The number of nuclear plants has significantly increased over the years. There were more than 400 nuclear plants in 2019 globally. This number is expected to steadily increase as more countries seek to diversify electricity sources. With nuclear reactions used to generate this type of energy, what are its advantages and disadvantages?
Nuclear Energy Pros and Cons
With the consumption of energy expected to go up in the next coming decade, it’s obvious that the use of nuclear energy will increase. But with the impending dependability on this type of energy, what are the nuclear energy advantages and disadvantages?
Pros of Using Nuclear Energy
This source of energy is considered as the most reliable at the moment. In fact, there are many proposals regarding the construction of nuclear plants in different parts of the world. So, what are the advantages of nuclear energy?
There are no serious constraints that are associated with it. Nuclear energy doesn’t depend on weather conditions, like wind power or solar energy. It’s available throughout all seasons because nuclear power plants can’t be affected by climatic factors.
Note that once a plant starts to fully operate, it can efficiently produce energy for more than one year non-stop. This is an extremely high level of reliability that most sources of energy don’t have. Data statistics indicate that nuclear plants in 2018 were able to run at full power mode 93% of the time.
The Fuel Can Be Reused
Uranium is the main source of fuel for this energy source. Specifically, Uranium-235 can be used in a nuclear reactor and also somewhere else. This is because it doesn’t fully expire when it’s placed in a nuclear reactor. So, after nuclear energy has been generated, the fuel can be put into use.
Enormous Energy Capacity
In comparison to high-grade coal, the uranium used to produce nuclear energy is much more effective.
Research indicates that a kilogram of uranium that’s enriched with only four percent of fuel-grade uranium can produce the same amount of energy as 100 tons of premium coal. This is a massive amount of energy production that requires very little fuel resources.
A Clean Source of Energy
Globally, nuclear is one of the top sources of clean energy. In the US alone, nuclear power plants generate over 800 billion kWh of electricity annually. In addition to that, they produce over 55% of the US’s emission-free electricity.
This data indicates that nuclear energy reduces carbon emission by over 470 million metric-tons annually. It’s also worth noting that the thermal energy produced by nuclear reactors can be effective in decarbonizing other sectors that use intensive energy.
This includes the transport sector that’s also the biggest contributor to generating carbon pollution.
Doesn’t Depend on Fossil Fuels
The most used sources of energy at the moment rely on fossil fuel sources. However, nuclear energy does not. This means that it can’t be affected by the constant unpredictability that comes with using gas and oil as their costs constantly fluctuate.
Besides unpredictable costs, nuclear energy also doesn’t deplete natural resources quickly. It produces high amounts of energy using a small amount of fuel.
Based on the current uranium supply, it’s estimated that we have more than 80 years of fuel supply. Besides that, there are other types of uranium that can be used, in case the one used currently gets depleted.
It Can Be Effective in Promoting National Security
Although it sounds unusual, nuclear energy can help to promote national security. But how does this happen? Well, let’s take a look at the US.
They have a powerful civilian nuclear sector that’s important for its energy diplomacy and national security.
The US uses its nuclear technology to influence its position on global leadership. Furthermore, the American government uses nuclear technologies to work with other powerful countries to develop new opportunities related to the use of nuclear power and build relationships.
It’s Safe to Use
The Chernobyl disaster and other nuclear accidents have made nations to be wary of this source of energy. However, if this resource is efficiently handled, then it can be safe.
Generally, the nuclear industry has one of the lowest mortality rates globally. For every trillion kilowatts of energy it generates, the safety levels are higher when compared to other sources of fuel.
For instance, coal-fired sources of energy usually because almost 20,000X more fatalities compared to nuclear options. This data is per every trillion kilowatts that are generated.
Solar energy might seem to be a good alternative but its fatalities are twice more than what nuclear energy offers.
Nuclear Power Plants Can Lead to Economic Development
Its influence can be seen in America’s economic profile. The nuclear industry is estimated to have almost 500,000 jobs in the US alone. Additionally, it generates around $60B to its gross domestic product annually. These numbers definitely don’t lie.
The plants in the US can employ up to a thousand workers. It should be noted that the salaries of these employees are usually 30% more than what other local employees earn.
So, the nuclear industry can be a significant contributor to the economy. They are great contributors to local economies as they contribute billions annually through tax revenues.
Inexpensive Power Supply
Once the nuclear plant starts to operate, it normally produces a cheap power supply. Generally, the electricity that nuclear reactors normally generate is cheaper than what other fuel plants including coal, and gas generate.
Uranium is usually considered to be a cost-effective source of fuel. This is because a very little amount is needed to generate kilowatts of electricity.
Note that a combination of the lifecycle (usually ranges between 40 and 60 years) in addition to the affordable operation costs makes the cost of electricity significantly cheap.
Note: we will discuss more regarding the expensive part of nuclear energy in the next section.
Its Versatile Source of Energy
The latest technology updates indicate that nuclear energy can be used in several ways. While it’s primarily used to generate electricity, there are other techniques and applications that can considerably benefit by using this energy source.
