Nuclear energy is a renewable source of energy. It is environmentally friendly as it produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions unlike traditional sources like a coal power plants.
Before we start discussing the pros and cons of nuclear energy it is better to know about its production mechanism. Nuclear energy is created through the process of splitting atoms called nuclear fission.
Using nuclear fission it becomes two smaller lighter atoms when the atom is split producing a large amount of energy in the form of heat, which is used to produce electricity. Mostly uranium atom is used in nuclear power plants.
Although nuclear energy is environment-friendly disposal of radioactive waste and protecting people and the environment from its radiation is a big threat to mother earth. Nuclear energy crisis like Chernobyl and Fukushima has a negative impact on people about its future sustainability.
In the United States only, there are 104 commercial power plants producing a massive 806.2 TWh of electricity, in other words, 20% of the entire electricity generation (2008).
19% of the electricity used in the US are producing through a nuclear reactor. The nuclear reactor was first used to produce electricity in 1951.
Post Content - In Short
- Pros of Nuclear Energy
- Cons of Nuclear Energy
Pros of Nuclear Energy
1. Inexpensive Source of Energy
Radioactive isotopes (usually uranium) and water are used as fuel in nuclear power plant which cost less. If initial investment such as building cost are taken apart nuclear energy is comparatively low – cost to generate.
It allows more people and factories to enjoy electricity without interruption. The operation cost is also very as compared to other power plants.
The overall expenses for setting up nuclear power plants is comparatively minimal considering their typical lifetime, which is about 40-60 years.
The management of radioactive fuel and disposal of nuclear plants cost between 33 to 50 % of a coal plant and 20 to 25% of a gas combined-cycle plant.
The US Department of Energy(DOE) estimates that to replace a 1GW nuclear power plant would require 2GW of coal or 3 GW to 4 GW from renewable sources to generate the same amount of electricity.
2. Low Greenhouse Gas Emission
The greenhouse gas emission is very low in the case of nuclear power plants as compared to coal, natural gas or diesel, and other electric generating plants.
Because of the fact that carbon dioxide, methane, and other similar gases are responsible for the depletion of the earth’s atmosphere, nuclear power plants are the best option for producing electric power.
According to the Nuclear Energy Institute(NEI), nuclear energy produces more clean air energy than any other source. It produces 62% of all emission-free electricity in the United States.
The cloud of gas that is coming out of a nuclear reactor is nothing more than vapourised water. The present consumption of nuclear energy already reduces over 555 million metric tons of emissions per year.
3. Power Output is Maximum
In the case of nuclear power plants, the fuel to power ratio is unbelievably high. One realtor can generate electricity to meet the need of the city and industries. A comparatively small amount of uranium can be used to fuel a 1000 Megawatts electric plant. As compared to fossils fuels they have high energy density.
It is estimated the amount of energy released by nuclear fission is approximately ten million times more than the energy released by fossil fuel atom and 8000 thousand times more efficient. The nuclear power plant creates less waste as well.
The United States falls under the top nation to produce nuclear power- just under 805 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity in 2017. There are 99 nuclear power plants in the United States supplying 20% of the nation’s electricity each year since 1990.
4. Reliable Source of Energy
Nuclear energy is regarded as one of the reliable sources of energy as it does not depend upon external factors such as weather conditions. The nuclear power plant continues to operate at the same speed even though there is a disruption in the climatic condition.
Whereas solar energy and wind energy totally depend on weather conditions. There is the production of wind energy as long as there is the presence of wind and solar energy as long as there is sunlight.
It is reliable in the sense that we have enough uranium on the planet that lasts for about the next 70 – 80 years. Although it sounds like less time actually fossil fuels are going to use up earlier than this.
Nuclear energy creates a predictable and steady energy output. A nuclear plant can produce energy non-stop for an entire year allowing a good return as there is no delay in energy production
5. Positive Economic Impact
Nuclear plants generate a large number of job opportunities for hundreds of workers. It brings prosperity among people.
According to NEA, 400 to 700 permanent jobs excluding workers during its construction period. Nuclear power plants generate close to $500 million annually in sales of goods and services.
The 104 nuclear units in the US generate substantial domestic economic value in electricity sales and revenue -$40 – $50 billion each year – with over 100,000 workers contributing to production.
Cons of Nuclear Energy
1. Environmental Impact
As we know the uranium that is used as fuel in nuclear plants is highly radioactive. it is of great concern among nuclear energy advocates. A typical nuclear power plant generates 20 metric tons of radioactive waste per year.
In order to manage nuclear waste effectively, it requires a lot of money and specially designed storage space. The process of mining and refining uranium is very complex so it may have a negative impact on the environment if proper handling is not performed.
In addition to highly radioactive waste, things like clothes and tools used during mining and refining are an issue. Proper disposal is key but isn’t easy. Reprocessing is an option, but it isn’t used worldwide.
2. Potential of Nuclear Accident
The radioactive waste can cause serious effects on the lives of people as well as the environment. Despite all the safety measures taken different factors caused them to go into meltdown such as Three Mile Island in 1979, Chernobyl in 1986 and most recently Fukushima in 2011.
According to officials, the Chernobyl accident took the lives of 54 people immediately although this was not the true data. The International Atomic Energy Agency(IAEA) established a figure of 4,000 death overall.
Although rare, if the accident takes place, the effects of radioactive waste in an uncontrolled situation are detrimental to humans and ecology. To prevent such extreme situation the US government takes extreme caution to stop such catastrophic damage.
3. Expensive and Long Time to Build
Building a power plant almost took 5-10 years costing billions of dollars. There are safety measures to follow, components to secure, and waste to remove and store which requires a lot of money and time.
The costs involved in installing radiation containment systems are high. Whereas building electricity plants that run on traditional sources requires less money and time.
For building a nuclear power plant, a recent virtual test reactor in the US estimate rose from$3.5 billion to $6billion. From 2002 to 2008 the estimated cost to build a nuclear power plant grew from $2 – $4 billion.
4. Security Threat
Nuclear power plants are extremely dangerous if it falls in the hand of the wrong people. Uranium that is used to power the plant can be turned into a nuclear weapon which is highly dangerous because of its immense power. Security is a prime concern because little lax in security can be brutal for mankind.
5. Nuclear Energy is Not a Renewable Source of Energy
Uranium and thorium are the energy source of nuclear energy. As we know uranium is an infinite amount and estimated to last for about the next 30 to 60 years we should look for an alternative energy source.
Although there is a plentiful supply of uranium in the present context one day it will be used up unlike wind and solar energy sources. Last but not least, nuclear energy is not a renewable fuel source although nuclear energy itself is a renewable energy source.
Uranium is found in rocks all over the world and nuclear power plants usually use a very limited type of uranium, U – 35.