Nuclear energy

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Nuclear power supplies a sixth of the world's electricity. It can generate electricity without producing the greenhouse gases associated with energy sources such as coal. The technology suffered a setback following the Chernobyl and Three Mile Island accidents, but recent plants have demonstrated remarkable reliability and efficiency.

Contents

Why should I be aware of this?

  • Rising concerns about global warming governments and power providers in several countries are increasingly considering building a substantial number of additional nuclear power plants.
  • Renewable resources such as wind, tide and water power can provide enough energy but will take time to develop. But time is precious as even if we stop all fossil fuel burning immediately, the consequences of what we have already done will last for 1,000 years.
  • The fossil fuel alternatives have their drawbacks. Natural gas has lower carbon content compared to other fossil fuels. But the cost of the electricity produced is very sensitive to natural gas prices, which have become much higher and more volatile in recent years. Though coal prices are low in comparison, it is the most carbon-intensive source of electricity.

All about nuclear energy

Nuclear power produces around 11 percent of the world's energy needs, and produces huge amounts of energy from small amounts of fuel, without the pollution that you'd get from burning fossil fuels.

There are currently 442 nuclear reactors in the world with at least another 12 under construction in Asian countries, Brazil and Finland. In France about 77 percent of the country's electricity comes from nuclear power. Lithuania comes in second, with an impressive 65 percent. In the United States, 104 nuclear power plants supply 20 percent of the electricity overall, with some states benefiting more than others. [1]

Australia with its abundant uranium ore supplies has recently entered into uranium contracts with economically fast growing giants India and China, also two major contributors to greenhouse gases.

These countries are also among those that have decided on the advantages of nuclear energy and are building nuclear reactors.

How nuclear power stations work

Nuclear power stations work in almost the same way as fossil fuel-burning stations, except that a "chain reaction" inside a nuclear reactor makes the heat instead.

The reactor uses Uranium rods as fuel, and the heat is generated by nuclear fission: neutrons smash into the nucleus of the uranium atoms, which split roughly in half and release energy in the form of heat.

Carbon dioxide gas or water is pumped through the reactor to take the heat away, this then heats water to make steam. The steam drives turbines which drive generators.

Debatable issue

Following the initial mishaps, the nuclear energy issue continues to be a debated one. Some peopl­e praise the technology as a low-cost, low-emission alternative to fossil fuels, while others stress the negative impact of nuclear waste and accidents such as Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.

Environmental advantages

Nuclear power plants produce less than one-hundredth of carbon dioxide gas compared to coal or gas-fired energy plants.

Power generation from uranium releases little or no greenhouse gasses emissions from using uranium to generate electricity. According to the U.S. Department of Energy and the Energy Information Administration nuclear generated electricity avoids almost 700 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year in the U.S.

Nuclear energy releases great amounts of energy per unit of fuel. According to the U.S Environmental Protection Agency “the fission of one ton of uranium produces more energy than is produced by chemical combustion of several million tons of coal or several million barrels of oil.

The energy concentration of nuclear fuel, electricity produced by nuclear power tends to be much cheaper than other forms of production, especially those using fossil fuels. Fuel costs make up 26 percent of the overall production costs of nuclear power plants. Fuel costs for coal, natural gas and oil, however, make up more than 75 percent of the production costs.

Disadvantages of nuclear energy

The disadvantages of nuclear energy are;

  • Radioactive waste

The waste material produced by nuclear reactors is highly radioactive and according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency can remain so for ten thousand years or so. Storage and management of this waste is costly and dangerous to those involved.

  • Nuclear accidents

Chances of a "meltdown" increase if nuclear power is employed on a large scale. This could have disastrous effects both on people and the environment.

  • Public disapproval

Due to its high profile accidents and the toxic waste problem, nuclear power has generated a very high disapproval rating throughout the world over the years. This resistance is proving very difficult to overcome.

Generation IV nuclear energy

Irrespective of the pros and cons of nuclear power, the precarious position of the environment has now ensured that the nuclear power option will have to be considered as a viable alternative energy in the fight against global warming. While the current Generation II and III nuclear power plant designs provide a secure and low-cost electricity supply in many markets, further advances in nuclear energy system design can broaden the opportunities for the use of nuclear energy. To explore these opportunities, the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Nuclear Energy, Science and Technology has engaged governments, industry, and the research community worldwide in a wide ranging discussion on the development of next generation nuclear energy systems known as "Generation IV". [2]

Generation IV goals

Generation IV nuclear energy systems will: [3]

  • Provide sustainable energy generation that meets clean air objectives and promotes long-term availability of systems and effective fuel utilization for worldwide energy production.
  • Minimize and manage their nuclear waste and notably reduce the long term stewardship burden in the future, thereby improving protection for the public health and the environment.
  • Increase the assurance that they are a very unattractive and least desirable route for diversion or theft of weapons-usable materials.
  • Excel in safety and reliability.
  • Have a very low likelihood and degree of reactor core damage.
  • Eliminate the need for offsite emergency response.
  • Have a clear life-cycle cost advantage over other energy sources.
  • Have a level of financial risk comparable to other energy projects

CopperBytes

  • In France, nuclear power is the most widespread, supplying 80 percent of the country's electricity. A protest movement exists, called Sortir du Nucléaire, or "Get Out of Nuclear," but it appears to have made little headway. [4]
  • Nuclear energy was first discovered accidentally by French physicist Henri Becquerel in 1896, when he found that photographic plates stored in the dark near uranium were blackened like X-ray plates, which had been just recently discovered at the time. [4]
  • As of 2004, nuclear power provided 6.5% of the world's energy and 15.7% of the world's electricity, with the U.S., France, and Japan together accounting for 57% of nuclear generated electricity. [4]
  • The safety record of nuclear power is outstanding. Radiation from nuclear plants has not caused a single known death worldwide, except at the Chernobyl plant in the Ukraine. The known death toll from the Chernobyl accident is less than 50.
  • Nuclear power plants emit no carbon dioxide (which contributes to global warming and the greenhouse effect) nor sulfur and nitrogen oxides (which cause acid rain).
  • Nuclear power plants save thousands of lives every year in the United States. This is because nuclear plants replace many coal plants, which emit tiny particulates into the atmosphere. These particulates are believed to kill thousands of Americans each year. Nuclear plants emit no particulates.

90 degrees

Scientists calculated how nuclear energy production should increase by more than 10 percent each year in period from 2010-2050 in order to satisfy all future energy demands and successfully replace fossil fuels. But is this possible and is this acceptable or not? According to a report published in Inderscience's International Journal of Nuclear Governance, Economy and Ecology this rather high growth rate demands greater improvement in nuclear power efficiency, otherwise each new power plant will simply cannibalize the energy produced by earlier nuclear power plants. [4]

References:

  • The Nuclear Option
  • Nuclear-Power Industry Enjoys Revival 30 Years After Accident
  • Nuclear power is the only green solution
  • There Are Advantages Of Nuclear Energy As There Are Challenges

Source

  1. How StuffWorks
  2. US Department of Energy
  3. Office of Nuclear Energy, Science and Technology U. S. Department of Energy
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 UNICEF