Nuclear energy is an energy source that has zero emissions, propels our society into the future, and provides electricity around-the-clock. Nuclear energy comes from the splitting of atoms inside a reactor through a process known as fission to heat water into steam, turn a turbine, and generate electricity. Atoms are tiny particles that make up every object in the universe. These atoms have enormous energy in the bonds that hold them together. Nuclear fission will split the atoms into smaller atoms, in essence, releasing energy. Nuclear power plants make use of nuclear fission for the production of electricity. Nuclear energy is considered to be environmentally safe because it causes zero emissions and this is beneficial to the environment as it reduces the carbon footprint (Brook & Bradshaw, 2015). However, nuclear power plants do produce radioactive nuclear waste that must be stored safely to ensure there is no leakage. Nuclear energy was first developed in the 1940s and during WWII research was mainly focused on the production of bombs. Attention turned to the peaceful use of nuclear fission in order to control it for power generation in the 1950s.
Out of all the ways that the planet is powered, nuclear energy is the most divisive. The first nuclear power plant came online in 1954 in the USSR and this was closely followed by the first nuclear power plant in the US three years later. In the 1970s there was strong opposition to the use of nuclear power and the reactor meltdown in 1979 of Three Mile Island and later Chernobyl in 1986 resulted in a halt in the construction of new power plants worldwide. Currently, the number of nuclear power plants have been on the rise and many governments are grappling with how to manage the energy security of their country and at the same time reducing air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
Nuclear Power Technology
According to Brook and Bradshaw (2015) generating electricity using nuclear reactors is similar to the way electricity is generated using coal-fired power plants but somehow more complicated. Nuclear reactions produce energy from uranium fuel. The uranium ore is first mined and then enriched in order to increase the amount of isotope uranium, which is able to sustain a nuclear chain reaction. The pellets of enriched uranium are placed in rows to form fuel rods and placed in the reactor. Firing a neutron into a uranium nucleus will result in the neutron splitting, ejecting neutrons into other uranium atoms, which creates a chain reaction. A huge amount of energy and radiation is released when these atoms are split. The heat generated is used to turn water into steam, which in turn is used to turn a turbine that cranks an electrical generator. A majority of the reactors we have worldwide are light water reactors. This means that water is used to cool and moderate the speed of fission reaction. There are other types of reactors that make use of other substances for cooling, moderating, and other processes, but these are not so common. The fast breeder reactors make use of the current stockpiles of nuclear waste in the reactor, which has the potential to reduce the waste.
Generating electricity using nuclear energy results in a reduction in the amount of electricity that is generated from fossil fuels like coal and oil. Selimbegovi?, Chatard, Er-Rafiy, and Pyszczynski (2016) posits that the reduction in the use of fossil fuels means there is also a reduction in the amount of greenhouse gas emissions. At the moment, fossil fuels are consumed faster than they can be produced and this means that in the near future these resources might be unavailable or reduced drastically and their prices will increase making them inaccessible in most of the countries. Reducing the consumption of fossil fuels benefits global warming and global climate change. Reducing the consumption of fossil fuels also improves the quality of air that we breath. When producing electricity using nuclear energy the required amount of fuel is less as compared to the amount of energy that is produced. This represents a significant saving on the raw materials, transportation, handling, and extraction of nuclear fuel. Uranium accounts for 20% of the cost of energy generated. Electrical energy production is continuous. A nuclear power plant generates energy almost 90% of the annual time meaning that it would reduce the price volatility of other fuels like petrol. Nuclear power is not dependent on natural aspects like the sun or the wind. This is a good solution for covering the main disadvantage of solar and wind power plants mainly because the peak consumption hours do not coincide with the hours of the sun or wind.
While the argument for saving on fossil fuel consumption has been used to denote the advantages of nuclear energy. This argument is partially true. Most of the fossil fuels that are consumed worldwide are due to road transport. The saving on fossil fuels for power generation is generally low. The safety of nuclear power plants has always been in question. Considering the accidents of Chernobyl and Fukushima, a fault at a plant would result in considerable loss of lives. The management of nuclear waste is another disadvantage of nuclear energy. In order to eliminate the radioactivity of the waste produced it takes many years and there are imminent risks (Selimbegovi? et al., 2016). Each nuclear reactor has a limited number of years it can be in use. After its expiry date, it should be dismantled and a new one reactor built. Considering the huge investments that go into building a nuclear plant and should be recovered before the plant is decommissioned, which raises the cost of electricity generated. The energy generated using nuclear energy is cheap when compared to fossil fuel, but recovering the construction costs is more expensive.
Brook, B. W., & Bradshaw, C. J. (2015). Key role for nuclear energy in global biodiversity conservation. Conservation Biology, 29(3), 702-712.
Selimbegovi?, L., Chatard, A., Er-Rafiy, A., & Pyszczynski, T. (2016). Nuclear accident reminders and support for nuclear energy: Paradoxical effect. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 48, 87-100.
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