Environmental Effects of Nuclear Generation

Nuclear is a carbon-free generating resource, and thus the environmental effects of nuclear generation are focused primarily on water use and radioactive waste from spent fuel disposal. Nuclear power is generated through the fission (splitting of atoms) of uranium and the spent fuel is therefore radioactive waste. This waste must be disposed of in long-term storage in an environmentally safe way, often in steel-lined concrete canisters above or below ground. Nuclear power plants use a large amount of water for steam production and cooling, which potentially affect nearby ecosystems and aquatic life. In the case of CGS, its withdrawal from the Columbia River represents a small fraction of the overall river flow and would have to increase by six times to trigger the Environmental Protection Agency’s minimum threshold for industrial water intake regulations. The water that CGS returns back to the Columbia River from the wet cooling system is free of radioactive materials – it is completely separate from the water that is used in the reactor to create steam.

In addition to direct environmental effects from the generation of nuclear, there are specific and intricate safety features deployed on site to protect and prevent against any accidental widespread contamination event (unmitigated radioactive waste released into the air and/or water) – such as an uncontrolled nuclear reaction, extreme weather event, or earthquake. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) regulates and oversees all safety protocols regarding nuclear power plants and they utilize a strategy of redundant security to minimize all risks.