What Nuclear Energy is? Is Nuclear Energy Renewable?

The energy found in an atom’s nucleus is referred to as nuclear energy. The universe and everything in it are made up of tiny particles called atoms. The atoms are able to remain bound together thanks to a powerful energy force. The ability of nuclear energy to produce power is what makes it so fascinating. Nuclear fusion or nuclear fission must take place in order for the energy to be “released” (i.e., produce electricity).

Nuclear Energy Definition:

Nuclear energy, also called atomic energy, energy that is released in significant amounts in processes that affect atomic nuclei, the dense cores of atoms. 

When all the atoms come together to form one very massive atom, nuclear fusion is able to release the energy. This is how the sun generates energy. Atoms in nuclear fission separate from one another to form a much smaller atom, which is then released to release energy. Nuclear power facilities generate electricity in this manner.

Nuclear fission (Graphic: A. Vargas/IAEA)

Since the 1950s, nuclear energy has been employed as an energy source. The number of nuclear power reactors has increased over time, and today there are roughly 440 of them worldwide, producing about 10% of the world’s electricity. The power stored inside the nucleus or center of an atom is known as nuclear energy. These atoms release energy when they break during nuclear fission. Numerous things, including homes, businesses, hospitals, and schools, can be powered by the energy released. 

Is Nuclear Energy Renewable?

Both yes and no is the response to this! This is due to the fact that while the electricity generated by nuclear power plants is renewable, the fuel needed to run them is not. The fuel of choice for nuclear fission in nuclear power plants is uranium. However, the method only works with one specific form of uranium (U-235). Even though uranium is a highly common metal worldwide, finding the necessary isotope is quite difficult, making it a non-renewable fuel for the renewable energy it generates.

Because the plant recycles the steam that it produces and uses to run the turbines and generators, the energy source is even more renewable. In a cooling tower, the steam is cooled down and transformed back into water, which may then be used once more during nuclear fission.

In nuclear fission, uranium 235’s massive atomic nucleus is split into smaller nuclei, which releases energy. Nuclear fusion, which includes joining two or more atomic nuclei to create new atomic nuclei and subatomic particles like neutrons and protons, is another topic of extensive research. Despite the difficulty in obtaining the minerals, these methods generate renewable energy.

Environmental Aspects of Nuclear Energy (Nuclear Energy Pros and Cons)

Positive effects of Nuclear Energy on Environment (Nuclear Energy Advantages)

1. Produces negligible waste

Since nuclear energy is 1 million times more dense than that of traditional energy sources, less nuclear fuel is actually used than one might anticipate. The waste from nuclear power plants is limited since it can be recycled and reprocessed to a large extent, albeit the US does not. As a result, little environmental harm is caused by the production of nuclear fuel.

2. It protects air quality

Nuclear energy is a clean form of energy since it produces no emissions. Uranium atoms split during the process, creating energy that spins turbines to provide power without the toxic byproducts released by fossil fuels.

According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, the US saved 476 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions in 2019, which is the same as taking 100 million automobiles off the road. As a result, nuclear energy contributes to air purification by removing massive amounts of dangerous air pollutants that cause smog, acid rain, cardiovascular disease, and lung disease.

3. Nuclear energy has a small footprint on the land

Compared to other clean air sources, nuclear energy generates more electricity on a less amount of land. An operating area of just under one square mile is required for a 1000 MW nuclear station, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute.

But to generate the same quantity of electricity, solar farms need 75 times more land, while wind farms need 360 times more. In order to create the same amount of energy as a normal commercial reactor, you would need more than 3 million solar panels or 430 wind turbines (a capacity factor is not taken into account).

4. Higher energy density

Nuclear energy is created through nuclear fission, which generates far more energy than burning fossil fuels like gas, coal, and oil. Nuclear energy power plants use less fuel because nuclear fission is more fuel-efficient than producing energy using conventional fossil fuel methods. As a result, there is less waste produced, which is better for the environment and the economy.

Negative effects of Nuclear Energy on Environment (Nuclear Energy Disadvantages)

1. It creates radioactive waste

The residual materials are extremely radioactive and must be stored safely after the necessary energy is produced in order to prevent environmental pollution. Nuclear energy generation generates radioactive waste that is extremely hazardous to the environment, human health, and other living things. Since this radioactive waste cannot be destroyed, storing it is the biggest challenge for these plants. As a result, they keep it underground and securely enclose it in containers.

2. Hazardous mishaps

These nuclear power reactors occasionally experience accidents that result in dangerous outcomes and long-term radiation consequences. Since the Chernobyl tragedy in April 1986, which is regarded as the worst nuclear disaster in history, thousands of people have died from thyroid cancer and other malignancies, among other indirect effects. An earthquake that struck Japan in March 2011 destroyed the Fukushima Daichi nuclear power facility, causing radiation leaks, fatalities, and other severe consequences.

3. Environmental effects

In addition to the waste they produce, nuclear power plants have significant negative consequences on the environment. The procedure of extracting uranium is not eco-friendly, and the open pits that are left behind are hazardous to everyone.

The procedure also causes erosion, contaminates neighboring water sources, harms plants and crops, and has a negative impact on the overall health of miners due to increased radiation exposure during extraction and processing.

4. Waste is permanent

Even while the waste may not be much, it is harmful, irreversible, and permanent. It requires technology that effectively manage it because it cannot be buried in landfills like other waste.

Is Nuclear Energy Green?

Electricity produced from renewable energy sources, such as hydroelectricity (dams), wind, solar, geothermal, or biomass energy, is typically referred to as “green energy.”
Green energy, sometimes known as “clean energy,” is a type of energy that, in contrast to other, more polluting sources, emits very little pollution during production (coal, oil and gas). However, generating “green” energy is simply one stage of its production cycle. It disregards the usage of upstream resources—such as rare metals or ores—during the building stage, the production of waste during operation, or the source’s end-of-life phase.

While it is not entirely accurate to argue that nuclear power generation produces no greenhouse gases (GHGs), it is accurate to say that GHG emissions from nuclear power generation are far lower than those of fossil fuel-based power sources.

The sustainability of various energy sources, or whether the supply could be “used up” over time, is another feature of importance. Simply said, it would seem that while “renewable” resources like wind and sunlight are supposedly unlimited, fossil fuels and uranium for nuclear power, which are extracted from the earth, are both finite and will ultimately run out. This viewpoint, however, fails to take into account the reality that the systems needed to harness the energy of the sun and wind also require the usage of mined resources.

A similar argument may be made for the wastes produced in making the components needed for solar or wind power generation. Similarly, some people believe that the fact that nuclear power produces long-lived waste proves it is not “green.” All of these arguments must be taken into consideration when determining whether nuclear energy qualifies as “green,” along with others pertaining to unrealized potentials, such as reprocessing used nuclear fuel to extract more energy from it, using a thorium fuel cycle in place of (or in addition to) uranium, or even extracting uranium from unorthodox resources, like sea water.


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