In this section we analyze the advantages and disadvantages of nuclear power. Nevertheless, most organizations related to nuclear energy are already positioned for or against the use of nuclear power. On this site we try to make an objective analysis about this question, giving all the relevant information and offering a space for different conclusions.
Advantages of nuclear power
The generation of electricity through nuclear energy reduces the amount of energy generated from fossil fuels (coal and oil). Less use of fossil fuels means lowering greenhouse gas emissions (CO2 and others).
Currently, fossil fuels are consumed faster than they are produced, so in the next future these resources may be reduced or the price may increase becoming inaccessible for most of the population.
Another advantage is the required amount of fuel: less fuel offers more energy. It represents a significant save on raw materials but also in transport, handling and extraction of nuclear fuel. The cost of nuclear fuel (overall uranium) is 20% of the cost of energy generated.
The production of electric energy is continuous. A nuclear power plant is generating electricity for almost 90% of annual time. It reduces the price volatility of other fuels such as petrol.
This continuity benefits the electrical planning. Nuclear power does not depends on natural aspects. It's a solutions for the main disadvantage of renewable energy, like solar energy or eolic energy, because the hours of sun or wind does not always coincide with the hours with more energy demand.
It's an alternative to fossil fuels, so the consumption of fuels such as coal or oil is reduced. This reduction of coal and oil consumption benefits the situation of global warming and global climate change. By reducing the consumption of fossil fuels we also improve the quality of the air affecting the disease and quality of life.
Disadvantages of nuclear power
We've previously discussed the advantage of using nuclear energy to reduce fossil fuel consumption. Organizations often use this argument in favor of nuclear energy but it's a partial truth. Much of the consumption of fossil fuels is due to road transport, used in heat engines (cars, trucks, etc.). Savings in fossil fuel for power generation is fairly low.
Despite the high level of sophistication of the safety systems of nuclear power plants the human aspect has always an impact. Facing an unexpected event or managing a nuclear accident we don't have any guarantee that decisions we took are always the best. Two good examples are Chernobyl and Fukushima.
The Chernobyl nuclear accident is, by far, the worst nuclear accident in the history. Different wrong decisions during the management of the nuclear plant caused a big nuclear explosion.
Referring to the Fukushima nuclear accident, the operations done by the staff were highly questionable. Fukushima nuclear accident is the second worst accident in the history.
One of the main disadvantages is the difficulty in the management of nuclear waste. It takes many years to eliminate its radioactivity and risks.
The constructed nuclear reactors have an expiration date. Then, they've to be dismantled, so that main countries producing nuclear energy could maintain a regular number of operating reactors. They've to built about 80 new nuclear reactors during the next ten years.
Nuclear plants have a limited life. The investment for the construction of a nuclear plant is very high and must be recovered as soon as possible, so it raises the cost of electricity generated. In other words, the energy generated is cheap compared to the cost of fuel, but the recovery of its construction is much more expensive.
Nuclear power plants are objectives of terrorist organizations.
Nuclear power plants generate external dependence. Not many countries have uranium mines and not all the countries have nuclear technology, so they have to hire both things overseas.
Current nuclear reactors work by fission nuclear reactions. These chain reactions is generated in case control systems fail, generating continous reactions causing a radioactive explosion that would be virtually impossible to contain.
Probably the most alarming disadvantage is the use of the nuclear power in the military industry. The first use of nuclear power was the creation of two nuclear bombs dropped on Japan during World War II. This was the first and the last time that nuclear power was used in a military attack. Later, several countries signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but the risk that nuclear weapons could be used in the future will always exist.
Advantages of nuclear fusion versus nuclear fission
Currently the generation of electricity in nuclear reactors is done by nuclear fission reactions. For the moment, nuclear fusion is not valid to generate electric power. Once developed, if nuclear fusion is really practicable, it will provide great advantages over nuclear fission:
- Virtually inexhaustible sources of fuel.
- No accidents in the reactor due to the chain reactions that occur in fissions.
- The waste generated will be much less radioactive.
Last review: October 15, 2014
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“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.
Filed Under: Climate Change, Environment, Nuclear Energy