In 2018, approximately 10% of the world’s electricity was produced via nuclear energy. In addition, the United States contributed around 31% of the world’s generation, followed by China and France, each of which contributed about 10%. Given that the United States has 93 operational nuclear reactors and China has 50 as of May 2021, this makes perfect sense. However, exactly a year before to that, China was working on 44 reactors while the United States had plans for just 3. Therefore, if nothing changes, China will soon overtake Russia as the world’s top nuclear energy producer. Of course, there are positives and negatives to anything, and this is true for nuclear energy as well. Let’s investigate them.
Benefits of nuclear power
Among its benefits are some of the following:
Dependable source of energy
Nuclear power is unaffected by climate variables, unlike wind or solar power. It offers a continuous, dependable, and reliable source of energy. The only time energy production is interrupted is when a nuclear station needs to be refuelled, which happens approximately every 1.5 to 2 years. However, the figures are not fixed in stone. The Heysham II nuclear power plant in the United Kingdom shut down in 2016 for inspection and maintenance purposes rather than because of a system breakdown after producing energy for 940 nonstop days.
Nuclear energy is one of the most secure methods of generating electricity, according to a 2013 NASA study and subsequent studies. Wind, hydro, and solar energy are somewhat safer than fossil fuels, according to studies. According to research, the death rate from accidents and pollution associated with nuclear power is 0.07 per terawatt/hour produced. In other words, there would be no deaths on a yearly basis and it would take 14 years for one death to occur. The risk of death is 350 times lower than coal energy even with this figure, which is an upper estimate.
Low pollutants and no carbon
Nuclear power is not pollution-free, while having a little effect on the environment. However, it does not emit any carbon dioxide or nitrous oxide, and it annually reduces over 471 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide, which is the same as 100 million passenger cars. Additionally, it accounts for more than 50% of all carbon-free electricity in the country, making it the largest source. According to research, it produces 2.5 times as much electricity than hydropower. Additionally, it produces over 8 times as much carbon-free electricity as solar power and 2 times as much as wind power.
Small ecological impact
We noted that solar farms take up a lot of real estate while talking about solar energy’s disadvantages. A nuclear power plant that generates 1000 MW (megawatts) of electricity, however, only takes up around 1 square mile of space, according to the US Department of Energy. According to the same study, 75 square miles would be needed for an equivalent solar farm. And a wind farm would require 350 kilometres, which is worse. That is equivalent to 431 wind turbines or 3125 million solar panels based on their size comparison.
Economical and effective
The amount of Uranium-235 needed to produce the same amount of energy using coal or oil is drastically reduced. A gummy bear-sized uranium fuel pellet, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), can provide as much energy as 17,000 cubic feet of natural gas, 1 tonne of coal, or 149 gallons of oil. According to additional studies, nuclear fission is 8,000 times more effective than conventional fossil fuels. Additionally, it costs less to transfer uranium to the nuclear facility.
We should have enough uranium on Earth for another 80 years, according to estimates. On the other hand, if we don’t find more, we’ll run out of oil by 2052, gas by 2060, and coal by 2088. But even if we do discover more, it won’t be long until they are all gone. In addition, if scientists succeed in turning nuclear fusion into a reality rather than nuclear fission, we would (theoretically) never run out of electricity again.
There are nuclear power alternatives.
Nuclear power facilities employ uranium when there is insufficient plutonium. On the other hand, thorium-90 is more common on Earth, produces a smaller amount of nuclear waste, and the radioactivity of that waste is substantially lower. Additionally, it is much more difficult to make a nuclear bomb utilising thorium.
The drawbacks of nuclear power
The following are some prominent drawbacks of nuclear energy:
Non-renewable at this time
Uranium-235 atoms undergo nuclear fission, which separates them into lighter elements like Krypton-92 and Barium-141, converting the missing mass into significant amounts of nuclear energy. However, uranium ore, which is non-renewable and is taken from open-pit or underground mines, is where uranium-235 is found. Approximately 68% of the world’s uranium ore production comes from mines in Australia, Canada, and Kazakhstan.
Extremely high initial costs
Nuclear power facilities that generated roughly 1100 MW of energy cost between $6 billion and $9 billion in 2008, while being highly effective and inexpensive to operate once in service. But since then, costs have dramatically increased. For instance, work on a two-reactor construction project in South Carolina that was initially scheduled to cost $14 billion had to be stopped in 2019 because the price had increased to almost $23 billion.
Produces radioactive waste
Uranium mining and enrichment are not eco-friendly practises. Here is what transpires:
During operation, nuclear facilities produce nuclear radioactive waste. The radioactivity and heat in about 97% of such waste dissipate within a few days or weeks. The remaining 3 percent is high-level waste, which retains its intense heat for a long time and is radioactive for hundreds of thousands or possibly millions of years. Because of this, we must bury it hundreds or even thousands of metres underground to prevent harm to the environment and other living things.
A mining site
Radioactive particles and leftover rock from the uranium extraction process can contaminate nearby water sources and lead to erosion. Additionally, the movement of uranium to the surface may expose workers to high radiation levels.
Because water cools the nuclear fission chambers in boiling water reactors and pressurised water reactors, nuclear power plants can contaminate water (BWRs). In either scenario, a fuel leak has the potential to pollute steam or water and spread it throughout the system. Nuclear waste buried deep down also has the potential to leach into the groundwater.
Thousands of accident-related deaths occurred as a result of major nuclear reactor mishaps in Kyshtym, Chernobyl, and Fukushima, both immediately (acute radiation sickness) and indirectly (multiple types of cancer, weakened immune system). But rather than a lack of security measures, they were the result of subpar maintenance, mistakes made by people, and natural calamities like earthquakes and tsunamis.