Climate change and global security compete with each other to shape the future. This is especially noticeable in the first spring week’s events related to nuclear energy. Nuclear power plants produce energy without carbon emissions and offer an alternative to fossil fuels that warm the atmosphere. The current global energy complex is disrupted.
That same week, Russian troops attacked the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant in Ukraine. A building was set on fire on the territory of the nuclear power plant. “No country has yet fired on nuclear blocks, except Russia”, said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Later, on the 4th of March, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said the nuclear power plant continued to operate, and there were no radioactive materials. However, the security event caused a wave of fear around the world.
Seeing Ukraine’s nuclear reactors under attack is new and particularly worrying for a large part of the population who equate nuclear energy with weapons and dangers, as well as with radioactivity and health problems. At the same time, countries realize that they cannot achieve their climate goals with renewable energy sources alone yet, such as wind and solar. Last year’s COP 26 climate conference saw a fundamental shift in sentiment over nuclear energy.
According to the World Nuclear Association, there are about 440 nuclear power plants in more than 30 countries, which provide about 10% of the world’s electricity. Currently, 55 new reactors are being built in 19 countries. Nineteen of them are in China and only two in the United States. But Russia remains to stay the world’s largest holder of nuclear technology.
Nuclear power was severely rated in the United States after the Three Mile Island nuclear accident in Pennsylvania in 1979 and worldwide after the Chornobyl accident in the Ukrainian Soviet Union in 1986 and the Fukushima accident in Japan in 2011.
At the same time, the Russian-Ukrainian war gave the United States leverage to gain a stronger foothold in the world market. While the war is tragic, it will result in more opportunities for the United States nuclear firms as Russia disqualifies itself.
Nuclear power plants have been expensive to build. And in many places, it has become more expensive than other energy alternatives such as natural gas. However, the United States is pushing for the next generation of nuclear power plants. The United States has decided that it does not want Russia to dominate the next phase of the nuclear market. That’s why they started investing billions of dollars in developing so-called small modular reactors.
These smaller, advanced reactors are not necessarily new. Variation of technology has been around since the 1950s – but they’re having a renaissance now. They can be built with more standard parts instead of bespoke construction. That allows for more affordable and quicker construction.
Nowadays, we are on the edge of a new era, not only technological. Our future is dependent on our decisions today. The nuclear threat is closer than any being a worldwide disaster. Only together can we build a better and safer future for us, our children, and the generations to come.