Nuclear Energy

What is Nuclear Energy?

Nuclear energy is the tremendous amount of potential energy within the core of an atom. Either splitting (nuclear fission) or fusing (nuclear fusion), the core releases this energy. There are two main uses of this release of energy: a nuclear power plant to generate electricity or a nuclear bomb to create a payload.

Key Takeaways
-  Nuclear Energy is the term used to describe the energy in the core of an atom. 
-  Nuclear Energy is often used when considering the use of a nuclear power station to generate electricity or nuclear bomb.
-  Releasing the energy from the core of an atom can be achieved by either splitting the atom (nuclear fission) or fusing the atom with another (nuclear fusion).
-  As with any energy production technology, there are associated advantages and disadvantages.
- The nuclear industry is undergoing a growth in innovation with opportunities to supply clean energy to the globe.

Nuclear Energy Explained

Types of nuclear energy

There are two types of nuclear energy.

  1. Nuclear fission

  2. Nuclear fusion

Nuclear fission

When you split a heavy nucleus, the energy released into two light nuclei is called nuclear fission. All of the worlds nuclear power plants utilise nuclear fission, and an atomic bomb is an example of nuclear fission.


Nuclear fusion

The energy released when combining two light nuclei into a heavy nucleus is called nuclear fusion. There are many nuclear fusion reactors in development, but none have successfully progressed into operation to date. A hydrogen bomb is an example of nuclear fusion.

Advantages of nuclear energy

1. Reliable

One of the most significant advantages of nuclear energy is that it’s a reliable power source. Unlike solar energy and wind energy, which need the sun to be shining or the breeze to blow, you can produce nuclear energy no matter the weather or time of day. A nuclear power plant is an excellent source of energy baseload.


2. Low-cost energy

Although building nuclear energy stations has a high starting expense, it's moderately cheap to produce energy from them, as they have low working expenses. Additionally, nuclear power doesn't encounter the same kind of value changes that conventional fossil fuel sources like coal and flammable gas do. Therefore, it is easy to predict the cost of nuclear power well into the future. It is probably that the price is going to get even lower as innovations continue.


3. Zero carbon emission

Nuclear power reactors don't create any greenhouse gas emission, which is a massive benefit over other conventional energy sources, such as fossil fuels which discharge vast amounts of carbon dioxide into the air. Increases in carbon dioxide in the air is one of the primary sources of environmental change. In this way, the less carbon and ozone-depleting substance outflows a fuel source has, the better.


As indicated by the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), atomic power production prevents 528 million metric huge loads of carbon dioxide from being delivered into the environment yearly.


4. High energy density

The amount of energy delivered in a nuclear fission reaction is estimated to be ten million times more than the amount produced when consuming fossil fuels.


Therefore, the amount of nuclear fuel needed in a nuclear power station is much smaller than that of other power stations, helping contribute to the small cost of atomic energy generation, which produces a minimal amount of nuclear waste.


5. Promising future energy supply

Nuclear fusion is the holy grail of tackling energy. If we can learn to figure out how to control nuclear fusion (the same reactions as those that fuel the sun), we could have limitless energy. This technique has some genuine challenges that the developers need to utilise for a more significant scope.


Disadvantages of nuclear energy

1. Water intensive

Nuclear energy stations require a lot of water to create energy. In 2015, the United States burned-through 320 billion gallons of water to create nuclear power. Much more water than what is utilised for coal processing.


As water turns out to be all the scanter, particularly with environmental change, this gigantic water utilisation could become unreasonable.


2. Radioactive waste

Producing nuclear power doesn't transmit destructive ozone-depleting substances; however, it makes dangerous waste. The waste created by nuclear energy stations remains dangerously radioactive for millennia. Numerous issues emerge when attempting to sort out some way to store this radioactive waste.


Waste keeps on gathering at nuclear energy stations, as there is no long-term storage space for it. The amassing of hazardous atomic waste will become an issue once power plants run out of space room. As discussed above, due to the fuel's density, the amount of waste generated is tiny, about the size of a football field for a life-times generation.


3. Risk of nuclear accidents

Nuclear energy stations have severe wellbeing measures set up. In any case, mishaps can happen regardless of how cautious you are. An emergency at a nuclear plant can disastrously affect the surrounding regions, which we know from occasions like the Fukushima disaster, Chernobyl, and Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania.


In case of a nuclear emergency, destructive radiation can leak out, which can cause consequences for the climate and the local populations health. In 1986 an incident at Chernobyl eventually led to significant deaths, with estimated ranges between 4,000 to 60,000 resulting deaths. There are also claims that over 2 million people are battling with health issues identified with Chernobyl. Today, more than 30 years after the fact, access is restricted inside the 19-mile Chernobyl prohibition zone. The official stats associated with the Chernobyl incident remain at 31.


4. Non-renewable

We define renewable power as a source of energy that isn't exhausted when it is utilised or recharged inside a human lifetime. Solar power is an example of a renewable resource because the sun isn't going anywhere. So to is Tidal Energy renewable. Nuclear power, on another point, is a non-renewable power source as the fuel, uranium, is a limited source. As we mine uranium, we exhaust the amount that is accessible. However, it is estimated that this will not be within the lifespan of humankind. Therefore nuclear energy is deemed sustainable.


Nuclear energy future

It is an exciting time for the nuclear energy industry with several innovations in development. The two main areas of interest are Small Modular Reactors and Nuclear Fusion.


Small Modular Reactors offer many opportunities. Being smaller than the current generation of nuclear reactors provides some essential safety and security benefits that may provide more assurances to the general public and raise the nuclear industry's overall perceptions. As they are modular, you can undertake more of the fabrication in factories before shipping to the site for erection. The costs savings associated with reducing site works will help nuclear energy become cheaper and hence more attractive.


Nuclear fusion has been 'a couple of decades away' for the last 60 years. However, there have been some key developments in the previous 5-10 years, which give hope to many that nuclear fusion is just around the corner. You can see more investments in private funded fusion ventures than ever before, including big names such as Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos.


Back to Nuclear Definitions

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