What are you more afraid of, mass destruction resulting from human actions or mass destruction due to nature getting pissed off with us? Or are you one of those who don’t really care about the environment and think global warming is all some big drama by the environmentalist groups! Oh, I am sure you acknowledge that the weather has become messy over time, and “warmer” for sure, as you are no fool to not notice that even in your short-lived life. Just that, you do not think it has anything to do with us, human’s doing. It might be just a course of the mighty nature that is yet out of our discovery. You might very well be true, and I am sure you might have even much more strong logic to support your beliefs. We all do, and only the best of us dare to stand against the tide. Going back to the question asked, if you are one of the anti-environmentalists, then I am sure you would choose against possible man-made destruction any day. For that, my friend, you shall select the dirtiest power source instead of selecting a clean, sustainable source that might go kaboom and destroy everything around it. Yes, I am talking about nuclear energy and nuclear power sources.
Before you begin your celebratory dance, there’s a tiny complication, though. We are actually running out of dirty energies, which, as we say, destroys the environment but doesn’t have the possibility to destroy the lives of millions and continue doing so for a long time. Yes, coals and other fossil fuels are not a viable option as their count is running out at an increasingly steady pace. Again, have you watched the series “Chernobyl,” which has shaken all the ratings just like the real Chernobyl disaster shook the whole of Ukraine and the then Soviet Union! These are not all. Keep on reading to see the pros and cons of nuclear energy and decide for yourself which side you want to take.
How It Works
If you didn’t know, the process of how modern nuclear power plants generate is quite impressive. Without going into the excruciating scientific detail on how nuclear works, the rest of the process is pretty straightforward. The atomic reactors create a lot of heat, and when they come in contact with the fresh, cold water stream, they produce steam as you would expect! Now, the energy doesn’t come from nuclear atoms or anything. Instead, steam starts the turbine, which is connected to a generator that produces electricity. If you think about it, it’s just the way water or wind energy works in producing electricity! How about that? Is that similarity enough for accepting nuclear power as a good source of energy? Undoubtedly, the process and technology are a lot more complicated, even without considering the atomic reactors. The reactor needs a constant supply of cold water to maintain the right ratio, and the turbine needs the water, too, for steam. A condenser takes care of the regulation of the water from the lake or cooling towers.
Nuclear Power vs. Nuclear Energy
Nuclear is a dangerous term often misused. So, when it comes together with power, people often misunderstand and think it has something to do with how much war power a country has at its disposal. However, the power in nuclear power actually refers to electrical power. Using nuclear energy to produce and store electrical energy in a power plant is Nuclear power. Nuclear energy is simply the energy released when atoms are split or fused together.
Nuclear Weapon vs. Nuclear Power
“Atoms for peace,” the British started its journey in the nuclear world with this slogan in 1956. As it happens, they introduced the atomic power station saying this and more interestingly so, that power plant was built to supply plutonium for the country’s nuclear weapon program. To the inside of the government, electricity was merely a by-product, while on the outside, electricity was only advertised! So, the question arises, does building up a nuclear power plant enable a nation to harness atomic weapons? How close is the technology, and can one disguise a weapon underneath the electricity? For these answers, we will have to get a bit technical.
First, let’s start with the term I introduced in the previous para, “plutonium.” There’s only one core element we can use for any nuclear-related operations until now, uranium. Uranium is a natural resource given to us by mother nature itself. Nuclear weapons need a refined version of uranium, plutonium. Plutonium is a process made resource or artificial resource produced by the reaction in the reactors. So, yes, there’s a link-up between weapon and reactor.
The initial process of both nuclear reactor and nuclear weapon discharge are the same. Both of these produce energy by fission. Fission, quite the opposite of fusion, is when a neutron collides with a larger atom to divide it into two smaller atoms. That is where the radioactive particles come into force. The good thing about nuclear energy, and thanks to our scientists and mathematicians, because we can find out exactly how much fission fragments have been generated in every reaction. So, it is possible at any time for a party to calculate how much nuclear energy a country is producing, including the by-products like plutonium.
Fun fact, if you have watched the series “Young Sheldon,” you might know that smoke detectors contain a trace amount of radioactive material, “americium-241.” It’s produced from uranium as a by-product. Now, do not get the idea of collecting up smoke detectors like the young, ingenious Sheldon Cooper to build up a nuclear reactor on your own. Not only is the process too complicated and requires a lot of sophisticated pieces of equipment. Even if you manage to get hold of all of them, it is implausible that isotopes can react and fission to begin with.
As we have said earlier, only the initial energy process is the same in both weapon and power. Let’s have a brief look at the rest of the operations.
