Nuclear energy is the energy contained in the nucleus of atoms. This is made up of protons (particles with a positive electrical charge) and neutrons (particles without an electrical charge). When the atomic nucleus is transformed, a nuclear reaction occurs with the release of a large amount of energy.
All human activities depend on energy. In fact, energy has made possible the technological advances that have improved the quality of life for human beings. The demand for electrical energy is increasing all over the world.
One of the sources of electricity in the world is nuclear energy generated in nuclear plants. The resources to power nuclear power plants release energy in the form of heat. This heat is used to heat water, which is then used to drive large turbines and generate electricity.
Let’s see then what are the pros and cons of nuclear energy.
Advantages of nuclear energy
1. Nuclear reactions generate more energy than chemical reactions
There are two ways to obtain energy from the nucleus: by fission or by fusion. Nuclear fission is the splitting of nuclei of heavy atoms, giving rise to atoms of lower weight. Fusion is the process where two low mass number atoms join to form a heavier atom.
In either process, the resulting nuclear configuration releases a certain amount of energy, much greater than the energy of the chemical reactions that occur when fossil fuels are burned.
2. Reduce dependence on gas and oil imports
Oil and natural gas, the main conventional sources of energy, are becoming scarce and prices are rising. In addition, they are located in certain regions and not all countries have these resources.
Because of this, many countries depend on others to obtain the natural resources they do not have. With the construction of nuclear plants, each country could start its activities independently.
3. Electricity generated by nuclear energy does not release greenhouse gases
When fossil fuels are burned, gases such as carbon dioxide are released. These gases are the main cause of climate change, due to the greenhouse effect they cause in the atmosphere.
Nuclear reactions do not emit gases that can pollute the air.
4. Available 24 hours a day, all year round
During the winter, electricity generated by solar panels is seriously affected by the decrease in sunlight capture. No power is generated during the night either. Wind, the other alternative energy source, also depends on local climate and geographical conditions.
In contrast, nuclear power is not affected by weather conditions and is available throughout the year, day and night. This makes the generation of electricity from nuclear energy more reliable.
5. Operating costs are low
The cost of materials to power nuclear plants is relatively inexpensive. Uranium is cheaper and more efficient than fossil fuels; much less amount of durani produces more energy than the same amount in oil.
The maintenance of nuclear plants is also less frequent.
6. The nuclear reaction does not need the presence of oxygen
This is an advantage because it allows the hermetic sealing of the nuclear fuel, isolating it from the outside environment. This prevents air pollution from the radiation emitted in the reaction.
7. Nuclear reactors can be underground
This is an advantage in terms of environmental safety, as the land around the reactor acts as a radiation container.
Disadvantages of nuclear energy
1. Generation and management of toxic waste
The main disadvantage in the use of nuclear fuel is the production of radioactive waste substances. In the process of generating nuclear energy by fission, the two atoms generated are radioactive, some lasting for many years. Handling this waste is expensive and dangerous.
2. Association between nuclear energy and nuclear weapons
Nuclear plants are considered the first step to the development of nuclear bombs.
3. High initial financial investment
The installation of nuclear plants requires a heavy investment of money, compared to conventional technologies of electricity generation.
This is mainly due to the excessive bureaucratic costs that some governments impose on this type of technology.
4. Potential risk of accident
The example of the Chernobyl accident in 1986 is the most often referred to when the concern about the risk of nuclear plants arises. This type of accident can cause serious health problems, not only for humans, but also for animals and plants. However, this accident was caused by poor design of the reactors.
On the other hand, nuclear plants are known to be vulnerable to natural phenomena such as earthquakes and tsunamis, following the incident in Fukushima (Japan) in 2011.
6. It is not renewable
Nuclear energy sources do not regenerate once consumed.
7. Fear of exposure to radiation
One of the concerns of residents near nuclear plants is contracting diseases from such close exposure to radiation.
This fear is unfounded, since under natural conditions we are constantly exposed to certain levels of radiation, which do not affect health. In fact, there is a region in Iran with natural radio reserves that emits 100 times more radiation, without the fact that there is a higher incidence of cancer among its inhabitants.
Akyuz, E. (2017) Advantages and disadvantages of nuclear energy in Turkey: public perception. Eurasian Journal of Environmental Research 1: 1-11
DeGunther, R. (2009) Alternative Energy for Dummies. Wiley Publishing. NJ