How Safe is The Production of Nuclear Energy?

Nuclear energy is being classified as a renewable energy source which is regarded as an option to replace fossil fuels: coal, gas, and oil. According to the World Nuclear Association there are currently 450 nuclear power reactors commercially operating in 31 countries worldwide, providing an estimated 10% of our world ́s electricity. Despite being classified as a fossil-free source of energy, the World Nuclear Association states that there is a need to replace some of the oldest nuclear reactors worldwide, especially those that are coal-fired and contributing to greenhouse gas emissions by releasing carbon dioxide into Earth’s atmosphere. (World Nuclear Association 2017).

In IEA’s World Energy Outlook 2017, the International Energy Agency has a Sustainable Development Scenario for 2040 with forecasts where power generation has not been decarbonized despite the increase of low-carbon sources accounting for 40% of the total energy mix in 2040, and the worldwide usage of nuclear energy growing to 15% of the worldwide energy market. (International Energy Agency 2017). OPEC, in its World Oil Outlook 2040, estimates an annual growth rate of 2.3% for nuclear energy between 2015-2040. For more detailed information, see the table “World primary energy demand by fuel type” below.

World Primary Energy Demand by Fuel Type growth p.a. 2015-2040

With currently 12 countries getting around 25% of their electricity from nuclear power, France leads the statistics with 75% of its electricity coming from nuclear power. Beyond nuclear-friendly France, these countries are Hungary, Slovakia and Ukraine (more than 50% nuclear energy), Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Finland, Slovenia, Sweden, and Switzerland (⅓ or more from nuclear power), Romania, Russia, Spain, UK, USA (around 20% from nuclear power), and Japan with around 25% of its electricity currently from nuclear power. Even some countries with no nuclear power plants, for instance Denmark and Italy, today depend to some extent upon nuclear energy. (World Nuclear Association 2019).

While the IEA forecasts that the share of nuclear energy on the worldwide market will grow to 15% of the total energy mix by 2040, OPEC estimates that nuclear energy will account for 6.4% of total world primary energy demand in 2040.  See table “World Primary Energy Demand by Fuel Type” below.

World Primary Energy Demand by Fuel Type OPEC

The International Atomic Energy Agency IAEA, an autonomous organization under the UN established in 1957, works towards the strengthening of nuclear security worldwide, including the prevention of nuclear weapons and supporting countries in maintaining a peaceful, safe and secure usage of nuclear technology and science. Director General of IAEA, Yukiya Amano, states that nuclear energy, as one of the lowest-carbon technologies, helps countries in reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. While at first requiring large capital investments, nuclear power plants are known to be cost efficient. Moreover, as expressed by the IAEA, the new generation of nuclear reactors are constructed with improved performance, reliability and safety.

Learn more by watching WhatTheWhy ́s video “Nuclear Energy Explained: Risk or Opportunity”:

Nuclear Energy Explained: Risk or Opportunity?

How safe are nuclear power plants and nuclear power? Despite being classified as a renewable source of energy, nuclear power plants and nuclear waste pose a number of risks both to human beings, animals and our environment. In the case of an emergency and a nuclear plant accident (see for instance Tchernobyl or Fukushima), nuclear reactors can cause chemical explosions and release dangerous radioactive material. Even when normally functioning, nuclear power plants cause radioactive waste that has to be gotten rid of in some way. The solution for this has traditionally been to bury nuclear waste in deep geological repositories. (Harvard University 2016. Reconsidering the Risks of Nuclear Power). 

While some countries (Australia, Austria, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Malta, New Zealand, Norway, Philippines, Portugal, and Switzerland) have completely abandoned or are about to completely abandon nuclear power plants and the usage of nuclear power, other countries continue to rely quite heavily on nuclear energy. 

What are your thoughts about nuclear energy, the risks and safety of nuclear power (plants)? 

You may also be interested in reading one of my previous articles: What Is  The Future of The Worldwide Natural Gas Market?

Connect with me on Twitter @annemariayritys. For climate/environment-related posts only @GCCThinkActTank. Subscribe to Anne-Maria Yritys to receive my latest articles delivered personally to you.




Estimated Global Methane Emissions 2020

How Environmentally Friendly is Biomass Production?

