Nuclear power generation has its pros and cons, and understanding all sides is key to appreciating the capability of the power source. Knowing and understanding the pros and cons will help determine if nuclear power is a good decision to meet the world’s energy needs in the future.
Image credit: Christian Schwier/Shutterstock.com
Nuclear power plants generate enormous heat produced during nuclear fission in the core of the nuclear power plant. This is where the ceramic pellets are housed and are made from uranium fuel. In comparison, about 150 liters of oil can generate as much energy as a single ceramic pellet.
The splitting of atoms into smaller atoms during nuclear fission releases energy and heat is generated. This is then used to produce steam. The steam is then transferred to stimulate the rotation of the bladed turbines to produce nuclear energy.
Advantages of nuclear energy
Low overall operating cost
Nuclear power is relatively one of the most cost effective and reliable energy compared to other sources. Besides the initial cost of construction, the cost of generating electricity is cheaper and more sustainable than other forms of energy such as oil, coal and gas. One of the added benefits of nuclear power is that it has minimal risk of cost inflation instead of traditional power sources which fluctuate regularly over time.
Constant energy source
Nuclear energy has a constant and predictable output. It is unaffected by weather conditions compared to other sources such as wind and solar power.
Nuclear fission generates much more energy than burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil or gas. The process produces nearly 8,000 times more energy than typical fossil fuels, resulting in less materials used and less waste. Year-round power generation is achievable, providing favorable returns on investment due to the absence of power generation delays.
It is estimated that the world has enough uranium to generate electricity for the next 70 to 80 years. That doesn’t seem like a long enough period, but compared to fossil fuels, it’s expected to decline in a much shorter period. Also, research is being done on alternative energy sources for nuclear power.
Generates low amounts of pollution
Nuclear power is the lowest carbon energy source and has a lower carbon footprint than other sources such as fossil fuels.
The majority of carbon dioxide emissions occur primarily during the filling process and construction of the plant, but not during power generation. The overall production of pollutants from nuclear power plants is relatively modest compared to energy production from fossil fuels.
Currently, the use of nuclear energy reduces carbon production by more than 555 million metric tons each year. The reduction in greenhouse effects is a great sign of how switching to nuclear energy will reduce the long-term impact on global climate change.
Disadvantages of nuclear energy
Nuclear energy is a promising and reliable alternative source of energy for future electricity needs. However, nuclear energy has many disadvantages to consider, especially its environmental impact in the future.
Expensive to build
Nuclear power plants are affordable to operate but relatively expensive to build. The projected cost of building nuclear power plants rose from $2-4 billion to $9 billion between 2002 and 2008 and often their cost estimates are exceeded during construction.
Besides the cost of building a power plant, nuclear reactors must allocate funds for the waste generated, which must be stored in refrigerated facilities with strict safety protocols. All the costs and expenses make nuclear energy rather expensive to start with.
Production of radioactive waste
Although no emissions are produced during the production of nuclear energy, a by-product of radioactive waste is developed. Waste should be stored in secure facilities to avoid polluting the environment. Radiation is not harmful in small amounts, but radioactive waste from nuclear power plants is dangerous.
The storage of radioactive waste is a major concern and cost for nuclear power plants. There is no way to destroy nuclear waste; the only current solution is to seal it and store it in deep underground facilities. As technology improves, there will hopefully be the development of better methods of storing radioactive waste in the near future.
Restricted fuel supply
Nuclear power plants rely heavily on thorium and uranium to generate electricity. Before the supply of thorium and uranium is exhausted, a nuclear fusion reactor or breeder reactor will have to be created, otherwise electricity generation will not be possible. Currently, nuclear power is only an expensive short-term option for power generation due to dwindling resources.
The greatest environmental impact comes from the destructive process of uranium mining. Surface and underground mining can extract uranium.
Surface mining is generally a safe process for miners, but generates radioactive waste while causing erosion and, on some occasions, polluting water supplies. Underground mining puts miners at a much higher risk of radiation poisoning than surface mining. While also producing large amounts of radioactive waste during processing and extraction.
Is nuclear the future?
Nuclear energy has many advantages and disadvantages, causing the contentious argument over whether to find alternatives or preserve the technology for future uses. Nuclear power has the potential to be particularly dangerous, however, the risk of disaster is relatively low.
Although the debate continues, nuclear energy enthusiasts have said that being more dependent on nuclear energy will reduce the energy dependency of third countries. However, trust would still be needed because nuclear facilities still need raw materials such as uranium imported from Kazakhstan, Australia or Canada.
The negative connotation surrounding nuclear power adds to the controversy. For the most part, individuals are only aware of nuclear disasters and not of the potential low-carbon positive effects. This is where the concept of renewable energy is greatly favored. However, the ideal combination of the two procedures should be a more feasible approach for future durability.
References and further reading
Eia.gov. 2021. Nuclear Power Plants – US Energy Information Administration (EIA). [online] Available at: https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/nuclear/nuclear-power-plants.php.
EDF. 2022. What are the advantages of nuclear energy?. [online] Available at: https://www.edfenergy.com/for-home/energywise/what-are-advantages-nuclear-energy
https://springpowerandgas.us/the-pros-cons-of-nuclear-energy-is-it-safe/. 2018. The pros and cons of nuclear energy: is it safe?. [online] Available at: https://springpowerandgas.us/the-pros-cons-of-nuclear-energy-is-it-safe/
Igini, M., 2022. The advantages and disadvantages of nuclear energy | Earth.Org – Past | Present | Future. [online] Earth.Org – Past | Present | Coming. Available at: https://earth.org/the-advantages-and-disadvantages-of-nuclear-energy/
group.Orano. 2022. Is nuclear a renewable energy?. [online] Available at: https://www.orano.group/en/unpacking-nuclear/is-nuclear-power-a-renewable-energy