One of the primary lessons you learn in physics is that energy cannot ever be created or destroyed. All we can do, is help its conversion from one form to another, and capitalize on the output. For students learning this, it’s part of the simple building blocks of physics, and anyone that’s interested to learn more can check out this course and discover the fundamental science behind everything.
Within every atom there is a nucleus in the center, which is composed of two types of particles. The proton with its positive charge, and the neutron which is slightly bigger and carry’s a negative charge. Nuclear energy is simply the energy that is captured when the nucleus of an atom is destroyed, and released. Fission is the most common form of obtaining nuclear energy, and occurs when uranium is bombarded with neutrons, creating two lighter elements and a lot of radiation. To compare the efficiency of this as a power source the fission of a nucleus in uranium 235 produces about 60 million times more energy when compared to burning a single carbon atom. Put into perspective, and in line with the technology available today, 28 grams of uranium produces the same amount of energy as burning 100 metric tons of coal.
It’s with this pure fissionable material however that hydrogen bombs can be made. Of the two bombs that ended World War 2 after being dropped on Japan, one contained plutonium, and the other very highly enriched uranium 235.
But the real benefit is harnessing the energy that nuclear reactions create, and turning this into power that can then be used in the power grid. Compared to sustainable methods of electricity generation, many environmentalists are against nuclear power. This course is fantastic as it gives an overview of the impact of energy use on the environment, presenting the facts of both sides of the case.
In line with this, as follows are the key benefits of nuclear power:
Nuclear power plants require lots of water for cooling, and must be built on the coast. But what makes them appealing over their more sustainable counterparts like wind farms is that they don’t require a lot of space.
Nuclear energy doesn’t contribute to carbon emissions, and in the reactions no carbon dioxide or methane is released. Because a nuclear plant is not burning fossil fuels like a coal power plant, they do not cause global warming. There is also no adverse effects on the water, land or the surrounding areas under the normal daily operations of a nuclear power plant.
Nuclear power plants do not pollute the atmosphere with any smoke particles or heavy toxins. This improves the quality of life of the people and the communities in the surrounding area, compared to traditional coal power plants. The iconic images that most people associate with nuclear reactors and their massive cooling towers is the plumes of white smoke, but in reality this is nothing more than pure steam.
The reaction caused in a nuclear power plant allows the most concentrated form of energy to be captured. This means that only a small amount of fuel is required to produce a massive amount of energy. This reduces the transportation costs of the raw material, however it should be noted that because the fuel source is radioactive, the transportation done is expensive from all the security implications.
In addition, the cost of uranium for the fuel source is quite low. The problem is only the initial investment, but once a nuclear plant is operational the running costs are very minimal. A nuclear reactor can last up to 60 years, which means that the cost to produce nuclear energy is very low once it is up and running.
The recent advances in technology have made nuclear energy a very viable option, and this is one of the main reasons many countries are making large investments in nuclear power. At the current point in time, only a small percentage of the worlds electricity is created by nuclear power.
Nuclear power is very reliable, and does not depend on the weather, or traditional sources of energy like the sun. Because of this a nuclear plant can efficiently create electricity 24/7, and only ever needs to be shut down to perform scheduled maintenance. Nuclear engineers can very easily control the output of their power plant, although this does take a little bit more time than in a fossil fuel station. If you’re interested in this, check out this recent post and discover the range of options you have for engineering jobs.
Compared to other types of power generation, nuclear power plants generate electricity for almost 90% of the hours within a year. This reduces a huge amount of price volatility that we see in other forms of energy like oil and natural gas.
It produces only a small amount of waste, although this waste is radioactive.
The supply of uranium is also widely available, and there are huge reserves that will be able to meet demand for hundreds of years to come. This is unlike coal, oil and natural gas, of which the stores are all depleting rapidly and will soon leave us scrambling for new options.
Finally, the industry in itself is important, as it plays a central part in job creation and economic growth for the workers in the local communities. Due to the long term planning required to keep a nuclear power plant running, they employ many staff for a long period of time. In addition the revenue and taxes generated by the plant benefits the local infrastructure, helping communities build schools, roads and medical facilities.
For people that are totally not interested in the nuclear industry, you can also excel in competing products, as you encourage more sustainable solutions to their power needs. This course is fantastic at giving you a brief on how to sell solar as an alternative to the traditional energy sources, or check out how contractors can target residential homes and promote solar energy in this course.
Without nuclear power, there would be over 2 billion metric tons of CO2 released into the atmosphere every year if the electricity was created instead by using fossil fuels. As an energy source nuclear power is not “green,” but it’s certainly a lot greener than the traditional counterparts. We can no longer simply rely on fossil fuels for our electricity needs, so perhaps nuclear is the way to go?