Pros and Cons of Nuclear Energy

Nuclear energy is the energy released by a chain reaction, specifically by the process of nuclear fission or fusion in the reactor. The source of fuel used to generate nuclear energy is mined and processed uranium (enriched uranium), which is utilized to generate steam and produce electricity. As of today, nuclear energy is considered as one of the most environmentally friendly sources of energy as it produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions during the production of electricity as compared to traditional sources like coal power plants.

Nuclear fission is the process that is used in nuclear reactors to produce a high amount of energy using an element called uranium. It is the energy that is stored in the nucleus of an atom.

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While being environmentally friendly is the big plus of nuclear energy, disposal of radioactive waste and protecting people and the environment from its radiation is a big con of nuclear energy. Therefore, expensive solutions are needed to protect mother earth from the devastating effects of nuclear energy.

When we think about this resource, many of us think about nuclear bombs or the meltdowns that have happened at a number of nuclear plants around the world. That being said, nuclear energy is definitely a type of renewable energy that we need to look at. In this article, we’re going to explore the pros and cons of nuclear energy.

Pros of Nuclear Energy (Advantages)

1. Low Pollution

Nuclear power also has a lot fewer greenhouse emissions. It has been determined that the number of greenhouse gases have decreased by almost half because of the prevalence in the utilization of nuclear power.

This avoids more than 470 million metric tons of carbon each year, which is the equivalent of removing 100 million cars off of the road. The thermal energy from nuclear reactors may also be used to decarbonize other energy-intensive sectors such as transportation, the largest contributor to carbon pollution.

Nuclear energy has the least effect on nature since it doesn’t discharge any gasses like methane and carbon dioxide, which are the primary “greenhouse gasses.” There is no unfavorable impact on water, land or any territories because of the utilization of nuclear power, except in times where transportation is utilized.

Nuclear advocacy group the World Nuclear Association found that the average emissions for nuclear are 29 tonnes of CO2 per gigawatt-hour (GWh) of energy produces. This compares favorably with renewable sources like solar (85 tonnes per GWh) and wind (26 tonnes per GWh) and even more favorably with fossil fuels like lignite (1,054 tonnes per GWh) and coal (888 tonnes per GWh).

2. High Power Output

The fuel to power output ratio for nuclear energy is incredibly high. It has the capacity to meet city and industrial needs with just one reactor, let alone multiple. A relatively small amount of uranium can be used to fuel a 1000 Megawatts electric plant, thus providing enough electricity to power a city of about half a million people.

Renewable sources, such as solar and wind, provide only enough power to meet residential or office needs. They don’t yet have the capacity of nuclear to handle large-scale power needs, especially in the manufacturing world.

3. Stable Base Load Energy

Nuclear power plants provide a stable baseload of energy. Nuclear energy is widely used in America and makes up around 20% of all electricity generated in the United States. This efficient energy source comes from the 98 nuclear power reactors dotted around 30 different states in the US.

The stable production of power created by nuclear power plants means that it can ideally be used in conjunction with other forms of renewable energy. For example, when the wind is blowing, nuclear plants can adjust energy output to be lower.

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Conversely, when the wind is not blowing, and greater energy is needed, nuclear energy can be adjusted to compensate for the lack of wind (or solar) generated power.

4. Low Operating Costs

Nuclear power produces very inexpensive electricity and cheaper than gas, coal, or any other fossil fuel plants. The cost of the uranium, which is utilized as a fuel in this process, is low, and it is needed very little to produce massive power. Also, even though the expense of setting up nuclear power plants is moderately high, the expense of running them is quite low.

It has been estimated that even factoring in costs such as managing radioactive fuel and disposal nuclear plants cost between 33 to 50 percent of a coal plant and 20 to 25 percent of a gas combined-cycle plant.

The normal life of a nuclear reactor is anywhere from 40-60 years, depending on how often it is used and how it is being used. These variables, when consolidated, make the expense of delivering power low. Even if the cost of uranium goes up, the impact on the cost of power will be that much lower.

The US Department of Energy (DOE) estimates that to replace a 1GW nuclear power plant would require 2GW of coal or 3GW to 4GW from renewable sources to generate the same amount of electricity. Also, the impact on the cost of power will be that much lower.

