Nuclear Energy Facts

Nuclear power provides the world an enormous amount of its total energy. Electricity is an indispensible element of contemporary life, which provides the basic framework for the high standards of living enjoyed by billions. In an age actively looking to reduce its overall carbon footprint and pollution, nuclear energy may well provide a clean energy alternative to traditional sources of power, and continue to grow in importance.

 

Nuclear Energy Facts and Myths

 

Nuclear energy, through a variety of processes at a power station reactor, is refined to create power. These nuclear processes are mostly performed using so called ‘rare earth elements.’  During energy production, the atoms’ are either broken apart, which is called fission, or joined together, called ‘fusion.’

 

It is a myth, though unfortunately a widespread one, that nuclear reactors can simply explode just like their weapon cousins. While energy plants can, and do, have issues with operation, the level of enrichment in power plants’ uranium is far too low to actually explode. The plants are made specifically for producing electricity, not weapons, in reliable and safe ways, and are among the most secure industrial facilities in the world. A robust safety system is in place, with multiple layers of electronic and physical security actively supporting each other to severely limit access to the core of reactor.

 

Nuclear energy is very clean when compared to other power sources. While nuclear power plants produce 400 cubic meters of a waste a year, coal powered plants produce around 400,000 cubic meters of ash per year, as well as 7 million tons of hazardous exhaust gases.

 

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Nuclear Energy Facts

  • Nuclear energy comes from uranium, a mined, nonrenewable resource.
  • Nuclear power plants operate using a fission process, which is produced at low temperature creates safe energy.
  • About 13% of the world’s energy is provided by emissions free nuclear power.
  • More than 70% of America’s emission-free power comes from nuclear energy sources.
  • A power plant must be shut down in every 18 to 24 months in order to remove spent uranium fuel, which is highly radioactive waste.
  • 1 out 5 businesses and households in the U. S. are powered by nuclear energy.
  • Nuclear power facilities can produce up to 91% efficiency-rated energy in 24 hours and 7 days.

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Hopefully, learning some of the basic nuclear energy facts, especially in terms of its potential as a clean energy source, have helped provide you with a more informed opinion.

Uses of Nuclear Energy

Uses of nuclear energy

Nuclear energy was first harvested for widespread commercial power in 1950, by utilizing the heat from split uranium atoms. Today, nuclear energy provides a significant percentage of the world’s total energy. The contributions of nuclear energy, however, have become far more widespread than simply lighting homes and businesses, and are often overlooked by the average person. Two of its particular products, radiation and radioisotopes, have found applications in all corners of the modern world, including:

  • Industry
  • Diverse scientific research
  • Medicine
  • Agriculture

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Indeed, the uses of nuclear energy span multitudes of other far ranging categories that help to improve peoples lives.

Nuclear Energy and Radioisotope

For starters, isotopes are defined as: “any of two or more forms of a chemical element, having the same number of protons in the nucleus, orthesame atomic
number, but having different numbers of neutrons in the
nucleus, or different atomic weights.”

While some isotopes are unchanging, or ‘stable,’ others are extremely unstable, changing a large spectrum of rates of milliseconds to millennia. Unstable isotopes emit charged waves or particles, making them radioactive by nature, or ‘radioisotopes.’ This inherent instability gives them the ability to be used in a wide variety of technology, provided they are incorporated into safer material. Commercial uses of radioisotopes include:

  • Pest Control
  • Smoke Detectors
  • Geological Dating
  • Radioactive Tracers (in growing food)

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George De Hevesy and Radiation

In 1911, practical application of radioisotopes was first discovered by George de Hevesy, a Hungarian student working with naturally radioactive materials in Manchester, England. As a poor student, he lived in a boarding house, taking all of his meals with his landlady. He was secretly suspicious of the food she served, as many meals appeared to return very regularly, possibly from leftovers days or even weeks old. Being a student of science, he decided to test his hypothesis by placing a small amount of radioactive material into his leftovers one night. Using a simple gold leaf electroscope, he reasoned that he should be able to detect radiation. Several days later, the same dish was served to him. His gold leaf detection worked, and his meal was found to contain the same radiation he place inside it days earlier, likely to the chagrin of his thrifty landlady.

De Hevesy later went on to win the Nobel Prize in 1943, followed by the Atoms for Peace award in 1959. His simple gold leaf detector would be refined into a more sophisticated radiation detector, which is now routinely used in the field of environmental science, and one of the most important practical uses of nuclear energy.