Its versatility is enhanced by the reliability and high energy production. The US has tested nuclear reactors in orbit previously.
So, with new technologies being developed, it’s possible for this energy source to be used to power engines. It could be particularly beneficial in powering naval vessels such as submarines.
Nuclear Plants Have Long Lifespans
Nuclear plants are the facilities that are designed to produce nuclear energy. The first nuclear plants had a lifespan ranging between 40 and 60 years. But technology has evolved and humans have definitely figured the best way to handle these facilities.
Research reports indicate that the 40-60 year period was just a rough estimate of the actual lifespan of a nuclear plant.
At the moment, there is enough information on how to handle these plants, and based on prior estimates, a nuclear plant can last for more than 60 years. With the possibility of the fuel coming from this energy being recycled, it means that the plants can even last longer.
Cons of Using Nuclear Energy
This source of energy comes with several downsides as well. The disadvantages of using nuclear energy include:
High Upfront Costs
When looking at nuclear energy pros and cons, we should consider the total upfront costs that will be incurred. Already, we have discussed how this can be an efficient and cost-effective source of energy.
But this is only possible when the nuclear plant is already operating. For countries seeking to build new plants, the up-front costs are extremely high. Generally, it takes billions of dollars to build a plant.
Expensive Operation and Management Costs
Apart from the high up-front costs, operating a plant comes with lots of expenses. It’s important to consider things such as plant inspections, experienced staff, as well as maintenance, and plant inspections. Overall, the operating costs can be a huge financial burden.
Building a Plant Takes Years
It’s estimated that the average period it takes to build a new nuclear plant is around 14.5 years. This is inclusive of the planning phase until the project is launched.
Between the time of the operation and the onset of the project lies a decade of nuclear plant development. This is an extremely long period that’s unnecessary.
Nuclear Plants Pose Threats to the National Security
Nuclear power plants have proved to be being security threats to any country that tries to install them. This is because the plants are attractive targets for terrorists.
In fact, most people who hear the term “nuclear energy” normally associate it with the Hiroshima and the devastating aftermath that led to the massive loss of human and plant life.
In case nuclear technology gets into the wrong hands, it poses a serious threat to the whole world in general. So, it’s also important to invest in heavy security intelligence to protect nuclear materials and power plants.
Nuclear Accidents are Catastrophic
Chernobyl disaster is not something new to us. This is an accident that happened in 1986 due to reactor design flaws. While this accident didn’t claim so many lives initially, its effects are still felt up to now, with many dying of radiation effects later.
Besides that, the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear bombings claimed around 200,000 victims immediately and more in the future.
These are not just numbers but the lives of thousands of human beings cut shot by nuclear accidents. The disaster caused by nuclear accidents spans for years due to the harmful long-term effects of radiation.
Nuclear Plants Produce Radioactive Waste
It should be noted that the production of nuclear energy doesn’t result in emissions. However, it normally leads to the production of radioactive waste.
Well, radioactive waste sounds like something serious. However, you need to know that we are constantly exposed to a small number of radioactive elements from the air radon or cosmic rays.
So, in small quantities, radioactivity can’t cause harm. But you need to know that nuclear energy produces dangerous amounts of radioactive waste. In case the storage of such waste isn’t effective, those living things will be exposed to harmful radiation.
Limited Supply of Fuel
While there are several other nuclear energy pros and cons, this is one of the most important cons. It’s understandable that this energy depends on thorium and uranium as its raw materials. However, both of them have a limited supply.
This simply means that nuclear energy isn’t a feasible solution for long-term use. This makes it just a temporary solution and we, therefore, have to seek other alternatives.
Negative Environmental Impact
Radioactive waste can definitely cause serious environmental damage if released. Besides that, the mining of uranium means that the environment is left with many open pits.
This causes erosion, contamination of nearby water sources, and leaves the land underproductive.
What You Need to Know
Here are a few things that you should know in relation to nuclear energy.
How Do Nuclear Plants Create Energy?
Well, it happens through nuclear reaction i.e. via nuclear fusion or nuclear fission. Fission is the most used technique because there is still no technology that can cost-effectively and safely handle nuclear fusion.
Is nuclear energy renewable?
It is not. This type of energy depends on fossil fuel that is usually categorized as non-renewable sources of energy. Sustainable nuclear energy needs uranium, which isn’t constantly replenished like solar.
Is nuclear energy safe?
Is nuclear energy safe /clean? Well, it is considered to be ecological energy. Because it produces electricity without producing fine particles or CO2. With zero-emission characteristics, it’s considered to be a clean and safe source of energy.
The Bottom Line
Nuclear energy is proving to be one of the most reliable sources of energy currently. There has been a gradual rise in the number of nuclear plants over the past few years.
More of them are expected to be built in the next coming decades. However, it’s important to understand the nuclear energy pros and cons before a plant is set up. Harvard University has more information regarding nuclear energy.
It’s also important for extensive research to be done regarding its lasting abilities and how to correctly store and dispose nuclear waste. Next read my article What Exactly is Nuclear Energy?