Nuclear Energy’s Tiny Environmental Footprint


Fast Fission Podcast #12 – MP3 File

I recently came across a fascinating study that was done by five researchers from The Nature Conservancy.  If you have not heard of them before, the Nature Conservancy is

the leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people

The study compares the impact to natural habitats in the United States of various types of new energy development.  They refer to this as the “land use intensity” of energy, and it is measured in energy produced for a given land area.  Specifically, they estimated the amount of land that will be needed for the USA to meet energy demands by the year 2030 for various energy sources.   The group is concerned that the build out of new energy sources to meet growing demand and combat climate change could cause what they refer to as “energy sprawl” with detrimental impact to natural habitats.  It turns out, there is a lot to worry about!


The results?  It takes on average 72 square kilometers of land to provide one megawatt of energy for one year when wind turbines are used.  Solar energy is better at 15 to 37 square kilometers, depending on the technology used.  Nuclear energy has the lowest impact on land use of ANY energy source.  In fact, nuclear energy has about one sixth the impact of solar thermal generation, and one thirtieth the impact of wind generation. 

It takes just 2.4 square KM, or about one square mile to provide one megawatt of electricity for one year when that energy is derived from nuclear energy.  This is a great example of how the incredible energy density of nuclear energy provides benefits to society.

Author: John Wheeler

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