“Growing concerns over climate change have highlighted the need to step up contribution of nuclear energy in the energy mix and to reduce the dependence on fossil fuels in the years to come. This essay discusses some of the major advantages and disadvantages of nuclear energy.”
Nuclear energy represents only 15% of the electricity produced worldwide. Though in France, 80% of its electricity production is from nuclear energy and more than one-fourth of electricity in Europe comes from nuclear energy. Nuclear energy represents a very small percentage in many countries’ total electricity production, but this percentage is likely to go up in the coming years. Nuclear power is generated using Uranium, a mineral of which one of the isotopes, U- 234 is unstable. The nucleus breaks down resulting in the emission of heat and radiation followed by a chain reaction. This is called nuclear fission and this process liberates a large amount of energy, but the process also releases radiation which is very dangerous.
What are the Advantages of Nuclear Energy?
Nuclear energy has the ability to produce electricity without greenhouse gas emissions. It produces electricity without pollution. It is cleaner than many other forms of energy production. Essentially, nuclear power would be “carbon-zero” if the uranium were mined and transported in a more efficient way.
Nuclear reaction releases a million times more energy, as compared to hydro or wind energy. Large quantity of energy is generated from a single nuclear power plant.
Nuclear reactors make use of uranium as fuel and produces huge amounts of energy from small amounts of uranium. The Earth has the high reserves of uranium. Current estimates put the uranium supply as enough to last for 30 to 60 years. Moreover other fuel cycles like Thorium are available for power generation. Whereas, oil reserves and other fossil type fuels are likely to run out shortly.
Nuclear power plants operate reliably and have a continuous output of power.The plants do not generally face operations and maintenance problems. This is a contrast to other alternative energies which depend on the activity of the weather.
Low Operating cost
Although nuclear power reactors are expensive to build, they are relatively cheap to operate. Fuel is inexpensive and a plant can be operated by small number of people, approximately 10 people.
The nuclear energy is by far the most concentrated form of energy, so it can be produced in large quantities over short periods of time.
Produces small amounts of waste and waste is more compact.
Nuclear energy produces electricity at a competitive price and is generally comparable in output to coal plants.
A nuclear plant is not dependant on local sources like oil and coal and can be set up in any part of the globe. It also does not require a lot of space and so can be placed in already developed areas and the power does not have to be transferred over long distances.
What are the Disadvantages of Nuclear Energy?
Nuclear Weapons Threat
It has potential nuclear proliferation issues. Some reactors produce plutonium which can be used to make nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons are a major threat to the world as they can cause a large-scale devastation.
High Capital Intensive
Nuclear Plants require a high level of technology and a major initial capital investment. Its abandonment cost is also very high.
Long Gestation Period
It takes a long time to build, about 15-20 years to develop a single plant.
There are issues with management of radioactive waste. The spent fuel is highly radioactive and has to be carefully stored for many years after use. A solution to the waste management problem needs to be explored and developed. This has R&D cost.
Disasters, Accidents & Risk
An accident may cause a major disaster resulting in thousands of casualties and releasing high amounts of radiation into the environment, example: explosion of a reactor at Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine and melting of the core of a reactor at Three-Mile Island in the United States.
Nuclear energy is an alternative energy but not a renewable energy as Uranium is a non-renewable source and its supplies are limited.
Nuclear plants may be vunerable targets to anyone wanting to disrupt the power supply, and to have quite horrific results and to devastate an entire region.
Today, nuclear energy remains controversial. There are proponents and opponents of nuclear energy, but nuclear energy along with other green energies has a major role to play in years to come. The actions to mitigate the risk associated with nuclear energy need to given due importance to harness its full potential.