Catalyst: Nuclear Power in the 21st Century

Elsevier, Chem, November 10 2016

Nuclear. What an emotive word. Be it nuclear power for peaceful civil applications or nuclear weapons of mass destruction, the whole topic is highly contentious and often provokes visceral, frequently diametrically opposed, responses with few noncommittal opinions.

Nuclear power is used in many countries as part of a multi-pronged solution to the ever-increasing and voracious appetite for energy. Like many countries, the UK has traditionally relied primarily on burning fossil fuel to generate electricity, but with increasingly stringent carbon-emission reduction targets, their use simply must be reduced, even when carbon-capture technologies are factored in. Furthermore, fossil-fuel technologies rely on finite and dwindling natural resources. In recent times, there has been a laudable drive to increase the use of renewable resources such as wind, tidal, solar, and geothermal power, but there are real challenges to scaling up such technologies in terms of sustainable use of resources, global occurrence of required resources, reliability, and environmental impact. This brings us back to nuclear power. Its advantages include continuous supply and essentially no carbon dioxide emissions at the point of use, but we must recognize that there are serious penalties to pay in terms of infrastructure investment and of course the radioactive products of a nuclear power station.

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