We’ve all heard the horror stories of Chernobyl when the nuclear reactor leaked and caused massive casualties due to radiation poisoning. Its effects still linger because it was the first time something like this had happened. And, the truth is, it is the only time something like this happened. It was the only ‘Level 7′ accident to occur in world history.
Many would say that is enough reason to shut down other plants and dismiss the idea of nuclear When we think of alternative forms of energy ethanol is usually not at the forefront of our thoughts. We are more familiar with water, geothermal, nuclear, and solar energy... right? Well the truth is the power of ethanol can provide a vital key to unlocking the means to finding alternative forms of energy.
But what’s the deal with alternative energy, anyway? We have a vague idea that these types of enhanced natural resources can save our planet, but we also have heard that alternative energy may have some disadvantages that may not be as talked about as they should be. The fact is alternative energy can help with environmental issues like sustainability and global warming.
Read on to see how nuclear fits into this picture.
What is Nuclear Energy? / Understanding the Alternatives
The topic of alternative sources of energy is very popular these days. The discussions of the idea to get energy from sun, wind, or ocean tides have already migrated from laboratories and auditoriums practically into every house around the globe, especially in the industrialized countries, faced with multiple energy-related challenges of today. However, in order to understand and assess the benefits of alternative sources of energy, first it is necessary to understand what they are alternative to…
Nuclear energy is currently one of the world’s most significant sources of energy, which is primarily used to produce electricity. About 17% of the world’s electric energy is generated at nuclear power stations; however, this proportion varies from country to country: for example, France takes 78% of its electricity from nuclear energy, but, on the other side, Austria and Ireland do not have nuclear power stations at all. In recent years, especially after several serious accidents at nuclear power stations, like the one that happened at Chernobyl station in Ukraine, a lot of people oppose the use of nuclear energy for its huge devastating potential against all living organisms and environment, when out of control.
What is Nuclear Energy? / How it is Turned Into Electricity
Basically, a nuclear power plant generates electricity through the process called nuclear fission. To put it simply, when the atoms of Uranium-235, used as nuclear fuel, are hit with neutrons, they split into two smaller atoms, which move with a very high velocity and produce a lot of heat.
When one atom of U-235 breaks down into smaller parts, it also releases three free neutrons, which in their turn hit other atoms of U-235, so the process of nuclear fission can continue by its own. It is called a chain reaction, which can be either controlled (when used at nuclear power station) or uncontrolled (when used in a nuclear bomb).
The most important part about nuclear fission is that this process is followed by a release of huge amount of heat. Actually, the amount of heat generated by a particular amount of nuclear fuel is million times larger than the heat generated by burning the same amount of coal or oil.
The generated heat is than used to boil water; and it is the water steam, which makes the huge turbine spin and generate electricity. Basically, this final step, when water steam makes the turbine spin around, is the same at all power generating plants. The only difference is fuel used: some burn coal to heat the water and produce steam, others use gas or oil, and the nuclear power stations use nuclear fuel.
What is Nuclear Energy? / The Benefits
The first obvious benefit of nuclear energy is the low cost of produced electricity. Statistic says that the average production cost is 1.87 cents per kilowatt-hour. Another benefit is high energy capacity of nuclear fuel: just imagine, a quarter-ounce pellet of uranium generates as much energy as 3.5 barrels of oil, 17,000 cubic feet of natural gas or 1,780 pounds of coal.
The advocates of nuclear energy also draw the public attention to the fact that nuclear power production is not about burning something: as the result, no greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, are emitted in to the atmosphere. In this regard, nuclear energy is much cleaner and eco-friendlier than using coal, oil, or gas to receive electricity.
What is Nuclear Energy? / The Drawbacks
Along with obvious benefits, there are also significant weak points in the concept of nuclear energy. First thing to mention is that nuclear power stations are highly sophisticated systems, and building even one station requires a huge amount of money. Only several countries in the world, including the USA, Canada, Russia, UK, France, Ukraine, Japan, China and South Korea, have nuclear power stations.
Another highly debatable issue about nuclear energy is the handing of highly-radioactive wastes, which require long-term programs for storage or reprocessing. After nuclear fuel is removed from reactors (it happens about once per 1.5 year depending on the particular power station), it should be then stored somewhere. But nobody wants to store radioactive wastes on his territory for hundreds of years till they become relatively safe. Furthermore, the majority of available storage areas are almost filled, so the question where to store highly-radioactive nuclear wastes is very urgent these days.
Finally, nuclear energy may be a source of significant danger for humans and environment, when it goes out of control. Though scientists do their best to prove safety of nuclear reactions, humanity has already seen the terrible consequences of accidents at nuclear power stations. In Ukraine, after 23 years after Chernobyl catastrophe, people still suffer from serious consequences of that tragedy.
What is Nuclear Energy? / Conclusion
So, while nuclear power remains one of the most economically feasible sources of energy, people still have to work hard to make it really safe. On the other hand, if there is any chance to find alternative sources of energy with lesser risks – it is our duty to discover them and use wherever it is possible.
What is Nuclear Energy? / Sources
Thank you for visiting the What is Nuclear Energy page. For more information on the alternative energy follow these links: