Nuclear energy: advantages and disadvantages

nuclear energy advantages and disadvantages

To speak of nuclear energy is to think of the Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters that occurred in 1986 and 2011, respectively. It is a type of energy that produces a certain fear due to its dangerousness. All types of energy (except renewables) generate repercussions for the environment and human beings, although some do so to a greater extent than others. In this case, nuclear energy does not emit greenhouse gases during its production, but this does not mean that it does not affect both the environment and humans in a negative way. There are numerous advantages and disadvantages of nuclear energy and the human being has to evaluate each one of them.

Therefore, in this article we are going to focus on explaining what are the advantages and disadvantages of nuclear energy and how it affects the population.

What is the nuclear energy

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The first of all is to know what this type of energy is. Nuclear energy is the energy that we obtain from the fission (division) or fusion (combination) of the atoms that make up the material. In fact, The nuclear energy we use is obtained from the fission of uranium atoms. But not just any uranium. The most used is U-235.

On the contrary, the sun that rises every day is a huge nuclear fusion reactor that can generate a lot of energy. No matter how clean and safe it is, the ideal nuclear power is cold fusion. In other words, a fusion process, but the temperature is closer to room temperature than to the extreme temperature of the sun.

Although fusion is being studied, the reality is that this type of nuclear energy is only considered theoretical and it does not seem that we are close to achieving it. That is why the nuclear energy that we have always heard and mentioned here is the fission of uranium atoms.

Advantages and disadvantages of nuclear energy

advantages and disadvantages of nuclear power

Advantages

Although it has negative connotations, one should not be judged by the news and even the movies about accidents and radioactive waste. The reality is that nuclear power has many advantages. The most important are the following:

  • Nuclear energy is clean in its production process. In fact, most nuclear reactors only emit harmless water vapor into the atmosphere. It is not carbon dioxide or methane, or any other polluting gas or gas that causes climate change.
  • The cost of power generation is low.
  • Due to the powerful power of nuclear energy, a large amount of energy can be generated in a single factory.
  • It is almost inexhaustible. In fact, some experts believe that we should classify it as renewable energy, because current uranium reserves can continue to produce the same energy as now for thousands of years.
  • His generation is constant. Unlike many renewable energy sources (such as solar energy that cannot be generated at night or wind that cannot be generated without wind), its production is enormous and remains constant for hundreds of days. For 90% of the year, excluding scheduled refills and maintenance shutdowns, nuclear power is operating at full capacity.

Disadvantages

As you might expect, nuclear power also has certain disadvantages. The main ones are the following:

  • Its waste is very dangerous. In general, they are negative for health and the environment. Radioactive waste is seriously contaminated and deadly. Its degradation takes thousands of years, which makes its management very delicate. In fact, this is a problem that we have not yet solved.
  • The accident can be very serious. Nuclear power plants are equipped with good safety measures, but accidents can happen, in this case the accident can be very serious. The Three Mile Island in the United States, Fukushima in Japan or Chernobyl in the former Soviet Union are examples of what could happen.
  • They are vulnerable targets. Whether it is a natural disaster or an act of terrorism, a nuclear power plant is a target, and if it is destroyed or damaged, it will cause huge losses.

How nuclear energy affects the environment

Nuclear waste

CO2 emissions

Although a priori it may seem that it is an energy that does not emit greenhouse gases, this is not entirely true. If compared to other fuels, it does have almost non-existent emissions, but they are still present. In a thermal power plant, the main gas that is emitted into the atmosphere is CO2. On the other hand, in a nuclear power plant the emissions are much lower. CO2 is only emitted during the extraction of uranium and its transport to the plant.

Use of water

Large amounts of water are required to cool the substances used during the nuclear fission process. This is done to prevent dangerous temperatures from being reached in the reactor. The water used is taken from rivers or the sea. On numerous occasions you can find marine animals in the water that end up dying when the water is heated. In the same way, the water is returned to the environment with a higher temperature, causing the plants and animals to die.

Possible accidents

Accidents in nuclear power plants are very rare, but very dangerous. Every accident can produce a catastrophe of enormous magnitude, both on an ecological and human level. The problem with these accidents lies in the radiation that leaks into the environment. This radiation is deadly for any plant, animal or person that is exposed. In addition, it is capable of remaining in the environment for decades (Chernobyl is not yet habitable due to its radiation levels).

Nuclear waste

Beyond possible nuclear accidents, the waste that is generated can remain for thousands of years until it is no longer radioactive. This is a danger to the flora and fauna of the planet. Today, the treatment that these waste have is to be closed in nuclear cemeteries. These cemeteries keep the waste sealed and isolated and are placed underground or at the bottom of the sea so that it does not contaminate.

The problem with this waste management is that it is a short-term solution. This is, the period for which nuclear waste remains radioactive is longer than the lifetime of the boxes in which they are sealed.

Affection to the human being

Radiation, unlike other pollutants, you can neither smell nor see. It is harmful to health and can be maintained for decades. In summary, nuclear energy can affect humans in the following ways:

  • It causes genetic defects.
  • It causes cancer, especially of the thyroid, since this gland absorbs iodine, although it also causes brain tumors and bone cancer.
  • Bone marrow problems, which in turn cause leukemia or anemia.
  • Fetal malformations.
  • Infertility.
  • It weakens the immune system, which increases the risk of infection.
  • Gastrointestinal disorders.
  • Mental problems, especially radiation anxiety.
  • In high or prolonged concentrations it causes death.

Based on all that has been seen, the ideal is to find a balance between the different uses of energy while increasing renewable energy and advancing the energy transition. I hope that with this information you can learn more about the advantages and disadvantages of nuclear energy.


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