Nuclear power is an energy source that uses atomic reactions to produce electricity. It requires massive facilities known as nuclear power plants. Nuclear power is a non-renewable energy source as it gets powered by radioactive substances, like uranium. However, it is seen as clean energy since it has comparably low emissions of greenhouse gases.
Nuclear power is a highly debated subject. It has caused devastating accidents in the past (read more below). Also, it produces radioactive waste. Today, the source accounts for 10 % of the world’s electricity.
How does nuclear power work?
Nuclear technology splits atoms and captures the heat energy released in the process. This heat generates steam that turns the blades of a turbine, which can then produce electricity. Uranium is the most common atom for this purpose. The process is known as fission and happens in all the power plants in the world today.
Nuclear power around the world
As mentioned above, the energy source accounts for about 10 % of the world’s electricity production. The first power stations started operating in the 1950s. Before that, the research on nuclear technology focused on producing bombs. Today, the United States generates the highest amount of energy from nuclear, followed by China, France and Russia. However, nuclear power only accounts for 19.6 % of the electricity consumption in the United States. In France, it covers 70 % of the nation’s electricity use.
Nuclear power is controversial, causing disagreements between people and political parties. For some, it is a great danger. For others, it is a solution to climate change – people who are pro-nuclear highlight that it is cheap, efficient and does not release greenhouse gases.
However, the whole picture shows that nuclear power releases greenhouse gases. The extraction of uranium (fuel for nuclear) is an energy-intense process that releases emissions. Furthermore, the power installations are vulnerable to incidents, accidents and attacks. This fragility can cause the release of radioactive material, as it has in the past.
Radiation from radioactive material is very harmful and can cause the death of humans and other lifeforms. It has left large land areas uninhabitable (read more under “accidents with nuclear power”).
More so, the energy source creates radioactive waste. This waste is a long-term safety hazard that gets stored in nature. In fact, energy from nuclear power plants is not considered “green electricity” due to this.
Furthermore, nuclear power is also argued for as people believe it is a cheap energy source. Yet, power plants require expensive safety measurements and maintenance. In the past, nuclear cost less as it did not have the safety requirements of today. In the 21st century, it is high-priced.
Accidents with nuclear power
There have been three major accidents with nuclear power:
- Chornobyl, Ukraine, 1986
- Harrisburg, USA, in 1997
- Fukushima, Japan, 2011
The Chornobyl accident in Ukraine is one of the most famous accidents in the world. The area of the power plant became heavily radioactive and is still uninhabitable. The effect of the radioactive substances that spread through the accident was seen all over Europe. More so, the Fukushima plant, constructed to withstand earthquakes and tsunamis, was damaged by high tidal waves. The damage caused radioactive substances to spread to all surrounding areas.
Examples of sources: Student energy, World-nuclear