Currently, when clean energy is brought up, one of the biggest debates is nuclear power. That is because there is a lot of debate on nuclear power and its pros and cons.
While it does have the ability to provide a lot of power and it can be an excellent stepping stone on the way to clean and renewable energy, it has some dangers and many people don’t like the thought of using nuclear power.
This is in part due to lack of understanding of how nuclear energy works and in part due to the dangers associated with nuclear energy, including radioactive waste and a meltdown of a reactor. However, nuclear energy has come a long way and offers a lot of potential.
If you want to learn more about the pros and cons and why nuclear energy is a serious possibility for powering our future, keep reading.
What Is Nuclear Energy?
Nuclear energy is defined as being a form of energy released from the nucleus. A nucleus is at the center of an atom made up of protons and neutrons.
There are two ways to get nuclear energy. These are known as fission and fusion. Essentially, to get nuclear power, you are either breaking apart atoms, or putting them together.
What is Nuclear Fission?
The process of nuclear fission is when you break the atoms apart. Usually, one atom will split into two or more smaller atoms by splitting the nuclei. Whenever a reaction like this occurs, heat and radiation are the byproducts.
Heat is what is used to create power, which is similar to how natural gas and the burning of coal produce electricity – via heat.
What is Nuclear Fusion?
Nuclear fusion occurs when two smaller atoms combine to form a larger one. This releases a large amount of energy. It is essentially how stars, including our own sun, work.
Unfortunately, we haven’t quite gathered enough research to understand how to harness all of that power and turn it into electricity generation.
Creating a nuclear reactor that could handle fusion would provide us with multiple sources of power, and a much higher power generation than we would get with nuclear fission.
Fusion is thought to contain four times more energy per kilogram of fuel than the energy of fission from nuclear plants provides. It is also easy enough to create fusion. However, we just don’t have the generators or a vessel to store the energy.
It is also a bit safer than fusion. If something goes wrong like a meltdown or a malfunction, there is no need for containment, as the plasma will naturally terminate and lose energy quickly before any damage is done.
Like fission, fusion is clean energy as well, as it does not provide any greenhouse gases.
What are the Benefits of Nuclear Energy?
There are many benefits to nuclear energy. The first is that it has one of the smallest carbon emissions of any energy technology we currently have in any country, including Russia, China, other parts of Asia, Italy, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Australia, the United States, France, Canada, and more.
It is expensive to create nuclear power systems as they need a lot to set them up. Not only do you need a site for production, but because of the inherent danger of using nuclear energy, you need additional setups like a control room, a backup, ways to protect the operator, a cooling tower, rods, and more.
However, despite those expensive and dangerous factors to take into account, nuclear power stations are still considered cost-effective. This is because they have low running costs and a long lifespan.
Nuclear also has the potential to meet all of our energy demands, and allow the world to grow. We don’t have to rely on things like the sun or wind, which can be somewhat unreliable, or dangerous fossil fuels to power our growing technologies.
So, not only does nuclear power protect our environment, it allows us to support constant growth in our large power demands and an increasing number of technologies.
How Efficient is Nuclear Energy?
Nuclear energy is considered one of the most efficient types of energy available today. It is considered to be 91% efficient compared to things like natural gas, which is 51%, and coal, which is 59%.
What are the Pros and Cons of Nuclear Power as an Energy?
- It releases little to no greenhouse gases like methane and carbon dioxide.
- It is continuous, and not reliant on wind blowing or the sun being out to work. The only requirements are heat and storage components.
- It is cheap to run, and the machinery and reactor itself will last a long time.
- It doesn’t take up a lot of space, so it can be put into development even in smaller countries.
- Meltdowns can cause serious loss of life, and currently, we have had 3 serious nuclear meltdowns; Fukushima, Japan, the Chernobyl disaster, and the Three Mile Island accident. Technically, there was another in 1961, the SL-1 accident, as well.
- There is a lot of nuclear waste that can’t be removed in any way and can be a source of a lot of dangerous radiation.
