The Promises and Perils of Nuclear Power


Nuclear power is the product of released electrical energy from nuclear reactions. These reactions are often controlled as they involve the exothermic release of heat that forms steam, which helps to run the generators that produce electricity. This new technique of electric power generation is fast being adopted by counties all over the world. Indeed, the currently produced electric power worldwide constitutes of approximately one-eighth nuclear energy. The objectives of this paper are, therefore, to explain the science behind nuclear energy production, and establish its strengths and shortcomings, as compared to conventional ways of generating electric power.

The Science behind Nuclear Energy Generation

As earlier mentioned, nuclear energy is generated, by way of nuclear reactions. In generating this form of energy, the Nuclear Power Station uses Uranium as fuel (Ryan, 2009). Neutrons, to release energy, split the commonly available Uranium atoms. One neutron splits a single Uranium atom in to two, causing the release of energy inform of radiation of heat, a process termed as Fission process (Ryan, 2009). The actual generation of energy from Uranium involves first forming the Uranium into pellets, then elongated rods. The nuclear reaction is set off by immersing the Uranium rods into water. When withdrawn from water, the Uranium rods generate heat in a nuclear reaction between the Uranium atoms and the H+ neutrons in the water. The amount of heat, hence energy, generated is controlled by raising or lowering the Uranium rods out of, or in to the water respectively (Ryan, 2009).

Advantages and Disadvantages of Using Nuclear Energy

Nuclear energy is probably the cleanest and safest energy that has been generated so far. It effectively replaces the high polluting fossil fuels (Comby, 2009). It can, therefore, effectively be used to continue Industrial civilization without fear of worsening the greenhouse effect cause by generation of power from fossil fuels. Indeed, many user of the technology have declared nuclear power a clean and environmentally friendly source of energy (Comby, 2009). As such, a couple of countries in the world have established their nuclear power generation to form the bulk of their electric power generation. For instance, France leads other developed countries like the UK, USA, and Japan in Nuclear energy use by generating approximately 90% of their electricity via this technology (Comby, 2009).

However, production of nuclear power involves the use of radioactive substances like Uranium. The specific need for radioactive fuels and specially designated reactors for nuclear reactions makes the process an expensive one (Ramana, 2009). Additionally, radioactive fuels can be active in the environment for an extended period after their use. As such, environmentalists have raised questions regarding the storage of wastes from nuclear reactions, arguing that some of the wastes remained active for thousands of years and could be detrimental to the environment (Ramana, 2009). Such residues and the mishandling of the nuclear reactors have caused nuclear accidents in the past.

Nuclear Accidents

Among the most notable nuclear accidents that have been observed include the Chernobyl (Ukraine) nuclear accident in 1986, and the Fukushima (Japan) reactor accident in 2011 (Fackler, 2011). The Chernobyl nuclear disaster occurred as a result of overheating of the reactors, and caused the death of 30 people, displacing another 100,000. The lethal effects of radioactive fuels are demonstrated by the detection of radiation deep into the UK, following the Chernobyl accident (Fackler, 2011). Furukishi accident, however, occurred as a result of the earthquake on 11 March 2011 that caused the reactor to overheat and eventually explode (Fackler, 2011). This explosion caused released a large amount of radioactive materials in the air that are potentially carcinogenic. The lesson learnt from these accidents is that nuclear energy generation is a fragile process and can cause damage at anytime, whether controlled or not. This is, therefore, a time bomb for the entire world.   

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