What are the Environmental Impact and Advantages of Nuclear Energy?
What is nuclear energy?
Nuclear energy is the energy present in an atom’s nucleus (also known as core). Atoms are a tiny particle that is the origin of every creation in the universe. There’s a lot of energy in the bonds that keep atoms together. Nuclear energy can be used to generate electricity. But first, the energy must be released. They can be released from atoms in two ways: nuclear fusion and nuclear fission. In nuclear fusion, energy is released when atoms are fused or mixed together to create a larger atom. This is how the sun produces energy. In nuclear fission, atoms are divided into smaller atoms, releasing energy. Nuclear power plants use nuclear fission to generate electricity.
Nuclear reactions cause changes in the nucleus of atoms which in turn contribute to changes in the atom itself. Nuclear reactions transform one element into an entirely different element. Suppose that a nucleus interacts with any other particles then separates without altering the characteristics of a nucleus other than the process, it is called a nuclear scattering rather than a nuclear reaction. This does not mean radioactive decay.
One of the most visible nuclear reactions is the nuclear fusion reaction that occurs in materials causing induced nuclear fission.
Nuclear Energy: Schematic
Nuclear Reactions – Types
- Inelastic scattering: This process takes place when a transfer of energy occurs. It occurs above threshold energy.i.e Et = ((A+1)/A)* ε1, where Et is called the inelastic threshold energy and ε1 is the energy of the first excited state.
- Elastic Scattering: It occurs when there is energy transfer between particles and intends nuclei. It is the most critical process for slowing down neutrons. In the case of an elastic dispersion, the total kinetic energy of any system is maintained.
- Transfer Reactions: The absorption of a particle followed by discharge of 1 or 2 particles is referred as transfer reactions.
- Capture Reactions: When nuclei capture neutral or charged particles followed by discharge of ˠ-rays, it is termed as capture reactions. Radioactive nuclides can be generated by neutron capture reactions.
What is nuclear used for?
Multiple sectors, including consumer goods, food and agriculture, industry, medicine and scientific research, transport and water sources, and the atmosphere, have significant uses for radioisotopes, nuclear power, heat production and non-stationary power reactors.
Does nuclear energy harm the environment?
As a fuel, nuclear power plants use uranium. The uranium mining activity releases high levels of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. When new nuclear power plants are built, carbon dioxide is also released into the environment. Finally, the transport of hazardous waste often also results in carbon dioxide emissions.
Applications of Nuclear Energy
- Nuclear technology
- Nuclear medicine
- Nuclear Technology is used in Industries
- Agricultural uses of nuclear technology
- Environmental uses of nuclear technology
- Biological Experimentations
- Medical diagnosis and treatments
- Scientific Investigations
- Engineering Projects
- Neutron Activation Analysis
How does nuclear Energy Affect the Environment?
Nuclear energy has been suggested as an answer to the need for a renewable energy source as opposed to CO2-producing plants. Nuclear energy is not inherently a source of renewable energy. The effects of nuclear energy on the environment pose serious issues that need to be considered, especially before the decision to construct additional nuclear power plants is taken.
Nuclear power has been called a clean source of energy because the power plants do not release carbon dioxide. While this is true, it is deceiving as well. Nuclear power plants may not emit carbon dioxide during operation but high amounts of carbon dioxide are emitted in activities related to building and running the plants. Nuclear power plants use uranium as fuel. The process of mining uranium releases high amounts of carbon dioxide into the environment. Carbon dioxide is also released into the environment when new nuclear power plants are built. Finally, the transport of radioactive waste also causes carbon dioxide emissions.
Low level radiation:
Nuclear power plants are continuously releasing low levels of radiation into the environment. There is a difference of opinion among scientists over the effects caused by constant low levels of radiation. Various research studies have shown an elevated rate of cancer among people living near nuclear power plants. Long-term exposure to low-level radiation has been shown to cause DNA damage. The degree of damage caused by low levels of radiation to wildlife, plants, and the ozone layer is not understood very well. Further research is being conducted to determine the extent of effects caused by low levels of radiation in the atmosphere.
Radioactive waste is a huge concern. Nuclear power plants waste can remain active for hundreds of thousands of years. Currently, a substantial part of the radioactive waste from nuclear power plants has been deposited in the power station. Owing to space restrictions, nuclear waste would inevitably have to be relocated. Plans have been projected to bury the radioactive waste in casks in the Yucca Mountains in Nevada.
Several issues are there while burying the radioactive waste. Waste would be transported in large trucks. In case of an accident, the radioactive waste could have leaked. Another concern is the uncertainty about whether the casks will leak after the waste is buried. The existing amount of radioactive waste requiring long-term storage would fill the Yucca Mountains and new sites would need to be identified for potential radioactive waste to be buried. There is no current solution to the problem of radioactive waste. Some scientists feel that the idea of constructing more nuclear power stations and worrying to tackle the waste later has the potential for a dangerous outcome.
Cooling Water System:
Cooling systems are used to prevent nuclear power plants from overheating. There are two major environmental issues associated with nuclear power plant cooling systems. Next, the cooling system draws water from the source of an ocean or river. Inadvertently, fish are trapped and killed in the cooling system intake. Second, after the water is used to cool the power plant, it is returned to the ocean or river. The water that is returned is approximately 25 degrees warmer than the original water. The warmer water kills some species of fish and plant life.
Nuclear Power Plant Accidents and Terrorism:
According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, regulated safety procedures are not being followed to ensure that nuclear power plants are safe. Even if all safety precautions are followed, there is no guarantee that a nuclear power plant accident will not occur. If a nuclear power plant accident occurs, the environment and surrounding people could be exposed to high levels of radiation. The 2011 accident at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima, Japan is one of the worst nuclear disasters in history; the reactors were destroyed by a tsunami following a major earthquake. Terrorism threats are another concern that needs to be addressed. A satisfactory plan to protect nuclear power plants from terrorism is not in place.
Advantages of nuclear energy:
(i) It produces a large amount of useful energy from a very small amount of nuclear fuel.
(ii) Once the nuclear fuel is loaded into the reactor, the nuclear power plant can go on producing electricity for two to three years at a stretch. There is no need of feeding the fuel again and again.
(iii) It does not produce gases like CO2 or SO2.
Disadvantages of nuclear energy:
(i) The waste products of nuclear fission reactions are radioactive which keep on emitting harmful radiations for thousands of years and are difficult to store or dispose of safely.
(ii) Very high cost of installation is required.
(iii) There is limited availability of uranium fuel.
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