How nuclear energy affects the environment

Nuclear power is probably the most controversial of all the energy sources available today. Despite being a highly efficient and economical technique compared to others, and relatively clean compared to other fossil fuels, it continues to create rejection among society. The reason is the disastrous consequences that an accident can cause in a plant, either by an explosion or by a natural phenomenon such as an earthquake. We tell you below how nuclear energy affects the environment .

Carbon dioxide

One of the arguments put forward by the defenders of nuclear energy is that its production in nuclear power plants does not involve the emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. While it is true that this process is cleaner than for example that of a conventional thermal power plant, it is also true that to extract the uranium and to transport it to the power plants there is a consumption of carbon dioxide that must also be taken into account.

Nuclear waste

The main problem with nuclear energy, together with the fear of potential accidents, is what to do with the waste generated. These can last for thousands and thousands of years and keep their radioactive power, so they must be safe, enclosed in the so-called nuclear cemeteries, which are a short-term solution but not a definitive solution, taking into account the time that they must be underground and completely isolated until they pose a threat to people and to the environment.


Despite relatively few accidents in nuclear power plants, the impact of only one of these events is a real catastrophe. In the collective imagination there is the accident of the central Chernobyl, in Ukraine, and the most recent of Fukushima after the tsunami that devastated the Japanese coast in 2011. The exposure of people, animals and plants to large amounts of radiation is fatal to medium and short term, depending on the intensity of it, produces diseases such as cancer and malformations, and is transmitted through the food chain, contaminating crops and animals.

The true consequences of a nuclear accident of these magnitudes are not known exactly until, years later, all the damage produced in the environment can be assessed. In addition, they are not limited to the immediate environment of the plant, since radioactive leaks following a nuclear accident can travel long distances by air or water, depending on where the spill occurs.

The fear of an accident, although the possibilities are very low thanks to all safety measures, is one of the main causes of the rejection that nuclear power plants usually generate wherever they are implanted. That same fear extends to the possibility that an attack large proportions or a natural phenomenon such as an earthquake also cause a great disaster.

Water cooling

Water cooling systems that are used to prevent overheating of the power plants also cause some damage to the environment, since they require large amounts of water from the sea or rivers, which often carry aquatic fauna. By returning this water to its natural environment, temperature increases can also occur that harm the animals and plants used to live in that environment.

Positive aspects

Nuclear energy, however, also has virtues that make it so attractive in the end for many countries, despite the mistrust they generate. It is much cheaper than other sources and generates large amounts of energy, and is also the least carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere during its production process in the plant (only exceeded in cleaning, and at a short distance, by wind power) . Also the nuclear power plants occupy very little space in comparison with all the surface that need the solar or wind orchards, the hydroelectric power stations or some plants of biomass.

The debate, several decades after the start-up of the first power station, continues to be present in society, sometimes with more intensity and others with less, but without being definitively resolved.