Biomass production, which is classified as a renewable source of energy, today accounts for 10.5% of the world’s total energy mix. Biomass is a term covering all non-fossil organic material and organic waste, such as forestry and agricultural residues, both from animal and non-animal farming, but also garbage and sewage sludge. With some concerns about biomass production on land replacing food production, this is an exception to the rule. Biomass is usually residue, waste or a by-product. Only biofuel production is known to utilize ethanol from corn: wheat, corn or sugar-beet. (Eurostat 2017; REN21 2017; Victoria State Government 2017; World Energy Council 2016).

According to the World Energy Council (2016), straw as a residue from food production is an example of biomass. Each year, billions of tons of straw, stalk, and foliage remain unused for biomass production. Instead, these are either allowed to rotten or burned freely, emitting considerable amounts of greenhouse gases into the Earth’s atmosphere. All of this organic waste, when correctly processed, could instead be utilized as a source of bio energy.

Biomass as a source of energy production is supported by policies in many countries despite of ongoing discussion about the sustainability of certain bioenergy sources. This has led to uncertainties in some markets and affected the willingness to invest into bioenergy. Due to these risk factors, the bioenergy sector has adopted a number of standards, Sustainability Criteria for Bioenergy, known as ISO 13065. In 2016, primary energy supply for biomass was around 62.5 exajoules (one EJ = 1018 J; one J per second = one watt). While worldwide energy demand in the past decade alone has grown by 21%, bioenergy demand has within the same time frame, on average, grown by 2.5% annually and persistently held its 10.5% share of the total worldwide energy mix. (ECOS 2017; REN21 2017).

In its Global Futures Report 2017 the REN21 states that while biofuels have most commonly replaced fossil fuels in the transport sector, it is not the only technology available. Electric vehicles are another option, with markets such as Norway pioneering the electric vehicle industry. It is largely a question of national policies and new investments into research and development that determine how well various fossil fuel-replacing options can penetrate into a specific market. A world powered with 100% renewable energy is possible, although current infrastructures limit and slow down the pace of renewables replacing fossil fuels, mainly due to socio-economic impacts. (REN21 2017).

Greenhouse gas mitigation and carbon taxes are the main drivers for developing the bioenergy market, while drastically dropping oil prices in the past few years have both led to advancements and increased risks for the overall bioenergy market. In markets with zero competition from the fossil fuel industry, such as Sweden, bioenergy has gained significant foothold. Sweden ́s pioneering development within the bioenergy sector has led to the fact that more than one-third of the country’s total energy use comes from bioenergy. Sweden is so efficient with bioenergy usage and recycling that the country has to import waste to meet its energy demand. The country aims at becoming 100% renewable in terms of energy. (World Energy Council 2016).

In comparison to for instance solar energy and wind energy, bioenergy production consumes considerable amounts of water, requires large areas of land and forests, possibly contributing to increased deforestation, unless managed sustainably. Despite risks like deforestation, countries like Sweden and Finland are known to manage their forest resources in a sustainable manner on a global level, following the directives set by the European Union. (EUbioenergy 2017; European Commission/EU 2017; World Energy Council 2016).

Learn more about the topic by watching U.S. Department of Energy ́s video “Energy 101 | Biofuels”:

Although biomass is being classified as a renewable energy source, it accounts for some  3% (three per cent) of total global methane emissions (with methane being a powerful greenhouse gas and anthropogenic methane emissions contributing to the warming of Earth’s climate). According to Vattenfall, which is one of the largest European retailers for electricity and fully owned (100%) by the Swedish state, biomass is at this time the largest single renewable energy source in the European Union.

Biomass and waste currently account for 2/3 (two-thirds) of renewable energy production worldwide, stated by Vattenfall. The state of Sweden has learned how to utilize waste to such an extent that it today is obliged to IMPORT waste in order to keep up with its (biomass) energy production. What a genius idea to turn waste into energy! Of course, the most optimal solution would be not to create any waste at all, but at the current state of the world, many countries are facing problems with for instance recycling, not to mention how these countries manage waste. Why destroy the environment and our soils by dumping all kinds of waste to landfills without any recycling, when there are much better options, such as biomass production and recycling available? If Sweden can do it, why not other countries as well? 

These questions are very important in terms of both environmental and human well-being. Moreover, recycling, waste management, human health, animal health, planetary health, and the creation of sustainable business models can be lucrative income sources for businesses in societies around the globe, while improving the state of the planet. Biomass can of course not be created from any kind of waste. Today, biomass is being created and used mainly in countries focused on forest industries and agriculture, whereby waste from these can be utilized to produce biomass energy from (renewable) sources.

