Nuclear Energy: Advantages and Disadvantages

Nuclear Power

Nuclear power is developed by the process of nuclear fission. It involves splitting the atom into multiple parts. A radioactive element is placed in a closed chamber and is bombarded with a neutron. The atom of the element absorbs the neutron and breaks down into multiple pieces. This breakdown of atoms releases radiations which are used to heat the water by undergoing a chain reaction. Due to excessive heating, the water gets converted to steam. This steam is further used to rotate the turbines. This mechanical energy possessed by the rotating turbines is further fed to a generator that produces electricity with the help of electromagnetic induction. The process of nuclear fission is quite complicated and is responsible for a huge amount of heat release in form of steam. Radioactive elements such as uranium, thorium, etc. work as the ignition to drive nuclear power plants. Mostly, nuclear energy is considered to be destructive. However, it is one of the most environment-friendly sources of energy generation. Nuclear energy came to the limelight for the first time in the year 1945, when the US dropped its first atomic bomb over the city of Hiroshima, Japan. After this, the scientists tried to develop and search for new techniques and methods to convert this energy into useful power. In power generation, the uranium element used can be 5-10 % pure, while for weaponization it has to be about 90% pure. The process of power generation for conventional use looked simple on the paper and through the calculations. However, the implementation was complex and not supported by most investors. They feared that the technology might not provide good returns to them. Nuclear energy promised a future that shall be independent of the conventional sources of energy. Nuclear energy is the cleanest and cheapest method of generating electricity. Another process called nuclear fusion can also be used to generate nuclear power. But, it is not usually employed because it is extremely exothermic and requires keen observation. Nuclear fusion is the process by virtue of which two or more atoms are combined to form a large body. The process is toxic and requires huge investment. These characteristics make it unfit for nuclear power generation. Most nuclear reactors that exist in the present world were built between 1970 and 1985 because during this time-period a war in the middle east led to a severe hike in oil prices. At this time people began to think of an efficient and cheap source of energy generation. Nuclear power served to be an adequate replacement for oil and other traditional fuels. In the current scenario, 10% of energy is contributed by nuclear energy. Currently, there are about 440 reactors in 30 countries.

Advantages

1. Clean

Traditional energy generation techniques make use of fossil fuels such as coal, wood, petroleum, etc. These fossil fuels release toxic gases in the air upon combustion and are also responsible for leaving waste residue after burning. This causes a number of breathing problems and other health hazards. On the other hand, the waste produced by nuclear energy plants is dumped deep inside the earth’s surface. If toxic waste dumping is compared with toxic waste being openly released in the air, the former seems much more logical, while the latter is a silent killer.

2. Less Carbon Content 

Nuclear energy is most popular for its nature of releasing a negligible amount of carbon into the air. The process of nuclear fission which is responsible for nuclear energy generation releases thermal energy or steam as a by-product. Therefore, there exist no carbon-rich toxic gases being liberated during or after the completion of the energy generation process. The steam generated is nothing but water converted from liquid to the gaseous form. Hence, is not harmful at all.

3. Technology Advancement 

Nuclear energy, being one of the latest technology being used in the scientific world, creates more job opportunities for the youth. The technology is already under research and promises a great future to humanity. Technology advancement is also necessary for the development of a country. Therefore, nuclear power enables the rank improvement of a nation in terms of growth.

4. National Security

Nuclear power primarily earned recognition while being developed and used as a destructive weapon. It was decades after which ethical usage of nuclear energy came into consideration. This portrayed nuclear power as a matter of national security. In terms of safety, nuclear power plays an important role because a nuclear energy-equipped nation is less likely to be challenged for war because the consequences of using nuclear power are very well known to all humanity.

