Nuclear Power and Sustainability: Exploring its Pros and Cons for Bitcoin Mining

Published on 17 July 2023 by in Research

nuclear power for bitcoin mining


Welcome to part 5 of the sustainable energy series! In this part we will take a look at a potential sustainable energy source that has been hotly debated the last few years: nuclear power. 

First developed during the mid-20th century, nuclear power has become a significant source of energy for many countries today, while also helping in mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. In North America and Europe, the amount of energy generated by nuclear power plants has remained quite steady for the last twenty to thirty years, while the nuclear capacity in Asian countries has been on the rise, powering their upcoming industries. However, nuclear power has long been a controversial topic. Opponents of this technology often regard it as dangerous, with great risks for environment and health, while supporters praise its potential in lowering our dependence on fossil fuels and increasing energy security. 

In this article, we will evaluate the sustainability of nuclear power, as well as its advantages and disadvantages, to explore whether it has potential as a sustainable energy source for the mining of bitcoin and other blockchain-related technologies.

About nuclear power

What is nuclear power?

Nuclear power is a form of energy generated from the process of nuclear fission. It involves the splitting of atomic nuclei, typically of heavy elements such as uranium or plutonium, into smaller fragments, which releases a tremendous amount of energy. This energy is harnessed in nuclear power plants to produce electricity. The electricity originates from the large amounts of heat energy that are being generated during the fission process. The power plant uses this heat to generate steam, which drives a turbine connected to a generator, producing electricity. 

There are slight variations in the techniques and technologies used in nuclear power plants, with new or improved variations being developed to increase efficiency, reduce waste, and increase safety.

Where do the nuclear fuels come from?

The primary fuels in nuclear power generation are uranium and plutonium, both highly radioactive materials. Uranium is primarily extracted from uranium mines in different countries around the world. The extraction process typically involves mining uranium ore from the ground, which is then processed to extract uranium concentrate, also known as yellowcake. The yellowcake is further processed and enriched before it can be used as fuel in nuclear reactors.

Plutonium is not that abundant naturally, so most of it is produced artificially in nuclear reactors. It is derived from the irradiation of uranium-238 in a reactor, where uranium-238 captures neutrons and undergoes a series of nuclear reactions, eventually transforming into plutonium-239.

It is worth noting that the use of plutonium as a fuel in nuclear power plants is relatively limited compared to uranium. Plutonium is primarily associated with the recycling of spent nuclear fuel, a process known as nuclear reprocessing. During reprocessing, plutonium and other reusable materials are separated from the spent fuel, and the recovered plutonium can be used as mixed oxide (MOX) fuel in some reactors.

Is nuclear power sustainable?

In light of climate change, many supporters of nuclear power hail its very low emissions of greenhouse gases during the energy generating process. Nuclear power can substitute fossil fuel derived energy and therefore lower our emissions. Considering this, nuclear power is indeed a sustainable energy source. 

However, the process of generating nuclear power also generates radioactive waste, which remains incredibly dangerous for hundreds to thousands of years. Mishandling of this waste or leakages in their storage facilities can be very harmful for both the environment and the health of humans and animals alike. Since the waste remains hazardous for such a long time, nuclear power is not sustainable in terms of potential environmental pollution.

The advantages of nuclear power

Low greenhouse gas emissions

Maybe the most important advantage of nuclear power is the very low amount of greenhouse gas emissions of nuclear power plants. This is especially positive with the current climate change, caused by excessive emissions of greenhouse gases. With their low emissions, nuclear power can help in mitigating climate change and lowering our emissions.

High energy density

Nuclear fuel has a very high energy density, meaning a small amount of fuel can generate a large amount of electricity. This allows for efficient use of resources and reduces the need for large-scale fuel transportation. It also means that generating energy from nuclear fuel is very efficient, in contrast to, for example, energy generated from biomass, which requires a lot of fuel.

Steady base-load electricity

Nuclear power plants can operate continuously and provide a consistent supply of electricity, making them suitable for base-load power generation. They can meet the steady, constant demand for electricity without fluctuations, unlike some renewable energy sources that are intermittent in nature, such as wind and solar power. Both of those are reliant on the weather, which is always changing.

Energy security

Countries with domestic nuclear power capabilities can reduce their dependence on imported fossil fuels, enhancing energy security and reducing vulnerability to price fluctuations and geopolitical factors.

In addition to this, nuclear power can provide the increase in electricity generating capacity that many countries are in need of due to increasing demand for power from industries and households. Moreover, nuclear power plants can generate large amounts of electricity, making them suitable for very highly densely populated areas as well. 

The efficiency and high capacity of nuclear power also makes this a relatively cheap power source, which is great for operations requiring a lot of energy, such as bitcoin mining.

