Nuclear plants produce electricity using atomic energy. Furthermore, it is a thermal power station whose heat source is the nuclear fission reactions that occur inside.
Since the beginning of electricity, the primary source of electrical energy has been the combustion of fossil fuels. However, despite the advantages of fossil energy, scientists have observed that the gases they emit create a layer in the atmosphere that does not allow heat to escape. This phenomenon is called the greenhouse effect and favors climate change and global warming of the planet.
For this reason, other alternatives arose to obtain electricity using other resources such as solar, wind, or hydraulic energy, especially nuclear power.
The presence of nuclear plants worldwide has led to critical debates about nuclear power. This article will discuss the pros and cons of nuclear power plants.
How Does a Nuclear Power Plant Work in a Nutshell?
To understand the benefits of a nuclear plant, it is essential to know briefly how it works.
A nuclear power plant aims to convert the energy that holds atoms together into electrical energy. For this, it uses atoms with a heavy atomic nucleus because they are more unstable. Uranium is an ideal type of atom for this purpose, which is why it is the most widely used nuclear fuel in this type of energy facility.
Nuclear power plants have a nuclear reactor (sometimes several) whose function is to cause the breaking of these unstable atoms. This process, known as nuclear fission, releases a large amount of energy used to generate steam that drives steam turbines. The turbines are connected to alternators that generate electricity.
There are different types of nuclear reactors, the most common being pressurized water reactors (PWR) and boiling water reactors (BWR). Each has its differences, but the principle is the same: generate heat through nuclear reactions, drive turbines, and activate an electric generator.
Advantages of Nuclear Energy Plants
Virtually all of the benefits of nuclear energy plants are related to cost and electricity production capacity. Below, we list the most notable advantages.
A minimal amount of nuclear fuel is required for every watt of electrical power generated.
Nuclear reactors, thanks to control rods and other systems, allow the output power to be regulated according to demand. In other words, they can regulate the amount of electricity generated at any time. This is a clear advantage over many renewable energy sources, such as wind or solar power, that depends on solar radiation, weather, and other factors that cannot be controlled.
Under normal operating conditions, it does not generate greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide, or anything similar. The smoke that can sometimes be seen coming out of their chimneys is water vapor.
Disadvantages of Nuclear Energy
Each environmental organization has its arguments against nuclear power. However, there are two drawbacks to nuclear power that underpin all of them:
Even though safety measures have improved year by year, the possibility of a nuclear accident always exists. It can cause health problems for people and animals nearby, as has happened several times before in our history. Since the last century, there have been several nuclear leaks and accidents.
The difficulty of managing the nuclear waste generated. The spent fuel is made up of uranium atoms that cannot react together with fission products. Spent fuel is still radioactive and needs to be protected and isolated for years to be harmless. Any leak of this material will significantly impact the environment and people's health.
Nuclear plants must have security systems in place to prevent terrorist attacks that cause the release of contaminated material.
The worst ones have been the accidents at the Chernobyl and Fukushima plants. The first occurred due to consecutive human errors during a security test. On the other hand, the Fukushima disaster resulted from a sequence of natural disasters. Still, they can also happen in other centers where atomic material is worked (hospitals, uranium treatment plants, etc.).
What Are Nuclear Fusion Plants, and for What Are They?
Nuclear fusion plants are a type of plant that also serve to generate electrical energy. However, fusion reactions work differently: instead of splitting a heavy atom, two light atoms are joined.
Nuclear fusion power plants offer many advantages over other types of power plants, including greater efficiency, no carbon emissions, and improved safety.
Fusion reactors can produce more energy than fission reactors while using less fuel. They also generate no greenhouse gases or long-lived radioactive waste. In addition, fusion reactors are much safer than fission reactors—there is no risk of a nuclear meltdown.
While fusion power plants have many advantages, they are also costly to build and require complex technology. As a result, it will likely be many years before they are commercially available.
Currently, this technology is under development, and no commercial fusion nuclear reactor is in operation. However, there have been significant advances recently. For example, researchers at the National Ignition Facility of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (in the United States) have achieved the first net energy gain from nuclear fusion, the first efficient fusion reactor in history.
This achievement makes researchers more optimistic about deploying fusion reactors to supply power endlessly in the long term by using nuclear energy as a clean energy source.
Once commissioned, fusion nuclear plants solved the main cons of nuclear power in fission plants (all of which are in operation today). The products of nuclear fusion are much less dangerous and the fuel used (hydrogen) is practically inexhaustible.
Nuclear power plants have several advantages that make them an attractive energy source for many countries.
First, they are relatively economical, require less land than other forms of energy production, and provide a clean form of energy with no greenhouse gas emissions, such as CO2.
However, it is vital to consider the safety risks associated with nuclear power plants before deciding whether they should be used in any given area.
With its potential to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, nuclear power could solve our climate crisis if managed responsibly and safely.