Nuclear Energy: An Option to Achieve Sustainable Development Goals and a Lower-Carbon Economy

In the quest for a sustainable future, policymakers and environmentalists worldwide face the challenge of finding viable alternatives to fossil fuels

I am writing this piece to argue that nuclear energy is the lesser of two evils when compared to burning fossil fuels like oil, gas, and coal. While nuclear power doesn’t emit CO2 or other greenhouse gases, it’s worth noting that renewables are now more cost-effective. In this article, I will discuss why nuclear energy has a role in achieving several Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), even as I continue to advocate strongly for renewables.

In the quest for a sustainable future, policymakers and environmentalists worldwide face the challenge of finding viable alternatives to fossil fuels. While renewable energy sources such as wind and solar have gained significant attention and should be the preferred solution, nuclear energy remains an option but a contentious topic.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) we’ll discuss in this article are:

  • SDG 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy)
  • SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth)
  • SDG 9 (Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure)
  • SDG 11 on Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • SDG 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production)
  • SDG 13 (Climate Action)

Image Credit: Vilayphone @ Adobe Stock

However, with modern technological advancements, is it time to re-evaluate nuclear energy’s potential benefits in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and fostering global prosperity? This piece explores the arguments favouring nuclear energy, evaluating its potential contributions towards a sustainable future.

Nuclear energy has long been a contested issue, with solid arguments. Proponents of nuclear energy claim that it is reliable and provides a steady electricity supply at low prices. At the same time, critics argue that the technology is unsafe and creates harmful waste.

Carbon Neutrality and Climate Change Mitigation

The urgency to combat climate change demands a swift transition from fossil fuels. Nuclear energy offers a significant advantage as a low-carbon energy source. Emitting virtually no greenhouse gases during operation provides a viable alternative to help meet climate change mitigation targets. By expanding nuclear power, countries can drastically reduce their carbon footprint, contributing to achieving SDG 13 (Climate Action) and supporting the Paris Agreement goals.

Nuclear power is considered a low-carbon energy source because nuclear power plants produce virtually no greenhouse gas emissions[1]. Unlike fossil fuels, which release large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, nuclear power generation does not contribute directly to climate change. It can support efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

However, while nuclear power is low-carbon, it is distinct from renewable energy sources because it does not rely on constantly replenished resources. Renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, and hydroelectric power harness natural processes that are continuously available, like sunlight and wind[2]. In contrast, nuclear power relies on fuel, such as uranium, a finite resource that needs to be mined and processed. Renewable energy is now cheaper to construct and operate than other energy sources.

Image Credit: The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2020

Additionally, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 13 includes not only the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions but also the promotion of renewable energy. Although nuclear power does not emit greenhouse gases during operation, it is not considered a renewable energy source because it relies on the extraction and processing of uranium, which has limited availability. SDG 13 aims to achieve a transition towards renewable energy sources to mitigate climate change and reduce reliance on finite resources.

It is important to note that while nuclear power does not directly address the goals of advancing renewable energy, it can complement renewable energy sources in achieving SDG 13 targets. Nuclear power can provide a baseload capacity and continuous power supply, supporting the integration of intermittent renewable energy sources like wind and solar. This combination of nuclear and renewables can ensure a reliable and sustainable energy mix that reduces greenhouse gas emissions and advances the transition to a low-carbon future.

So, while nuclear power is considered low-carbon due to its minimal greenhouse gas emissions, it is distinct from renewable energy sources because it relies on finite resources.

Reliable and Continuous Power Generation

Unlike renewable energy sources that rely on intermittent weather conditions, nuclear energy provides a consistent and reliable power source. Base-load capacity is crucial for meeting the growing global energy demand and supporting the electrification of transportation and other sectors. Nuclear power plants can operate continuously for extended periods, ensuring a steady electricity supply to communities and supporting economic growth. Reliability in power generation is essential for achieving SDG 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy) and SDG 9 (Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure).

Nuclear power plants can be built and operated according to high safety standards, minimising the risk of accidents. Nuclear energy is a reliable, low-carbon source of electricity, which helps mitigate climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Sustainable Development and Economic Growth

Nuclear energy has the potential to drive sustainable development and economic growth. Constructing and operating nuclear power plants creates jobs, promotes local industries, and stimulates economic activity. Developing a robust nuclear industry also requires investments in education and research, fostering technological advancement and creating a skilled workforce. In this context, nuclear energy aligns with SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth).

Energy Efficiency and Land Use

Compared to many renewable energy sources, nuclear power plants require relatively small land areas, allowing more efficient land utilisation. This is particularly advantageous in densely populated regions where space is limited. By optimising land usage, nuclear energy supports sustainable urban planning, protects natural ecosystems, and contributes to SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities).