Today, many new beneficial uses of nuclear energy are being discovered by scientists, so that the lives of millions of people across the globe can be improved.

Nuclear Energy Pros and Cons

Nuclear energy is an extremely effective source of power, yet it is not used without controversy world-wide. It has been considered as a replacement for other finite sources of energy, such as coal, oil and gas. However, many people wouldn’t consider more nuclear energy as the best action for electricity. It is a source of power with a series of tradeoffs, and like anything else, the nuclear energy pros and cons should be considered before sticking to any definitive answer.

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More about Nuclear Energy’s Pros and Cons

Nuclear energy as a source of power has been used widely since the years following World War Two. On the whole, compared to fossil fuel-based sources of energy, nuclear power has been found to produce fewer pollutants and greenhouse gasses. In an era where eco-consciousness is becoming part and parcel of everyday thinking, this is an important argument to consider. Nuclear plants do not, however, come without a potential series of risks. The notable incidents of Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and more recently in Fukushima stand out as reminders that nuclear power stations can become areas of extreme disaster, particularly in the case of natural disasters striking, faulty equipment, or basic human error.

In addition to being a more ‘clean’ source of energy, the potential for nuclear energy to produce an enormous amount of power, which can easily meet the needs of today’s market, is clear. Owning to modern technology, nuclear energy is now available with a low cost of operation. It is also feasible for many plants to reduce the waste of spent nuclear rods through the process of recycling these items back into the energy making process. Recycling 100% of spent nuclear rods at this point in time, however, is not possible. This leaves an open question of what to do with innumerable amounts of spent nuclear fuel rods, which need to be carefully sealed and stored in order not to corrupt the environment, or cause serious harm to people.

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Other Considerations

While modern technology is able to reduce nuclear waste to some extent, the fact remains that nuclear waste will last 200-500,000 years before degrading into non-harmful material. Furthermore, a large and expensive infrastructure is needed to be able to manage such energy that comes with so many risks.

Even with a small list of nuclear energy pros and cons, the final decision remains a hard one to make. Only with the use of greater and more sophisticated technology can nuclear power become less of a risk, both in reality and in the hearts and minds of concerned people.

The Definition of Nuclear Energy

The definition of nuclear energy is, simply, energy which is released through the process of splitting an atom’s nucleus, known as “fission.” A second type of nuclear energy potential exists, though it is currently a less refined process. This second type, called “fusion,” involves joining two atoms.

At the time of one of the two physical reactions, the atoms experience a loss of mass, albeit only slight. This loss of mass becomes heat energy, discovered first by Albert Einstein with his famous “E = mc2” equation.

Nuclear energy is usually referred to in the context of generating electricity, by using reactions to create power. What should be remembered is that even though that electricity production is a common application, it is possible for nuclear power to be used in many other sectors, including: environmental resources, medical technology, and war and maritime technology. Like most things, there are pros and cons of nuclear energy.

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Overview

The origin of nuclear energy comes from the discovery of uranium atoms’ splitting, a process called fission. At a nuclear power plant, this reaction is exploited by using the steam from the process to move a turbine, wherein electricity is produced.

Nuclear energy uses fuel that is made from processed uranium, which must be mined before in order to make it steam, and then electricity is generated.

Nuclear energy is, to date, the only electricity source that is able to produce large power, known as base load power, without emitting greenhouse gasses. In this sense, nuclear energy has one of the lowest impacts on the environment, and on natural resources of any source of electricity.

How It Works

The pressure of the steam turns a generator, which produces electricity. In other power plants, such as ones based on oil, coal, or natural gas, these elements are burned for generating the heat in a similar fashion. In the facility of a nuclear energy, heat is produced from the atom’s splitting, which is known as fission. First, the reactor creates heat, which produces steam, and then the steam turns a turbine that is connected to an electromagnet, or a generator. After that, the electricity itself is produced by the generator.

One particular nuclear reactor of note, located in the United Arab Emirates, is known as a ‘pressurized water reactor.’ In this plant, the water in the reactor vessel is prevented from boiling by the high pressure in the reactor vessel. The super heated water is carried to a generator of steam through a large amount of small pipes. In the pipes, the heat is used is used for turning an isolated, second water supply to steam. This is in turn is used for turbine driving. The water is pumped back from the reactor into the reactor vessel and then reheated. The turbine has steam that is cooled in a condenser. The result is that water is sent back to the steam generator.

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