Nuclear energy, what is it, and for what is it?
Nuclear energy is the energy contained in the nucleus of atoms. Atoms are the smallest elements that make up a material. These elements have a core made up of neutrons and protons that are held together by nuclear energy.
The change in these nuclei releases a large amount of energy. This energy can be used in many ways; among others, the production of electrical power.
Nuclear plants work as fired power plants using coal or natural gas. The difference is how they get thermal energy: nuclear plants use nuclear chain reactions while fired plants use fossil fuels.
Nuclear energy now provides about 10% of the world's electricity from about 440 power reactors. The United States built the first reactor in the 1950s.
How Many Types of Nuclear Reactions Are There?
There are two main types of nuclear reactions, fission and fusion.
1. Nuclear Fission
Nuclear fission is when a heavy unstable atomic nucleus divides or splits into two or lighter nuclei. When it occurs, the reaction releases significant amounts of energy. The most idoneous atoms for this purpose are uranium or plutonium due to their instability.
This principle is applied, for example, to generate energy in a nuclear power plant and nuclear weapons.
The working principle of both a nuclear weapon and a nuclear reactor is that a nuclear chain reaction must occur. If a neutron creates fission that produces more than one new neutron, the number of fissures can increase dramatically, along with massive energy production.
2. Nuclear Fusion
Nuclear fusion is the fusion of the nuclei of different atoms to form another heavier nucleus. When atoms of light elements such as hydrogen fuse together, some of the internal binding energy is released.
Nuclear fusion has enormous potential as an energy source. There are large quantities of light nuclei on earth. It means that its fuel is almost endlessly available.
Also, nuclear fusion provides the most energy with almost all current nuclear weapons.
Is Nuclear Energy Renewable Energy?
Nuclear energy is not renewable energy.
To work, it needs a type of fuel with a very particular nature: they have to be very heavy and very unstable atoms like uranium.
Uranium is a chemical element that occurs naturally. Ut does not regenerate itself, and fuel from nuclear power plants cannot be recycled.
The advantage of this energy is that compared to other non-renewable fuels, it does not emit greenhouse gases.
Is Nuclear Energy Clean Energy?
Whether it is clean energy or not is a moot point. Spent fuel from plants is highly radioactive and challenging to manage. In other words, it generates hugely polluting waste that remains active for dozens of years.
On the other hand, nuclear waste can be controlled. The trash generated follows protocols that, if executed correctly, do not release radioactive particles into the environment and, therefore, do not pollute.
How Does a Nuclear Power Plant Work?
Nuclear power plants are plants where produce electricity from atoms' energy.
All nuclear plants have one or more nuclear reactors. The nuclear reactor's function is to split the nucleus of an atom to obtain a large amount of heat. It is what we call a nuclear fission reaction.
Enriched uranium atoms usually are used because uranium is a very unstable chemical element. Therefore, it is easy to generate fission.
There are many types of nuclear reactor designs: boiling water reactors (BWR) and pressurized water reactors (PWR). The thermal energy obtained from the nuclear reaction is used to generate steam. The steam drives a turbine that provides mechanical energy. Thanks to this mechanical energy, the electric generator can be operated to obtain electricity.
Over 50 countries utilize nuclear energy in about 220 research reactors.
All nuclear capacity in nuclear power plants is due to nuclear fission. Power generation using nuclear fusion, at the moment, is only in the experimental phase.
The term nuclear energy is often used to refer to the electrical energy generated by nuclear power plants.
Pros and Cons of Nuclear Energy
The use of nuclear energy has specific pros and cons.
The main benefits of nuclear energy are:
The possibility of getting a large amount of electrical energy using a relatively low cost with a small amount of nuclear fuel.
The plants can control the generating capacity and plan the electricity supply.
It does not emit greenhouse gases and does not ait climate change.
It reduces dependence on fossil fuels.
Nuclear technology is used in medicine in diagnostic and treatment techniques.
Nuclear medicine studies are used to diagnose and determine the severity of many diseases as well as to assess the response to treatment. It includes cancer of various types, heart, endocrine, and infectious diseases among others.
The main cons of nuclear power are:
In the event of a radioactive leak, the damage to living beings is severe.
The difficulty of managing the nuclear waste generated in the short and long term.
Despite the safety systems, the possibility of nuclear accidents is real.
Nuclear technology implies the existence of atomic weapons.
What Have Been the Worst Nuclear Accidents in History?
The worst nuclear disasters in history have been:
The dropping of two atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan. The launch was made during the Second World War.
The explosion of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the USSR. For now, it is the worst civil atomic accident in history. During tests at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, a series of technical and human errors were linked, causing an intense explosion. The radioactive particles released were spotted thousands of km from the plant.
The Fukushima nuclear accident occurred as a result of two chained natural disasters. At first, there was an earthquake, and later a tsunami flooded the Japanese plant. As a result, the reactor's cooling system broke down, and the core melted, releasing large amounts of radioactive material.
This website is a general info site on nuclear energy. The contents are focused on explaining in a simple way what atomic energy is and the main aspects that surround it.
As some topics are related to physical concepts, we have easily explained these concepts in some sections to understand.
Our goal is to make this technology known to ordinary users. Our goal is not to get into calculations and sizing or any other engineering work.