Last Updated on March 15, 2021 by Filip Poutintsev
Nuclear energy is the energy in the nucleus (core) of an atom. Nuclear energy, also called atomic energy, can be defined as the energy that is generated through nuclear reactions.
There is a huge amount of energy in an atoms dense nucleus, which can be used to generate electricity. The most popular method of releasing nuclear energy is by controlled nuclear fission in devices called reactors.
Nuclear energy is considered as one of the environmentally friendly sources of energy as it produces lesser greenhouse gases during the process of electricity production. Nuclear power can be regarded a few thousand times more efficient compared to fossil fuels like coal when it comes to power production.
Nuclear fission is the process that is used in nuclear reactors to produce a high amount of energy. Nuclear fission occurs when the atom of a nucleus is split, releasing very large amounts of energy, which is then converted into electricity. The fuel used in the process of nuclear fission in the nuclear reactor is uranium, which is a radioactive element.
As at 2020, nuclear energy has been a quite important global energy source, which accounted for around 10% of the overall energy production worldwide. Around 20% of the US’s electricity demand is fulfilled through nuclear energy. There are more than 400 nuclear reactors in the world out of which more than 100 reactors are only in the US.
Nuclear energy is created through the process of splitting atoms—specifically, uranium atoms. The process used to produce nuclear energy is called fission. In nuclear plants, nuclear fission occurs when the atom of a nucleus is split, which releases a huge amount of energy. The atoms are continuously split, creating chain reactions that provide high amounts of sustainable energy for a long period.
In a fission reaction, a large atom is split down into smaller atoms. During the process, a massive amount of heat energy is produced, which is then used to produce electricity. The heat energy thus generated is used to heat water into steam, which turns the turbine and generates electricity. Nuclear power plants simply provide a controlled environment for these reactions to occur.
Pros of Nuclear Energy
1. Minimises Pollution
Compared with other types of energy sources, nuclear power stands out as an environmentally friendly energy source. Nuclear power has less greenhouse emission compared to traditional energy sources.
Nuclear power generates energy by bombarding uranium with neutrons and not like burning fossil fuels which emits greenhouse gases into the environment. Nuclear plants don’t produce carbon dioxide or any other harmful gases. However, the nuclear plant produces nuclear waste which is controlled by the reactor.
2. High Power Output
Nuclear energy has an incredibly high fuel to power output ratio. Nuclear has a large power-generating capacity and low operating costs, making it ideal for base load generation. A single nuclear reactor has the capacity to meet city and industrial needs alone.
A small amount of uranium is capable of fueling a nuclear reactor that is capable of producing 1000 MW of electricity. With the use of nuclear power plants, large amounts of electricity can be produced each day without relying on other energy sources. Nuclear Energy has the capacity to meet the increasing energy demand.
3. Low Operating Cost
The initial construction cost of the nuclear power plant is high however, the after costs which include the cost of running the nuclear plant is relatively less. Generating electricity in nuclear plants is cheaper than electricity generating from oil, gas, and coal.
The cost of fuel i.e. Uranium is relatively less. Hence, nuclear energy is one of the cost-effective energy solutions available. Thus by operating nuclear power plants, it is possible to supply the general public with cheap electricity on a large scale.
Nuclear plants are designed to operate without any interruption, thus promising continuous flow of electricity throughout the year. Commercial fusion reactors promise an inexhaustible source of electricity for countries worldwide. Nuclear power is not affected by outside conditions.
Nuclear power does not rely on whether or wind condition to operate properly like solar or wind energy. Hence, nuclear energy provides a more stable form of energy than wind and solar power because nuclear power plants can operate in any environmental condition. This makes nuclear power one of the most reliable energy options available.
5. High Energy Density
The amount of energy released in a nuclear fission reaction is ten million times greater than the amount released in burning fossil fuels like coal, gas, and oil. That’s a substantial amount of energy density. Because nuclear energy is more efficient, it requires less fuel to power the plant compared to other types of power plants and therefore creates less waste as well.
6. Fuel Availability
Unlike other energy sources, nuclear power requires a very less amount of fuel. Also, nuclear energy doesn’t rely on fossil fuels hence nuclear power is not affected by the unpredictability of oil and gas prices. There is a limited amount of nuclear fuel i.e. uranium available on the earth. It is estimated that our Uranium reserve lasts another 80 years. If we somehow know to control fusion reactions, then we can make uranium or similar atoms along with a large amount of energy.
Cons of Nuclear Energy
1. High Initial Cost
Nuclear power plants are highly expensive to build, though their operating cost is quite low. The estimated cost to build a nuclear power plant is somewhere between 2-10 billion USD.
Apart from the building expense, nuclear plants must also allocate funds to protect the waste they produce and keep it in cooled structures with security procedures in place. All these costs make a nuclear plant quite expensive.
2. Radioactive Waste
One of the prominent cons of the nuclear plant is the radioactive waste that plant produces. Radioactive waste is the source of harmful radioactive radiation. In small quantities, radiation isn’t harmful—but radioactive waste from nuclear energy production is incredibly dangerous.
Unlike other waste, nuclear waste cannot simply be disposed of land or burned. The radioactive waste must be securely stored so it doesn’t pollute the environment. Nuclear plants are still facing a huge challenge for the storage of radioactive waste.
The radioactive waste from the nuclear plant has serious effects on both lives and the environment. If not handled with care, it can cause serious accidents like one happened in Chernobyl. Chernobyl accident is the worst nuclear accident in the history of the industry.
The harmful effects are still present to this day, though it happened 30 years ago. Nuclear accidents are most vital as it targets both who are near the accident area as well as those who are thousands of miles away. Nuclear accidents have harmful effects on humans and ecology for a long period.
4. Security Threat
Nuclear power always stands as a threat to national security. Since nuclear energy is a great source of energy hence can be used to make weapons. If these nuclear weapons go to the wrong hands, could turn the whole world into chaos. Terrorists might target nuclear power plants to create a disaster. For these reasons, security surrounding nuclear power plants is extremely important.
Concluding the article, we can say that the several important pros of nuclear energy overweight’s cons. The low operating costs, friendly nature to the environment, and a variety of other economic benefits make it the most efficient energy source. There are also challenges when producing nuclear energy, including expense, safety, waste, and security.
Nuclear energy has been an important energy source over the past decades. However, it may lose its importance in future decades because of its unsustainable nature and serious issues caused by it. Renewable energy like wind and solar energy might replace nuclear power in the future.For now, though, nuclear energy remains one of the only viable options for solving Earth’s increasing energy needs.