Time and Energy Produced
One might think, given the size of explosions and distractions caused, the energy of nuclear weapons far outweighs that of power plants. Actually, that’s not the case, and maybe this is also the reason why the Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters resulted in a more prolonged impact than the Hiroshima-Nagasaki explosion. A nuclear reactor keeps on operating all the time, and so keeps on generating fission particles. The atomic weapons disburse all the energy at a time. As for understanding, a 20 kT nuclear weapon produces the same energy a 1000 megawatt reactor does in a single day.
The radioactive materials of the weapons have almost half-the life of that of reactors. While burst into the air, land, and water, the fission particles of reactors last much longer than weapons. Since the reactors were designed to let the fission particles slowly decay.
As you can see, significant differences lie in nuclear power and weapon, except that the main ingredient of weapons comes from the power plants. That is a big deal if you ask me. However, the atomic commission strictly monitors all nuclear power plants. As they know just how many particles are created, they make sure that all the plutonium are disarmed safely.
Now that we have a good idea of what nuclear energy really is and the differences between it and atomic weapons let’s put things into more apparent perspectives. What’s to gain and to lose from nuclear energy?
Nuclear Energy Pros: Why it is a better choice!
Clean, Carbon-Free Emission
Whether you care about the environment or not, one thing for sure is that carbon in its all form, be it CO2, methane, or carbon monoxide, is harmful to us. Just go into a room full of black fumes and test it for yourself! Now, even though nuclear energy is often termed as carbon-free, it is not entirely true. Every energy production results in carbon, at least a little bit. Yes, even wind or solar emits carbon. Another fun fact, nuclear energy emits almost as low carbon as wind energy! Per gigawatt-hour of production, wind produces around 29 tonnes CO2, and atomic energy emits about 29 tonnes, whereas solar emits 85 tonnes! Imagine how clean the world would have been if everything was possible to be run on nuclear power!
So, if the wind has as much low carbon emission, why not go with that? Why not build up wind plants at every corner? The problem is, well, uh, it is dependent on the wind! Do you see the wind blowing all the time with a decent speed to roll the turbine? Yes, there are some parts where the wind is strong for long periods. Not only are those areas not enough, still, but winds also stop blowing there too every now and then. You know what I am about to remind you of, right? Yes, as we have established earlier, nuclear energy’s core mechanism is that the reactors operate continuously as the radioactive particles slowly decay to produce heat.
Cost and Work Efficient
Did you know a huge portion of electricity is lost due to system loss? Well, for that, the city planning and management are to blame mostly. If you knew that, you wouldn’t be surprised to learn that renewable energies like wind or solar have many system wastages. It might be since they are intermittent! Guess what? Nuclear power has the lowest system loss; it is almost 3 to 4 times productive than renewable sources. On top of that, managing atomic plants are much cheaper than coal or gas plants.
Nuclear Energy Cons: Why is it a bad idea?
Risk of Disaster
The world won’t easily forget the nuclear power plant disaster of Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, or Fukushima! It still hurts people and has it occurred to any developing country, the traumatic result is unthinkable. Due to the slow decay characteristics, the surrounding area and people have to bear the sufferings for a long time. 4000 people are projected to have died from the Chernobyl disaster in the long run and much more physically.
Biohazard Radioactive Waste
By principle, the nuclear reaction produces many radioactive particles. It needs no saying how much waste the power plants generate. Even after such an atomic bomb explosion in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, people are now living there. In contrast, Chernobyl is still strictly regulated for inhabitants! Yes, the slow decaying characteristic is yet again to blame. Even though nuclear weapons’ radioactive particles degrade quite quickly, that of the power plants takes years. Even to this day, no adequate and lasting solution has been found to dispose of biohazard waste. These wastes, if they come in contact with biodiversity, can have a severe adverse effect.
Exorbitant Initial Cost
You can’t really expect to build such a clean, non-intermittent, and highly efficient power plant at a cheap cost! Given how sensible, sophisticated, and complicated the whole process is, a government can’t simply build one with a decreased quality or not following the standards. South Africa had to drop their nuclear power plant plan just for such a massive cost to make. Their 9.6GW plant had an estimated cost of $34-84bn! How many nations can really afford that without putting the country on the verge of bankruptcy? These costs are without taking into account the loss that would occur to the biodiversity around the plant. The lakes, forests around it will soon run out of lively inhabitants.
Even though nuclear energy has its fair share of adversities, yet it is the most sustainable energy source we have till now. While the accidents can be mass destructive, yet the chances of them happening are not as much as you’d expect. Yes, there is a risk, but if we can’t find alternate sustainable sources, it might be the only option very soon.