Nuclear energy currently supplies the world with 10% of its total electricity generation. And it accomplishes this with only 440 nuclear plants around the globe. That said, some are still afraid of nuclear expansion, but should they be?
Let’s examine 8 advantages and disadvantages of nuclear energy.
What is Nuclear Energy?
Nuclear energy is generated by splitting atoms within a reactor, this is known as fission. The energy released from the split is used to heat water and generate steam, which is then used to turn a turbine and generate electricity.
The United States currently leads the world in the amount of energy produced from nuclear plants at 807,078 GW-HR. More than twice the next country.
Advantages of Nuclear Energy
1. The Most Reliable Type of Energy
Regardless of if we are talking about fossil fuel sources like coal or natural gas, or if we’re talking about renewable sources like wind and solar, nuclear energy is the most reliable energy source in the world.
And the amount of fuel necessary is substantially smaller.
In fact, a single plant was able to operate uninterrupted for 940 days in the UK.
2. Nuclear Energy is Low-Carbon Energy
The nuclear power plant itself does not produce any greenhouse gases. Instead, it produces other nuclear material that can safely be stored. However, similar to creating wind turbines and photovoltaic material for solar panels, Uranium processing requires a lot of energy.
In reality, it is at the same level of emissions as wind energy, which is to say, almost nothing. Thus, its an attractive option to fight climate change.
3. Compliments Renewable Energy
One of the biggest challenges facing renewable energy is reliability. Still, as I said before, nuclear energy is the most reliable source. In fact, it’s so reliable that nuclear plants can actually adjust the amount of energy they produce.
Thus, if renewable sources are not able to produce enough, nuclear can compensate.
4. Build Them Anywhere
Unlike hydropower, nuclear power plants can be built anywhere. All that really matters is that they can receive the fuel source, Uranium. This means that the entire world, regardless of its weather patterns, can utilize nuclear energy.
That said, the high construction prices have only allowed wealthier countries to enjoy the benefits.
Disadvantages of Nuclear Energy
1. Nuclear Waste
Once the fuel source of the nuclear plant, Uranium, is finished splitting, the by-product must be removed. While this is the most well-known form of nuclear waste, it is far from the only one.
In reality, this only makes up 3% of the waste. The vast majority of waste (90%) is actually contaminated clothes and tools that are used within the reactor.
2. Very Expensive to Build
The main drawback of nuclear energy is the high initial costs. Nuclear plants are filled with very sensitive technology and safety measure that ensures that nothing goes wrong. This technology is expensive and the amount of land necessary is high.
In reality, once the plant is built the energy produced is very cheap, but the initial costs can exceed $20 billion.
3. DecomissioningNuclear Plants Takes 50 Years
Shutting down or decommissioning a nuclear power plant takes over 50 years to complete. This prevents the land from being used for anything else during the entire time. Meanwhile, normal fossil fuel plants or renewable sources can be removed in under a year.
This timeframe is to ensure that no radiation escapes the plant.
4. Nuclear Meltdown
While the safeguards in place at nuclear power plants should prevent this from happening, there have been a few major incidents throughout history. This is a worst-case scenario situation, but the thought of this catastrophe has made many shy away from the source entirely.
That said, it’s very unlikely, It took magnitude 9 earthquake and a follow-up tsunami to cause an incident in Japan in 2011.
Nuclear Energy Reactors Are Closing, But Capacity is Increasing
Around the world, many countries are beginning to phase out nuclear energy in favor of renewable energy sources. However, despite this, the overall capacity is rising and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
This is because plant lifetimes are being extended and upgraded.
Robert has been following and writing about environmental stories for years at GreenGeeks. He believes that highlighting environmentally friendly practices can help promote change in every household.