5. Resists Climate Change 

Nuclear fuel is not combustible and does not release any carbon-rich gases into the environment. Therefore, nuclear energy keeps the environment safe by avoiding any sort of pollutant generation. Take an example of a thorium reactor. Thorium is abundantly available, is tough enough to make weapons, and generates 2 order magnitude less waste. One ton of thorium generates power equal to the power generated by 200 tons of uranium, which is equivalent to 3.5 million tons of coal burnt in order to generate power. This is one of the prime advantages of using nuclear energy because climate change is a serious issue and needs to be taken care of immediately.

6. Long Life 

Uranium is a stable chemical element and stays steady for a long period of time. Therefore, the raw material having a long life adds a plus point to technology. The technology or the energy station, therefore, lasts longer than the conventional and traditional energy generating plants. Once properly set up and maintained a nuclear energy generating station guarantees energy generation for ages.

7. Low Fuel Cost

The fuel used for power generation by nuclear power plants is the radioactive element uranium that is found mostly in rocks. It does not require any process of mining and extraction. Thereby, reducing both the efforts and the cost involved. Also, the nuclear fission process runs as a chain reaction. Hence, a large amount of energy can be generated by introducing a small part of the element.

Disadvantages

1. Unethical use of power

Nuclear Power is capable of doing great wonders which include destroying as well. Since the discovery of nuclear power, the unethical and destructive utilization of technology has always been feared by all. This technology can be easily misused by people to manufacture weapons and bombs. This inappropriate use of energy has caused a great loss to humanity and nature.

2. Radioactive Waste

Nuclear waste is toxic, poisonous, and radioactive in nature. Despite being the cleanest of all the methods of generating energy, nuclear energy has its own cons. The major demerit is that the nature of the toxic waste generated by a nuclear plant is highly radioactive in nature. Radioactive substances may cause cancer and various other high-risk diseases. It also consists of harmful chemicals like plutonium. Plutonium is highly poisonous and only loses its harmfulness over time. Another disadvantage is that for immoral use of chemical compounds, plutonium can be extracted from nuclear fuel or waste by a process called reprocessing.

3. Accidents 

The accidents caused by nuclear power are truly disasters. To date, there have been 10 major nuclear disasters in 5 different countries. In the years 1957, 1987, and 2011 three countries Russia, Ukraine, and Japan were declared unfit for a human livelihood because of the release of radiation and spread of radioactivity at a greater scale. Various catastrophe events include Chernobyl (1986), Fukushima (2011), Three Mile Island (1979), etc. These disasters mostly cause a radioactive cloud that floats over the city. Any exposure to the radiation of this radioactive cloud causes people to suffer cancerous diseases. The cities that even managed to survive the destruction are likely to suffer the side-effects of these radiations till the circulation of the radioactive waves vanishes.

4. Thermal Pollution

Since the main constituent of generating energy via nuclear power is heat and thermal energy, it has its own demerits. For instance, the dumping of this thermal waste is generally done into water bodies which causes adverse effects to the aquatic animals and plants. There is no other mode of dumping this thermal waste. Hence, it increases water pollution.

5. Negative Perception

The most prolific disadvantage of using nuclear power is its negative perception and image framed by most people. A majority of the population overlooks the advantages of nuclear energy and tend to focus on the terrible outcomes of using nuclear power. This is the factor that encourages people to protest against the establishment of nuclear power plants all over the world.

6. Rapid Generation

If a significant increase in the demand for energy is observed, the need to generate bulk energy in a short duration of time arises. In such a situation, a nuclear power plant is incapable of fulfilling the requirement. The reason is that the resource used is expensive and the chemical process works as a chain reaction, which is time-consuming. Hence, nuclear power cannot provide instant results.

7. Building and Safety Cost

The nuclear reactors, where the nuclear fission process takes place, are required to be built with utmost perfection. The raw material and the construction cost is high. Also, the security of nuclear energy is of prime concern because the side effects of accidents caused by nuclear energy are severe. Therefore, safety measures must be increased. A huge amount of the total fund granted for a nuclear energy plant is devoted to the safety precautions only. Therefore, making the establishment cost of the entire project to be sky-high.

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