5. Reliability

It is estimated that with the current rate of consumption of uranium, we have enough uranium for another 70-80 years. A nuclear power plant when in the mode of producing energy can run uninterrupted for even a year and more without interruptions or maintenance, making it a more reliable source of energy.

As solar and wind energy are dependent upon weather conditions, the nuclear power plant has no such constraints and can run without disruption in any climatic condition. The consistent criticism of renewable energies, e.g., wind and solar energy are that they only produce power when the wind is blowing, or the sun is shining.

There are sure monetary focal points in setting up nuclear power plants and utilizing nuclear energy in place of traditional energy. It is one of the significant sources of power all through the country.

The best part is that this energy has a persistent supply. It is broadly accessible, there is a lot in storage, and it is believed that the supply is going to last much, much longer than that of fossil fuels that are used in the same capacity.

6. More Proficient Than Fossil Fuels

The other primary point of interest in utilizing nuclear energy is that it is more compelling and more proficient than other energy sources. A number of nuclear energy innovations have made it a much more feasible choice than others.

They have high energy density as compared to fossil fuels. The amount of fuel required by the nuclear power plant is comparatively less than what is required by other power plants as the energy released by nuclear fission is approximately ten million times greater than the amount of energy released by fossil fuel atom.

7. It Doesn’t Rely on Fossil Fuels

This is one of the reasons that numerous nations are putting a lot of time and money into nuclear power. So what’s nuclear power’s greatest benefit, above any other benefit that we may explore? It doesn’t rely on fossil fuels and isn’t influenced by fluctuating oil and gas costs.

Coal and natural gas power plants discharge carbon dioxide into the air, which causes a number of environmental issues. With nuclear power plants, carbon emissions are insignificant.

8. Renewable?

Nuclear energy is not a renewable resource. Uranium, the nuclear fuel that is used to produce nuclear energy, is limited and cannot be produced again and again on demand.

However, uranium reserves are estimated to last another 80 years, whereas fossil fuels have a much more limited lifespan. Since the Industrial Revolution, humans have been consistently and constantly depleting our fossil fuel reserves. If we continue consuming fossil fuels and keep increasing our consumption as the world population grows, the world is estimated to run out of oil by 2052, gas in 2060, and coal by 2088.

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On the other hand, by using breeder and fusion reactors, we can produce other fissionable elements. One such element is called plutonium that is produced by the by-products of chain-reaction. Also, if we know how to control atomic fusion, the same reactions that fuel the sun, we can have almost unlimited energy.

Thorium is a greener alternative that has lately been come to notice. China, Russia and India already have plans to start using thorium to fuel their reactors in the near future.

9. Economic Impact

Nuclear power provides many benefits to the economy with the number of jobs and prosperity a new plant brings.

According to the NEI, a new nuclear plant creates 400 to 700 permanent jobs and also thousands of others during its construction. Most nuclear sites have at least 2 plants. Whereas jobs created elsewhere is just 90 jobs for a coal plant, and 50 for a natural gas plant.

Each facility generates close to $500 million annually in sales of goods and services. More workers at plants mean more people who need lunches and more people with money to spend.

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Cons of Nuclear Energy (Disadvantages)

1. Environmental Impact

One of the biggest issues is the environmental impact in relation to uranium. The process of mining and refining uranium hasn’t been clean. Actually transporting nuclear fuel to and from plants involves a pollution hazard. Also, once the fuel is used, you can’t simply take it to the landfill – it’s radioactive and dangerous.

2. Radioactive Waste Disposal

As a rule, a nuclear power plant creates 20 metric tons of nuclear fuel per year, and with that comes a lot of nuclear waste. When you consider each nuclear plant on Earth, you will find that number jumps to approximately 2,000 metric tons a year.

The greater part of this waste transmits radiation and high temperature, implying that it will inevitably consume any compartment that holds it. It can also cause damage to living things in and around the plants.

Nuclear power plants create a lot of low-level radioactive waste as transmitted parts and supplies. Over time, used nuclear fuel decays to safe radioactive levels, however, this takes a countless number of years. Even low-level radioactive waste takes hundreds of years to achieve adequate levels of safety.

