Nuclear is an electricity generator usually used by big, modern countries such as China, Russia, France, USA, the UK, and South Korea. There are currently about 450 nuclear reactors that provide those countries’ electricity.
To generate nuclear power, atoms need to be split to release the energy at the nucleus. This process creates heat and then it’s directed to a cooling agent. Steam that comes out of this process spins a turbine and thus producing electricity.
All the large countries use nuclear to get electricity, so we’ve got to admit that it is a reliable source of energy. I mean, look at the size of USA, Russia, and China and the amount of people who rely on electricity. But, is it good for the environment?
Types of nuclear reactors
First, let’s go through the basics for those of you who don’t know much about nuclear power/reactors. There are a number of types of nuclear reactors.There’s boiling water reactors, which you can find a lot in the US. This reactor heats water into a boiling point to release steam.
You can also find pressurized water reactors, in which the water doesn’t boil but instead goes into a secondary water supply for steam generation.
Apart from those two, there’s also gas-cooled reactors that use carbon dioxide as the cooling agent. The United Kingdom is a country that uses these reactors. The last type is fast neutron reactors, which is cooled by liquid sodium.
Where did the idea come from?
The idea of nuclear power began in the 1930s, along with the discovery that neutrons could split atoms by physicist Enrico Fermi. In 1942, Fermi led a team and they managed to showcase the first nuclear chain reaction under a stadium at the University of Chicago.
Since then, there were series of milestones involving nuclear and its ability to produce electricity. In the 1950s, the first electricity produced from atomic energy at Idaho’s Experimental Breeder Reactor I. in 1957, there was the first commercial nuclear power plant in Shippingport, Pennsylvania.
So what about the environment?
Nuclear power isn’t a renewable energy, albeit reliable and efficient, because of it depends on non-renewable resource. But, operating reactors don’t actually emit greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. Therefore, some say that this power can be a climate change solution.
Leslie Dewan from National Geographic stated that she wanted to resurrect molten salt reactor because it could be safer and less costly than reactors available today. Others are working on small modular reactors which are easier to build and portable.
That kind of reactors aim to save the industry. Wait, why do we need to save nuclear power industry? Apparently, for those who don’t know, nuclear plants continue to age and the new ones fail to compete on price with natural gas and renewable sources like wind and solar.
I’ve heard stories about nuclear disasters. What are the risks?
Nuclear accidents are actually rare, but when one happens, it’ll be disastrous and devastating. We all have heard of Chernobyl and the recent one in Japan in 2011. The disaster in Ukraine happened because of both flawed reactor design and human error. It might seem so simple, but it caused an explosion at one of the reactors.
It released large amounts of radioactivity, forcing hundreds of thousands of people to go away from their homes. After being left alone for a long time, the area is now the habitat of various wildlife species such as grey wolves and even stray domestic dogs.
Another well-known story involving nuclear is Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi. The plant’s disastrous failures were not caused by human error, but rather a combination of Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.
The effect, though, was just as devastating as Chernobyl. Now, it’s universally acknowledged that after there’s a disaster in Japan, the country is usually able to make a speed recovery. It was different with this nuclear accident.
The reasons were because the evacuees remain afraid to return, and that fear delayed the recovery effort. Government has assured them that most areas were safe, but people didn’t trust the government. Probably because it somewhat reminded them of the infamous world war 2 bombing as well. The main thing is, the surrounding towns struggled to recover.
Because it was caused by geographical issue, Fukushima disaster raised questions about the safety of power plants in seismic zones. Other than Japan, there’s also Armenia Metsamor power station.
There was also a partial meltdown at Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island in 1979 which has become one of the terrifying examples of nuclear power’s radioactive risks that’s always brought up in arguments.
People who argue against nuclear power also point out the problems of nuclear waste. There have been issues about it. First of all, where and how to store the spent fuel or nuclear waste, as it remains radioactive for thousands of years. Power plants that are located near or on coasts (because of their need of water for cooling) also face rising sea levels and other risks caused by climate change.
So yeah, while it doesn’t produce greenhouse gases, nuclear energy does produce hazardous waste. Spent nuclear fuel is radioactive, dangerous, and it needs a substantial infrastructure to handle the fuel and secure the power plant. To make things worse, some countries don’t have the proper measures for handling their spent fuel and we can only makeshift solutions for the storage of nuclear materials.
Basically, we should just ditch it completely?
Not exactly, it’s a bit complicated. You must know that nuclear power uses controlled nuclear reaction. A lot of countries use nuclear power plants to generate electricity for us and military use. Some countries use this energy to run parts of their naval fleets, especially submarines.
Also, some people are not against the expansion of power plants because, as mentioned before, this energy is actually cleaner than fossil fuels and it doesn’t emit greenhouse gases. What really needs to be addressed is, though, the safe disposal of radioactive waste products. Because not all nations care about this.