The disadvantages of nuclear power

While the advantages may make nuclear power seem like a great alternative to fossil fuels and other harmful sources of energy, there is a lot of discourse about this topic for a reason. Let’s look at the disadvantages of this power source.

Risk of accidents

Perhaps the greatest source of negative perceptions about nuclear power plants is the risk of accidents, specifically the fact that a major nuclear accident poses great threats to human health and mortality. Despite stringent safety measures and big leaps forward in the development of nuclear technology, there is always a risk of an accident happening, albeit very small. Still, if an accident happens, it can have severe consequences. Major incidents like the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 and the Fukushima accident in 2011 are imprinted in our collective memory. Large parts of the Chernobyl area had to be evacuated due to radioactive fall out, and the area is still largely abandoned. 

Accidents can release radioactive materials into the environment, leading to widespread health and environmental impacts. While modern reactor designs incorporate enhanced safety features, the risk of human error, natural disasters, or technological failures remains a concern. Especially in densely populated areas, an accident can have tremendous impacts on public health.

Radioactive waste

We already briefly touched upon this disadvantage earlier: radioactive waste. Nuclear power generation produces radioactive waste that remains hazardous for thousands of years. Managing and disposing of this waste safely is a significant challenge. It requires robust containment measures to prevent leakage and ensure long-term storage. The potential for accidents or human error in handling radioactive waste raises concerns about environmental contamination and health risks.

Furthermore, there is the added challenge of warning generations in the far future about the hazards of sites where nuclear waste is stored. Language can be a very volatile thing, capable of evolving and changing over the span of centuries. So, how do we create warnings about the risks of entering or opening areas of radioactive waste that people thousands of years into the future will still be able to understand? A potential solution to this problem is hostile architecture: intentional design measures aimed at discouraging and preventing people from accessing radioactive waste storage facilities or areas. An example is pouring layers of concrete over an area where radioactive waste lays buried, to discourage people from digging in the ground or doing agriculture here. Still, the handling and storage of radioactive waste from nuclear power plants is a major and dangerous disadvantage of this energy source.

High upfront costs

Building a nuclear power plant requires substantial capital investment. The construction of nuclear facilities involves complex engineering, safety systems, and strict regulatory compliance, leading to high upfront costs. Additionally, the cost of decommissioning nuclear power plants at the end of their operational life and managing radioactive waste further adds to the economic burden. These costs can make nuclear power economically challenging compared to some other energy sources, especially considering the decreasing costs of renewable energy technologies.

Limited fuel supply

While uranium, the primary fuel for nuclear power, is currently available in sufficient quantities, it is a finite resource. As nuclear power expands globally, concerns arise about the long-term sustainability of fuel supply. The exploration and extraction of uranium can have environmental impacts, and reliance on limited geographic sources may introduce geopolitical dependencies. Exploring alternative fuel cycles, such as thorium, could potentially expand fuel availability, but these technologies are still in the early stages of development.

Potential misuse of nuclear technologies

Another major concern of opponents is the potential misuse of nuclear technologies and materials, especially with regard to the construction of nuclear weapons. There are international safeguards in place, such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that aim to prevent misuse of nuclear materials, and to ensure safety standards are being met in nuclear facilities. However, concerns about countries and other organizations developing and using nuclear weapons remain.

Negative public perception

Finally, one of the biggest hurdles for a broader use of nuclear power is the generally quite negative public perception of this type of power source. Due to the significant negative impacts of an accident, and the occurrence of major accidents in the past, many people associate nuclear power plants with risk and safety concerns. Public perception can influence government policies, leading to limitations or phase-outs of nuclear power. The potential of nuclear power in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, however, has led some people to view nuclear energy in a slightly more positive light.


Nuclear power comes with both opportunities and challenges in its potential to serve as a sustainable energy source for bitcoin mining. On the one hand, as a low-carbon energy option, nuclear power can contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions associated with bitcoin mining operations. However, on the other hand, nuclear power’s disadvantages are quite serious and public perception poses a large obstacle. It is also not very suitable to construct a nuclear power plant just for bitcoin mining purposes, unlike solar panels or wind turbines for example.

A thorough assessment of the local context, including the availability of alternative renewable energy sources and the specific demands of the bitcoin mining industry, should guide decision-making.

Sources / further reading

  • Karakosta, C., Pappas, C., Marinakis, V., & Psarras, J. (2013). Renewable energy and nuclear power towards sustainable development: Characteristics and prospects. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 22, 187-197.
  • Pearce, J. M. (2012). Limitations of nuclear power as a sustainable energy source. Sustainability, 4(6), 1173-1187.