Anti-nuclear environmental group Greenpeace released a  report in January 2019 that detailed what it called a nuclear waste ‘crisis’ for which there is ‘no solution on the horizon.’ One such solution was a concrete nuclear waste ‘coffin’ on Runit Island, which has begun to crack open and potentially release radioactive material.

3. Nuclear Accidents

The accident in Three Mile Island in 1979, the Chernobyl accident that occurred on 26 April 1986 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine, was the worst nuclear accident in history. Then there was another accident that happened recently in Fukushima in Japan in 2011. Although the casualties were not that high, it caused serious environmental concerns. Its harmful effects on humans and ecology can still be seen today.

Despite all the safety measures in place in these nuclear plants, different factors caused them to go into meltdown causing devastating effects for the environment and for local inhabitants who had to leave the affected areas. The radioactive waste produced can pose serious health effects on the lives of people as well as the environment.

4. High Cost

The initial costs for building a nuclear power plant are steep. A recent virtual test reactor in the US estimate rose from $3.5bn to $6bn alongside huge extra costs to maintain the facility. South Africa scrapped plans to add 9.6GW of nuclear power to its energy mix due to the cost, which was estimated anywhere between $34-84bn.

At present, the nuclear business let waste cool for a considerable length of time before blending it with glass and putting it away in enormous cooled, solid structures. This waste must be kept up, observed and watched to keep the materials from falling into the wrong hands and causing problems.

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These administrations and included materials cost cash and on top of the high expenses needed to put together a plant, which may make it less desirable to invest in. It requires permission from several international authorities, and it is normally opposed by the people who live in that region.

The nuclear plants are cheap to run and produce inexpensive fuel, but the initial costs are huge.

5. Uranium is Finite

Typical renewable energy sources such as solar and wind are in infinite supply. Nuclear energy is not a renewable fuel source. Just like other sources of fuel, uranium is also finite and exists in a few of the countries. Uranium is in limited supply although currently abundant. There is still the risk of running out eventually.

Uranium has to be mined, synthesized, then activated to produce energy, and it’s very expensive to go through this process. It produces a considerable amount of waste during all these activities and can result in environmental contamination and serious health effects, if not handled properly.

6. Hot Target for Militants

Nuclear energy has immense power. Today, nuclear energy is used to make weapons. If these weapons go into the wrong hands, that could be the end of this world. Nuclear power plants are a prime target for terrorism activities. Little lax in security can be brutal for humankind.

7. Fuel Availability

Unlike fossil fuels that are available to most of the countries, uranium is a very scarce resource and exists in only a few of the countries. Permissions of several international authorities are required before someone can even think of building a nuclear power plant.

DOE and its national labs are working with industry to develop new reactors and fuels that will increase the overall performance of these technologies and reduce the amount of nuclear waste that is produced. It also works to provide accurate, fact-based information about nuclear energy through its social media and STEM outreach efforts to educate the public on the benefits of nuclear energy.

Is Nuclear Energy Renewable?

The definition of renewable energy involves unlimited availability of the resource, the capability to replenish itself and the characteristic to cause minimum impact on the environment. The question of whether nuclear energy is renewable still elicits debates to this day despite the fact that it is a low-carbon power generation source. The 5 substantiated renewable sources of energy used on a daily basis include solar, wind, hydro, geothermal and biomass.

However, the largest point of view stipulates that nuclear energy is not really renewable. This hinges on a wide range of facts such as:

The chief raw material for the production of nuclear energy (uranium) is not a renewable resource. Uranium resources are quite limited, and the mining and refining process mightily impacts the environment. Also, the transportation of uranium is risky. Safe transportation involves significant capital outlay and a lot of energy consumption.

After processing uranium, significant amounts of radioactive waste are generated. The resultant elements have extensive storage requirements and are known to stay radioactive and hazardous for thousands of years. Most countries have tried to recycle it, but the whole process is ineffective and relatively expensive, not to mention it’s a daunting task to store it safely. To add insults to the injury, nuclear storage sites can become prime targets for terrorists who are hellbent on killing more people simultaneously.

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