Public opinion on building nuclear power plants near homes can vary, but evidence suggests that support for nuclear energy has increased in recent years[3]. According to the National Nuclear Energy Public Opinion Survey conducted in 2022, there was a record-high public support for nuclear energy and building more nuclear power plants[3].

Image Credit: Bisconti Research, Inc.

Studies have shown that communities hosting nuclear power plants can reap economic benefits, including higher home values than areas near fossil-fueled power plants[4]. This suggests that some individuals may be more accepting of nuclear power plants being built near their homes due to the potential economic advantages.

Various factors can influence public opinion, including concerns about safety and waste disposal[5]. Accidents like Three Mile Island and Chernobyl have raised concerns and led to past opposition to nuclear power plants [5]. Studies have found that acceptance of nuclear power plants can vary across different countries and contexts[6], and it is important to consider specific local factors and community preferences when evaluating public opposition.

Economic benefits associated with hosting nuclear power plants may also influence local opinions[4]. However, concerns about safety, waste disposal, and past accidents have sometimes led to opposition [5]. Various factors can influence public opinion, and it is important to consider specific local contexts when assessing opposition to nuclear power plants.

Technological Innovation and Safety

Safety concerns surrounding nuclear energy have often overshadowed discussions regarding its potential benefits. However, advances in reactor design and safety protocols have significantly improved the overall safety record of nuclear power plants. Cutting-edge technologies, such as passive safety systems and small modular reactors, offer enhanced resilience and minimise the risk of accidents. Furthermore, stringent regulatory oversight ensures the safe operation of nuclear facilities, aligning with SDG 9 (Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure).

Photo Credit: American Institute of Chemical Engineers

Waste Management

Critics of nuclear energy often raise concerns about radioactive waste. However, it is important to recognise that advances in waste management technologies and practices have significantly reduced the environmental impact. Modern nuclear reactors, such as Generation IV designs, offer enhanced waste management capabilities, reducing the volume and longevity of radioactive waste. Developing sustainable and secure waste disposal methods is vital in addressing these concerns and achieving SDG 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production).

Final Thoughts

Proponents of new nuclear power plants argue that they can contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). They highlight that nuclear power is a low-carbon energy source, aligning with SDG 13 on Climate Action. It provides a reliable source of electricity, supporting SDG 7 on Affordable and Clean Energy and SDG 9 on Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure.

Nuclear power plants can stimulate economic growth, create jobs, and promote local industries, thus contributing to SDG 8 on Decent Work and Economic Growth. Additionally, proponents note that the efficient land use of nuclear plants aligns with SDG 11 on Sustainable Cities and Communities. They emphasise the technological advancements and safety improvements in nuclear energy to address safety concerns, while waste management methods have evolved to align with SDG 12 on Responsible Consumption and Production.

On the other hand, opponents of new nuclear power plants raise concerns about safety, waste disposal, and the financial burden. They argue that nuclear accidents pose significant safety risks, as incidents like Chernobyl and Fukushima demonstrate. Waste disposal is another worry, as adequate long-term storage solutions have yet to be universally established.

The high upfront costs of constructing new nuclear power plants are also a concern, which could divert investments from other sustainable development initiatives. Additionally, opponents highlight the finite resource dependency of nuclear energy and the potential adverse environmental impacts of mining and processing resources. Public opposition, driven by safety concerns, waste issues, and environmental risks, further complicates the establishment of new nuclear power plants.

It is essential to consider these arguments and thoroughly evaluate the potential benefits and drawbacks when discussing the role of new nuclear power plants in achieving the SDGs. It’s easy to argue that we need new nuclear power plants to achieve the SDGs. However, it is also important to consider the potential drawbacks and risks associated with this form of energy production. As I mentioned in the introduction, my choice would be an investment in renewable energy before nuclear any day. However, powerful lobbies can profit from building large-scale nuclear and less constructing renewable projects.


  1. DW: Fact check: Is nuclear energy good for the climate?
  2. Natural History Museum: Is nuclear energy renewable?
  3. Record High Public Support for Nuclear Energy, 2022 National Nuclear Energy Public Opinion Survey
  4. Host Communities and Nuclear Energy: Benefits for Some, Risks for Others
  5. Do You Want To Live Near A Nuclear Power Plant?: NPR
  6. Frontiers | Nuclear reactor at home? Public acceptance of small nuclear reactors in the neighborhood


Medika Life has provided this material for your information. It is not intended to substitute for the medical expertise and advice of your health care provider(s). We encourage you to discuss any decisions about treatment or care with your health care provider. The mention of any product, service, or therapy is not an endorsement by Medika Life

Christopher Nial
Christopher Nial
Christopher Nial is closely monitoring climate change impact on global public health. He serves as a Senior Partner at FINN Partners, is part of the Global Public Health Group, and co-leads public health initiatives across Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.
More from this author