nuclear meltdown occurs when the nuclear core (where the fission happens) overheats. Overheating is mainly the result of an issue with the coolant that keeps the core at the right temperature; these issues can include the coolant evaporating, loss of pressure, or not enough coolant being circulated. Once the coolant has evaporated, the nuclear core will keep increasing in temperature, unregulated until it melts everything around it. Once the radioactive material is released into the environment, it contaminates the water, air, and ground surrounding the nuclear power plant, making the area uninhabitable. While these events have happened before, there are several nuclear power plants across the world that have not had meltdowns. It can be safe as long as managers of the plant adhere to precautions and regulations. 


Finding the proper funding is another issue. Building and maintaining nuclear power plants is extremely costly. According to The New York Times, a project in Idaho had to be stopped because its original $5.3 billion price tag exceeded the budget by $4 billion. Often these skyrocketing prices are caused by inflation and high interest rates, though the unpredictability of nuclear projects also adds to the cost.


Despite these financial hurdles, many countries are embracing nuclear energy. According to The New York Times, French President Emmanuel Macron said that nuclear energy is an “indispensable solution” to slowing the environmental impacts of fossil fuels. 


Expanding nuclear energy is a significant step forward toward sustainability. Governments will need to find an approach that best addresses financial, safety, and public concerns. At this time, it is crucial that the international community works together to find the best way to support and fund the goal of reaching net-zero carbon emissions. 


How can you help? 

Further readings


Extra steps you can take

  1. Writing for Kids Fight Climate Change: If you are interested in making climate change news more accessible, you should consider joining us! Check out this link: Join the Team | Kids Fight Climate Change: Youth Climate Education 

  2. Volunteering at advocacy groups. VolunteerMatch is a great resource to find volunteer opportunities, virtual and in-person. Check out this link: VolunteerMatch 

  3. If neither of those options applies to you, there are still ways to raise awareness! Simply by sharing articles such as this one, you are doing your part to spread important climate information. That is activism.


Sources

Department of Energy. “At COP28, Countries Launch Declaration to Triple Nuclear Energy Capacity by 2050, Recognizing the Key Role of Nuclear Energy in Reaching Net Zero,” n.d. https://www.energy.gov/articles/cop28-countries-launch-declaration-triple-nuclear-energy-capacity-2050-recognizing-key.


House, White. “FACT SHEET: Biden-Harris Administration Leverages Historic U.S. Climate Leadership at Home and Abroad to Urge Countries to Accelerate Global Climate Action at U.N. Climate Conference (COP28).” The White House, December 4, 2023. https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2023/12/02/fact-sheet-biden-harris-administration-leverages-historic-u-s-climate-leadership-at-home-and-abroad-to-urge-countries-to-accelerate-global-climate-action-at-u-n-climate-conference-cop28/.


Gross, Jenny. “At COP28, More than 20 Nations Pledge to Triple Nuclear Capacity.” The New York Times, December 2, 2023. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/12/02/climate/cop28-nuclear-power.html.

“Mechanics of a nuclear meltdown explained.” PBS NewsHour. March 16, 2011. https://www.pbs.org/newshour/science/mechanics-of-a-meltdown-explained.


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