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Limitations of Nuclear Power as a Sustainable Energy Source


  • Joshua M. Pearce

    () (Department of Materials Science & Engineering and Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering, Michigan Technological University, 601 M&M Building, 1400 Townsend Drive, Houghton, MI 49931-1295, USA)


This paper provides a review and analysis of the challenges that nuclear power must overcome in order to be considered sustainable. The results make it clear that not only do innovative technical solutions need to be generated for the fundamental inherent environmental burdens of nuclear energy technology, but the nuclear industry must also address difficult issues of equity both in the present and for future generations. The results show that if the concept of just sustainability is applied to the nuclear energy sector a global large-scale sustainable nuclear energy system to replace fossil fuel combustion requires the following: (i) a radical improvement in greenhouse gas emissions intensity by improved technology and efficiency through the entire life cycle to prevent energy cannibalism during rapid growth; (ii) the elimination of nuclear insecurity to reduce the risks associated with nuclear power so that the free market can indemnify it without substantial public nuclear energy insurance subsidies; (iii) the elimination of radioactive waste at the end of life and minimization of environmental impact during mining and operations; and (iv) the nuclear industry must regain public trust or face obsolescence as a swarm of renewable energy technologies quickly improve both technical and economic performance.

Suggested Citation

  • Joshua M. Pearce, 2012. "Limitations of Nuclear Power as a Sustainable Energy Source," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 4(6), pages 1-15, June.
  • Handle: RePEc:gam:jsusta:v:4:y:2012:i:6:p:1173-1187:d:18200

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Usubiaga, Arkaitz & Acosta-Fernández, José & McDowall, Will & Li, Francis G.N., 2017. "Exploring the macro-scale CO2 mitigation potential of photovoltaics and wind energy in Europe's energy transition," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 104(C), pages 203-213.
    2. Arnau González & Jordi-Roger Riba & Antoni Rius, 2015. "Optimal Sizing of a Hybrid Grid-Connected Photovoltaic–Wind–Biomass Power System," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 7(9), pages 1-20, September.
    3. Alexander V. Balatsky & Galina I. Balatsky & Stanislav S. Borysov, 2015. "Resource Demand Growth and Sustainability Due to Increased World Consumption," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 7(3), pages 1-11, March.
    4. Chuanwang Sun & Nan Lyu & Xiaoling Ouyang, 2014. "Chinese Public Willingness to Pay to Avoid Having Nuclear Power Plants in the Neighborhood," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 6(10), pages 1-27, October.
    5. John J. Laureto & Joshua M. Pearce, 2016. "Nuclear Insurance Subsidies Cost from Post-Fukushima Accounting Based on Media Sources," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 8(12), pages 1-16, December.

    More about this item


    nuclear energy; nuclear power; life cycle analysis; green wash; sustainability; nuclear insecurity; future;

    JEL classification:

    • Q - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics
    • Q0 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - General
    • Q2 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Renewable Resources and Conservation
    • Q3 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Nonrenewable Resources and Conservation
    • Q5 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics
    • Q56 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Environment and Development; Environment and Trade; Sustainability; Environmental Accounts and Accounting; Environmental Equity; Population Growth
    • O13 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Agriculture; Natural Resources; Environment; Other Primary Products


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