With the debate on global warming raging and climate change summits happening to somehow reverse the damage that is being to the Earth with the way we produce energy, alternative forms of producing energy have come to the fore. One of these promising forms of alternative energy is nuclear energy.
Nuclear energy is generated through the process of nuclear fission. Nuclear fission is a nuclear reaction in which a heavy nucleus splits spontaneously or through collision with another particle and releases energy. The raw material used in nuclear plants is uranium, and plutonium is also sometimes used as an alternative. In a nuclear plant, uranium is collided with uranium to start the nuclear fission reaction which then continues uninterrupted.
The word ‘nuclear’ is often used as a prefix to the words ‘weapon’ and ‘war’. While it is true that nuclear energy has been widely used in the production of nuclear weapons and threatens the world with nuclear war, the awesome amount of energy produced by nuclear energy can be used for something far more fundamental to the human race: electricity. Other forms of alternative and renewable sources of energy also exist, such as solar energy, wind energy, tidal energy, etc.
Why has nuclear energy suddenly become a promising member in the team of these alternative forms of energy? Simple. It has advantages that are just too hard to ignore. Of course, it has setbacks as well. But like I said, the advantages are just too hard to ignore.
With other alternative forms of energy, there is a dependence on the source, such as the sun, wind, or waves which have chances of not being consistent and give as much energy output on a daily basis. With nuclear plants, however, this is not a problem. Once the raw material (uranium) starts its fission reaction, energy will continue to be made and more uranium can simply be added after certain intervals to ensure that the fission reaction does not stop. A nuclear power plant in the mode of producing energy can be left uninterrupted for even a year.
Smaller amount of raw material needed:
Nuclear fission is a very strong reaction and only a small amount of uranium can release the amount of energy that a 100 metric ton of coal can. To be precise, it’s 28 grams of uranium. Basically, uranium has a higher energy density as compared to the traditional forms of energy. The amount of raw material is decreased by a massive amount which means that uranium reserves found in the Earth’s crust will last for a long time for our usage.
With less amount of uranium needed to generate nuclear energy to fulfil our demands, the transportation of uranium from its mining site to the nuclear plant is considerably easier and efficient.
Uranium is found in large reserves in the Earth’s crust and will last for quite a while. Also, considering that uranium has a heavy energy density, we will require small amounts at a certain time to produce energy; so we have uranium in the crust in large quantities and will last us a long time.
Less cost of production of electricity:
Generation of electricity through nuclear energy will cost less. This is because, once the nuclear plant is established, the cost of uranium is not pricey and less amount will give massive amounts of energy, dropping the cost of electricity will drop. Also, power cuts might become a thing of the past as a nuclear plant continues running without fail.
The technology to use alternative renewable sources of energy for power generation are still mostly in research mode and the market for them has yet to be created. The places where markets have been established, the technology to harness the energy of renewable sources is expensive. On the other hand, the technology of harnessing nuclear energy is well established and the research being done is focused on dealing with the nuclear waste disposal and tackling radiation problems. This makes nuclear energy an easier option to use as alternative resource for the generation of energy.
Efficient and Powerful:
Although this point has been touched already in different ways, this is perhaps a heavy advantage for nuclear energy. Less amount of raw material is being used and a huge amount of energy is being produced. Also, compared to the renewable sources of energy, whose usage can be done on a local level, the power generated by nuclear fission reactions can run an entire city or industry.
Lesser amount of greenhouse gas emissions:
The nuclear fission reaction caused by the decay of uranium does not release the harmful greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and methane. It is a clean form of energy.
Less amount of land needed:
To harness the energy released through the process of nuclear fission and generate electricity, nuclear plants need to be constructed. Nuclear plants do not require a lot of land to be established and hence, land will be saved. There is a side effect, however, due to the danger of radiation, land nearby may not be safe to use.
Further fissionable elements produced:
When uranium decays in the nuclear fission process, more elements are produced. One of them is plutonium which can also be used as an alternative to uranium in the nuclear plant. Uranium is present in large quantities in the crust and if we ever have a shortage of it, plutonium can be used as an alternative.
Clearly, there are advantages of using nuclear energy to meet the required energy needs of the world. There are, however, serious cons as well which need to be kept in mind. After what happened to the Fukushima Nuclear Reactor in Japan after an earthquake had many countries rethinking the use of nuclear energy for the production of electricity.
Also, the disposal of toxic nuclear waste and the danger of nuclear radiation on people and land are important problems that need to be given proper solutions, or the effects could be more devastating than global warming on the planet.
With the threat of global warming and its side effects gradually becoming prominent, there is an urgent need to rethink what we use to harness energy and generate power and the effects it can have to this planet. Every alternative source needs to be looked at, its advantages and how to use it are important factors but minimizing their negative effects should also be a priority before they start to be used on a global level.
After all, this is the only planet that we have.