- Construction of a reactor that is capable of handling a chain reaction, turbines, security, accident guards, operation, and more can be very expensive.
- Technically, the material they use, uranium, is non-renewable.
- It can be hard to determine if nuclear weapons or nuclear power is being created by the government, which can cause some level of unease among countries.
What are thhe Biggest Misconceptions About Nuclear Power?
One of the biggest misconceptions about nuclear power is that the energy is dirty. This is often due to the large smoke stacks that you see releasing ‘smoke’ constantly.
However, these stacks are actually releasing steam because nuclear reactors need water as part of their cooling towers and they release the hot water somewhere else.
How Does a Nuclear Power Plant Work?
Nuclear power plants work by first heating water to produce steam. The steam then spins giant turbines, which then generate electricity. The water is heated by fission due to the splitting apart of atoms.
In the United States, the reactors are made with designs focused on pressurized water reactors. The reactors pump water into the reactor under high pressure to prevent waste of water via boiling.
Mining, Enrichment, and Disposal of Uranium
Uranium is the element that is primarily used as fuel for a nuclear reactor. Though it is technically non-renewable, it is an abundant resource. However, uranium has to be mined and processed before being turned into fuel.
Then, when done, the uranium can mostly be reprocessed and recycled, but there is still some radioactivity in the waste components.
Usually, the mining of uranium is open-pit, which means that a lot of natural space is lost as a huge mining pit is created. However, if the deposits are below 120 meters, then underground mining is used in addition.
Now, a lot of mining methods in countries throughout Europe are created with a design that uses weak acid or alkaline solutions that hold onto the uranium and allow it to be transferred to a mill.
At the mill, the uranium is recovered from the solution, heated, and dried. It is turned into U3O8 which is what the nuclear reactors use. Each reactor needs about 200 tons of this product to run for one year.
Once the uranium is used in a nuclear reactor, it is sorted into various waste. There are low, high, and medium levels of waste materials left at the end of the nuclear fuel cycle. These levels are based on the amount of radiation emitted.
Low-level waste is produced throughout the whole process. This can often be heated to be incorporated into things like glass to make it stronger. Medium waste is produced during reactor operations.
High-level waste occurs from the used fuel and during reprocessing. It must be carefully stored to prevent harm or risk of harm from the parts in the fuel.
Most of the time, nuclear waste is stored within the reactor for five years, where it gets reused. After five years, however, it is sent to a disposal site. These sites are safe storage to prevent leakage and dangerous chemicals from getting out until a safer option is created.
Nuclear Power and Climate Change
Nuclear power is a great benefit to reducing and preventing further climate change. While thermal, wind, sun, and water power are also great options, currently, they don’t provide us with the power we need to fully run every grid all around the country.
While nuclear is better in terms of delivering the right amount of power, there are some issues that governments and countries need to target in the industry. For instance, while uranium is plentiful, there is a lack of renewable resources when it comes to nuclear energy.
This means that in the future, nuclear power could be reduced in efficiency once we run out of uranium, or there are too many rocks between us and the ore deposits we need. It is a good mediatory between other renewable energy sources, but nuclear power, or at least nuclear fission, should not be our end goal when it comes to climate change.
Need for New Generating Capacity
It is well-known from the information we have that continuing to use fossil fuels and natural gas is not practical. With the high demand we have for power throughout the world, it just isn’t possible to continue using oil and gas the way we are.
Yet, we are still using these greenhouse gases for a majority of our power, and there are currently not many plans to change the way we use them, which leads to concerns.
While natural gases aren’t the only type of energy we have, they play a central role in our energy production. In 2019, 63% of our electricity throughout the world will be created using fossil fuels.
The reason is that, although we have other options, we don’t have the space, fleet, power, and the storage of this more clean and renewable energy. While it is a fact that nuclear fission is a huge stepping stone to clean energy, it also isn’t perfect and at some point we need to gravitate towards cleaner services and energy production.
Improved Performance From Existing Reactors
While there have been problems with the content of nuclear reactors in the past, the average nuclear reactor is now much safer and undergoes much more maintenance.
In the last 40 years, more and more reactors have managed to reach high capacity levels. Now, we have around 68% of reactors with at least an 80% capacity factor in 2021, whereas it was 30% in the 1970s.
Issues Affecting Nuclear Power
One of the biggest issues affecting nuclear power is the amount of radioactive waste that is produced. While we are making a good trend towards healthier and cleaner energy, with the total amount of danger in nuclear reactors, we should rely on them for our end goals.
Many people are understandably worried about the safety of nuclear reactors. There have been 4 major problems in the history of all nuclear units, with serious harm to the community when they occur.
For example, Fukushima was the most recent in 2011 and it not only harmed everyone in the reactor, but a lot of nearby people as well. However, while those were tragic, they weren’t the standard.
Because of having well over six decades and 18,500 cumulative reactor-years between all of the reactors in over 36 countries, it isn’t that big of an amount. There is also a lot of worry about nuclear and radioactive attacks on warring countries.
However, since so many countries use these reactors and therefore have access to a good portion of the radioactive waste, there is actually a reduced chance of terrorist attacks using this technology.
This is because, with so much chance of a big negative reaction from all of the other countries, navigation of the threats is harder and there is a share of the responsibility and ethics of every country.
Why do people not like nuclear power?
People don’t like nuclear power for a few reasons. The first is the perceived danger if something does happen to one of the reactors. Additionally, there is the chance of weapons being created from waste.
Finally, the biggest issue is that countries will start to use nuclear power without making an effort to move forward to continue to increase current clean and renewable energy.
Why is nuclear power a problem?
Nuclear power is a problem because it isn’t actually very renewable and there is a lot of radioactive waste as a byproduct that we do not yet have the means to properly dispose of yet. This means that we are really just swapping one bad power for another.
Can we run out of nuclear energy?
Since nuclear energy relies on uranium, we could theoretically run out of nuclear energy. While it may take many decades before that happens, maybe even centuries, it is still a possibility.
Can we live without nuclear energy?
Currently, it isn’t feasible to live without nuclear energy. Since we don’t have a way to sufficiently store and rely upon renewable and clean energy, the power we are currently generating from nuclear energy would then have to be made from fossil fuels. Doing this would cause climate change to worsen.
Why are we shutting down nuclear power plants?
There are a few reasons why nuclear power plants may be shut down. The first is that an old one may no longer be very safe, and it is currently too expensive to repair, meaning that it just has to be shut down.
Additionally, there are a lot of misconceptions surrounding nuclear power plants, leading to stakeholders shutting them down in order to make the general population happy and feel safer.
Where is nuclear power generated?
The five major countries where the most nuclear power is generated are the United States, France, China, Japan, and Russia. Of that, the United States generates the most power. However, France generates the most power in its country using nuclear power.
While the United States produces 97 million kilowatts of power, that is only about 20% of its total electricity. Meanwhile, France produces 61 million kilowatts, but that is almost 70% of the country’s power.
Where does the nuclear waste go?
Currently, used nuclear fuel, or nuclear waste, is kept underwater for five years. Then it is put in dry storage. The best solution at the moment is considered to be deep underground storage. This keeps it out of our soil, and from potentially injuring people if there is a leak.
Where do nuclear power plants get their uranium?
Uranium for power plants often comes from deep mining or open-pit mining. Most of these mining practices are done in six countries, which are:
Where are nuclear power plants located?
There are plants that produce energy by nuclear reactions, and they are called nuclear power plants. Because of the substantial amounts of water needed for cooling reasons, these facilities are frequently situated close to rivers.
Nuclear power stations in the United States are concentrated mostly on the eastern seaboard. Nonetheless, over 30 nations worldwide employ nuclear power to generate electricity.
Not all areas employ nuclear power plants at the moment, but this might change in the future as nations investigate other energy sources. This includes some sections of Asia, Iceland, Africa, and Australia.