Although biomass is today regarded to be a renewable energy source, and definitely more environmentally friendly than the burning of and production of fossil fuels coal, gas and oil, the production of biomass involves both agriculture and forestry. If other renewable source of energy are at hand, there should be no need to excessively cut down forests or grow crops in order to produce biomass, if and when there are more environmentally friendly options available.

It is estimated that the demand for biomass will at least double in the upcoming decades, with scenarios up to 2050. According to the World Energy Council’s report World Energy Resources – Bioenergy | 2016, bioenergy currently accounts for one tenth of global energy supply, with biofuels being a sustainable option in the replacement of oil dependency. Moreover, with growing concerns for environmental well-being even in terms of biomass production, bioenergy is framed by sustainability standards such as ISO, only to mention one of many. The World Energy Council states that the use of waste and residues as raw material to produce bioenergy is most optimal.

Following video, “What is Biomass”, published by FairEnergy, briefly explains what biomass (production) is:


Thank you for reading and commenting! 

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Why We Are Not Taking Climate Action Fast Enough

During my studies/research on climate and environmental topics from a wide variety of angles since several years back, I have noticed how much progress has been made around the world in terms of environmental protection, and concrete climate action.

With climate change deniers, resistants, apathetic individuals and those who talk the talk without actually walking their talk, our world has plenty of individuals who actually are fully dedicated in their everyday lives to tackling both climate change and environmental destruction. These individuals take action in their personal lives, create businesses and contribute to/make significant political decisions in terms of protecting our local/global environment without which things could look much worse than they actually are today.

In terms of communicating climate and environment-related topics local and global journalism/media play a significant role; how else would the crowd be informed about any development that is taking place? Well-informed citizens of any country, or people who dig deep into specific topics out of personal or business interest of course know how to search for information through a wide variety of sources, which today is even more simple than ever thanks to the Internet and people around the world having public access to information and reports, many times for free.

Nevertheless, and despite important political decisions and legislative changes in terms of environmental protection, journalism and media have a huge responsibility and lots of power when it comes to bringing public awareness about specific issues, climate change and environmental protection. Anthropogenic climate change and environmental protection are both no new topics.

Those with longer life experience and more years behind them know that specific climate/environmental issues have been discussed for several decades. In recent years, however, there has been a significant increase in climate change and environmental topics brought up by various media outlets. Since the Paris Agreement was signed on April 22nd 2016, most countries on our planet have actually pledged to concrete climate action; some countries with more ambition than others.

The main goal of the Paris Agreement is for all countries that have signed (and ratified) the agreement to take concrete actions in order to stop global warming and to prevent global average temperatures from rising above 1,5 degrees Celsius (34,7 Fahrenheit), since research indicates that even slight increases in global (or regional) average temperatures can and will lead to drastic changes worldwide in terms of for instance food security. The purpose of the Paris Agreement is also to ensure that countries take all possible action to reduce GHG ́s (greenhouse gas emissions), which are found to be increasing the global average temperatures through the warming effect that these create.

The question is, however: Do We Take Climate Action Fast Enough?

In the global energy sector, renewable energy sources (excluding nuclear energy), today account for 25,6 % of the total global energy sector, a vast majority of which comes from hydropower (15,9 %). (IHA 2019). Despite the growing capacity of renewable energy sources worldwide in recent years, energy-heavy sectors such as cooling, heating and transport lag behind and renewable energy sources such as solar and wind today account for 2,1 % respectively 4,6 % of total global energy. (IHA 2019; REN21 2018).

Climate marches and school strikes on behalf of climate action and environmental protection that gather millions of people together around the world of course bring an important message and put increasingly much pressure on both educational institutions and schools, businesses in all industries, and governments/politicians, but the focal point here is to focus upon concrete action, which can be taken on various levels throughout societies: in our personal lives, in businesses, and in terms of legislation.

It is comforting to notice that despite of certain climate change resistance or complete ignorance even among world leaders, major cities around the world and in countries such as the U.S. are committed to taking action and concrete measures to either eliminate or reduce their carbon emissions, including for instance New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. Furthermore, research and reports published by IRENA and OPEC reveal how even traditional oil-drilling/oil-producing regions invest into renewable energy sources such as solar and wind.

Nevertheless, with a rapid population growth globally and a continuous increase in energy consumption worldwide, environmentally more sustainable solutions are much needed to keep up with the current development in order to meet the demands of the Paris Agreement which aims not only to protect, but in fact to save our planet Earth from complete destruction.

Anne-Maria Yritys 13.5.2019