Technology has created a need for constant energy and power. It has made us so used to living with devices that require energy constantly that it is impossible for us to live without them. However, it has also given us the sources for that power. Some of these sources have always been there, it just gave us the machinery required to harness energy from them. In other cases, it has created entirely new sources of energy. One of the sources of energy that have been created by technology is nuclear energy. No matter what the public perception around it is, one cannot ascertain how good or bad of an energy source it is without weighing its advantages and disadvantages.
WHAT IS NUCLEAR ENERGY?
People who are good at science or have some experience with it might be able to infer the basic idea of nuclear energy from its name. Nuclear energy is the energy found within the core of an atom. It gets its name from ‘nucleus’, which is what the core of an atom is called.
Atoms are the building blocks of the universe. Millions and millions of atoms combine to form all the things in the world. It forms buildings, cars, electronics, clothing, metals, and everything else. The energy source for nuclear energy is what holds the nucleus together. This means that without this energy, the nucleus would not have existed. As a consequence of that, no atoms, and the ultimate result of this would have been no universe. A huge amount of energy is concentrated in a nucleus. It is aptly named the “strong force.”
This energy is what is used to create electricity. However, it first needs to be released from the atom in order to create electricity.
The process used to extract this energy is known as nuclear fission.
WHAT IS NUCLEAR FISSION?
In simple terms, nuclear fission is the process that splits atoms in order to release the energy in the nucleus.
A nuclear power plants control this process to extract energy. They are also known as nuclear reactors. Nuclear power plants are made up of machines that control nuclear fission. They use uranium in order to break apart atoms. A machine forces atoms of uranium to break apart. Fission occurs when uranium atoms are hit by slow-moving neutrons. Once an atom breaks apart, it releases tiny particles called “fission products”. These products trigger other uranium atoms and make them split. This keeps on happening and creates a chain reaction. This chain reaction produces heat.
Reactors also have cooling agents stored in large quantities. It depends on each nuclear reactor, but this agent can be water, liquid metal, or molten salt. The heat produced by nuclear fission heats up the cooling agent. As a result, steam is created. This steam is used to power turbines or wheels. These turbines are connected to generators or engines that produce electricity.
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WHAT ARE TYPES OF NUCLEAR REACTORS?
There are mainly three types of nuclear reactors. These include pressurized water reactors, boiling water reactors, and pressurized heavy water reactors.
Pressurized water reactors use ordinary water as a cooling agent. This water is prevented from turning into flash steam by keeping it pressurized. The water is circulated through pipes, whereas the heat that boils the water is transferred via a separate loop. PWRs are the most common form of nuclear reactor used globally.
Boiling water reactors keep the coolant at a lower pressure than in a PWR, allowing it to boil. The steam is passed directly to the turbine generators to produce electricity.
Pressurized heavy water reactors use heavy water as both coolant and moderator, and use natural uranium as fuel. As in a PWR, the coolant is used to boil ordinary water in a separate loop. These reactors can be refuelled without shutting the reaction down. They are also known as CANDU reactors. They comprise nearly 1/10th of all nuclear reactors in the world.
Advantages of Nuclear Energy
Relatively Low Costs
The initial construction costs of nuclear power plants are large. On top of this, when the power plants first have been built, we are left with the costs to enrich and process the nuclear fuel (e.g. uranium), control and get rid of nuclear waste, as well as the maintenance of the plant.
Even though the initial costs might be high, when it is spread over a long term, it becomes very cost-efficient.
Generating electricity in nuclear reactors is cheaper than electricity generating from oil, gas and coal. All you need is deep pockets in the phase of initial expansion. The process costs for the plant get stabilized after a given period of time.
Base Load Energy
Nuclear power plants provide a stable base load of energy. The electricity production from the plants can be lowered when good wind and solar resources are available and cranked up when the demand is high.
This can work synergistic with renewable energy sources such as wind and solar energy.
It is in most cases more beneficial, in terms of the climate crisis, to replace other energy harnessing methods we use today with nuclear power.
Nuclear energy is a clean form of energy in comparison to energy sources like coal or petroleum. However, nuclear waste is potentially harmful for both humans and the environment.
Overall, in light of the escalating dangers of the climate crisis, it is increasingly better to move towards energy sources which are nuclear.
Powerful and Efficient
The other main advantage of using nuclear energy is that it is very powerful and efficient than the other available energy sources. Advancement in technologies has made it more viable option than others. This is one the reason that many countries are putting huge investments in nuclear power. At present, a small portion of world’s electricity comes through it.
Disadvantages of Nuclear Energy
Nuclear energy is considered to be a clean source of energy. However, it generates a large amount of waste. This waste is extremely radioactive, to the extent that it is lethal for the environment. It is also hazardous for both human and non-human life. If not disposed of correctly, it can cause long-lasting harm that can be passed on from generation to generation. According to some sources, the immediate losses associated with nuclear waste management in the United States are as high as $65 billion.
Even though it is a source that can provide energy as and when needed, it takes a long time to establish a nuclear facility. Currently, the average time needed in order to build a new nuclear facility from scratch is 14.5 years. Currently, energy needs related combustion is responsible for about 90% of pollution related deaths every year. So, if the world’s entire energy requirements to nuclear energy immediately, approximately a 100 million people would still die till nuclear energy can fulfil our needs.
Technically Non-Renewable Energy
As an energy resource, nuclear energy is not classified as either renewable energy or non-renewable. However, uranium is needed to produce nuclear energy. Uranium is, in a way, a fossil fuel. As a consequence, nuclear energy is also a fossil fuel. Additionally, it needs to be refined to a refined to a very fine form to be usable. If nuclear power is to be made into a viable resource of energy for a long period of time, we need to find a way to increase our reserves of uranium. The United States has an estimated 60 million pounds that are usable, but some countries have less than 20 years of product available to them.
Pros and Cons of Nuclear Energy
|Relatively low costs||
Base load energy
Technically non-renewable energy
Powerful and efficient