Is Nuclear Energy Renewable? How about “Inexhaustible”?

For quite some time I’ve been debating the argument that nuclear energy is equally “renewable” as energy derived from hydro, wind, and biomass. My thought process goes like this…

Rivers go dry with over use and periods of drought, and winds shift with changing weather patterns such as those that will occur with global climate change.  The availability of biomass is dependent on favorable weather and must be replenished using agricultural processes that are reliant on fossil fuels.  The ultimate energy source of all these “renewables” is the sun, and while the sun is not “infinite,” it is unlikely to extinguish during the course of human existence.  The ability of the sun to replenish hydro, wind, and biomass make these energy sources renewable.

In contrast, the source of nuclear energy is fuel contained entirely on planet Earth.  And while there are a finite number of uranium and thorium atoms on the planet, the supply will last for as long as human beings need it.  The myth propagated by the anti-nuclear crowd that we will run out of fuel for nuclear reactors is simply untrue.  They grossly underestimate the amount of uranium that exists, they discount already proven technologies like breeder reactors, and they ignore the existence of thorium, a fuel even more plentiful than uranium.  We have sufficient nuclear fuel to last for more than 1,000 years, even if we expand the number of nuclear plants by more than a factor of ten.  This makes nuclear energy inexhaustible.

I’ve often discussed the how Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) will encourage investment in wind and solar energy, but alone will NOT result in the desired reductions in CO2 emissions.  If the goal is CO2 reduction, why not promote the expansion of nuclear energy, the greatest source of low-carbon energy in existence?

Keith Johnson of the Wall Street Journal Blog discusses the “renewable” question, and issues surrounding the logic of a national RPS in his recent post titled “Is Nuclear Power Renewable Energy?“.  In particular, Keith points out the inconsistencies in the Waxman-Markey approach to fighting climate change.

Nuclear-power proponents are puzzled by what seems a logical inconsistency on part of Democrats who consistently shoot down the [nuclear energy] proposals.   If the goal is to promote low-emissions power sources, then nuclear power should be part of the mix.   If the goal is to promote new power sources, then existing wind and solar power facilities shouldn’t be showered with federal goodies.  That is, states that already have loads of wind power would be half-way to meeting new renewable-energy targets without building any new clean energy.

And later…

But if the whole game in Washington is meant to be about producing electricity with fewer emissions of greenhouse-gases, it seems odd that nuclear power wouldn’t be under consideration.

Read the blog, then take some time to browse the comments…some are excellent!  Others (by anti-nuclear activists) serve to illustrate the very points Mr. Johnson makes in his article; climate change advocates who argue against nuclear energy simply don’t make sense.

A comment by one fellow nuclear blogger, Jim Holm provides a great example for the Nuclear = Renewable case.

As dissolved in sea water, uranium is a renewable resource.  It comes from mountain granite, washed down to the sea as sand, finally leached out as uranium.  Every year this source of sand is renewed by winter weathering.  The Japanese developed a process that can extract it from sea water for about 4 times street price.

Check out Jim’s web site at

William Tucker has helped to influence my opinion on this topic.  Check out his book “Terrestrial  Energy.”

Author: John Wheeler

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