Nuclear fusion remains potentially the safest and most powerful source of energy that humanity can harness, capable of generating four times more energy than fission. To put it into perspective, more than 3 million solar panels would be needed to produce the same amount of energy as a typical commercial reactor or more than 430 wind turbines (capacity factor not included). It is approximately 1 million times greater than that of other traditional energy sources and, because of this, the amount of nuclear fuel used is not as large as one might think. While the death toll, direct and indirect, from renewable energy is much higher compared to that of nuclear energy, this is mainly due to a single catastrophic event.
In general, renewable energy should be considered safer because there is no risk of lasting radioactive contamination of the environment. However, it also appears that incidents related to renewable energy, although mostly non-fatal, are much more frequent than nuclear accidents. This is why events in Germany are so worrying, and the same trend of replacing nuclear energy with fossil fuels is taking place all over the world. However, when installed, nuclear power plants are relatively inexpensive to operate and, for the most part, are cost-competitive with fossil fuels in terms of electricity generation.
While nuclear energy has several benefits, using it is risky, and public opinion is sharply divided, and the main criticisms address the problem of radioactive waste and the risk of catastrophic incidents. At a recent Physicians for Social Responsibility briefing, David Richardson, an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina, said that “the unresolved problems of long-term storage and its contribution to nuclear proliferation are two reasons, in addition to accidents, that make nuclear energy unacceptable. Fusion reactors mimic the nuclear process inside the Sun, breaking down lighter atoms to make them heavier and release enormous amounts of energy along the way. These figures are clearly based on projections and do not take into account worker deaths from mining activities and other occupational hazards related to the configuration of the nuclear industry, but optimistic projections seem to have been more accurate.
Nuclear energy represented a huge economic opportunity for the United Kingdom, Sir David said, and that it should keep going despite incidents in Japan. This is mainly because uranium is very energy dense and nuclear power generation requires relatively little fuel, which means relatively small amounts of waste. Nuclear power plant costs are seen as the main obstacle to the global and long-term viability of nuclear energy. It can even be argued that nuclear energy has saved lives in recent decades by soon replacing fossil fuel plants.
Helium-cooled very-high-temperature reactors can operate at a temperature of up to 1000°C, and the state-owned National Nuclear Corporation of China has a 210 MW prototype in the eastern province of Shandong that will be connected to the grid this year. However, phase-out has come at a price; the German government largely replaced nuclear power plants with coal-fired power plants, which have been releasing an additional 36 million tons of CO2 per year and causing the premature death of 1,100 people a year due to ambient air pollution. Direct deaths related to radiation exposure from nuclear energy have occurred in only two major incidents at the plant, around 4,000 in Chernobyl and one in Fukushima. .