Nuclear Power Plant Advantages and Disadvantages
A nuclear power plant is a structure that generates energy through the fission of nuclear material. Its primary operating mechanism is steam generation, which, through its speed and force, moves the turbines to generate electrical energy. Nuclear plants have essential advantages, such as excellent cost-benefit, but they are susceptible to large-scale accidents directly involving radioactive materials.
Therefore, the construction and operation of this type of plant require a wide range of specific precautions to avoid situations such as the most significant accident in nuclear plants in the world, which occurred in Chernobyl (1986).
It should be noted that the world has several nuclear power plants in countries such as Japan, Ukraine, the United States, France, and Brazil.
Summary of Nuclear Power Plant
1. The operation of a nuclear power plant involves a series of mechanisms that allow electrical energy generation through heated water vapor.
2. Nuclear fission is a central process in the operation of a nuclear power plant, as it allows the heating of the water used to drive the turbines.
3. Nuclear power plants are considered clean and renewable energy sources. They have an advantageous cost in terms of construction and operation.
4. One of the disadvantages of nuclear plants is the production of solid radioactive waste, which is difficult to dispose of in the environment.
5. The most significant nuclear power plant accidents in the world occurred in Chernobyl (1986), Fukushima (2011)
Operation of a nuclear power plant
The basic functioning of a nuclear power plant is centered on generating heat through nuclear fission. Therefore, through the fission of various materials contained in nuclear power plants, there is a huge release of energy, transformed into heat, which heats several tanks with water.
The heat produces the evaporation of water, which drives the turbines of nuclear plants, thus promoting the generation of electrical energy.
The nuclear fission process is the primary mechanism for operating a nuclear power plant. In this way, heat generation rotates local turbines through the evaporation of water, this heat generation is the basic premise for the generation of nuclear energy.
Nuclear fission involves the collision of several atoms, whose nucleus is divided in a highly controlled environment, to generate a large amount of energy used as a resource in nuclear power plants.
Advantages of nuclear power plants
The main advantage of nuclear plants is their cost-benefit since the energy produced through these means is cheaper and easier to obtain. Nuclear plants are an excellent alternative for regions without energy resources, such as natural gas and oil.
Plants of this type are also considered clean sources, which do not produce greenhouse gases, being more efficient than environmentally sustainable models, such as wind and solar energy. Furthermore, the financial cost of installing a nuclear power plant is considered satisfactory and has a quick return.
Disadvantages of nuclear power plants
The big disadvantage of nuclear plants is the possibility of accidents. In the event of structural and operational problems or even external issues, such as certain weather conditions, nuclear plants have the potential to cause serious accidents.
The release of radioactive material from these places, for example, can cause enormous environmental and economic costs, in addition to many deaths and other negative consequences for the local population.
There is also the environmental issue. Even though it is considered a clean and renewable energy, nuclear plants produce a large amount of solid waste, called radioactive waste. This material is discarded in depopulated and inhospitable regions, such as desert areas and ocean bottoms. Still, even so, it can potentially cause severe environmental and human damage. The generation of radioactive waste is a significant disadvantage of nuclear power plants.
Precautions with a nuclear power plant
Nuclear energy, precisely the operation of nuclear plants and the disposal of radioactive waste requires a set of precautions. Nuclear plants, for example, have several mechanisms to inhibit the nuclear fission process, neutralizing its occurrence in specific cases in which there is a risk to the operations of these plants.
In turn, nuclear plants are built with very resistant infrastructures, with various safety mechanisms, to prevent the leakage of radioactive material. These energy production centers must also:
1. Be inspected regularly by trained teams;
2. Carry out various tests to detect possible operational problems.
Furthermore, the regions where nuclear plants are located must be well protected from an environmental and even a geopolitical point of view. The population of these regions must receive constant guidance, training, and various qualifications to deal with emergencies in the event of accidents at nuclear power plants.
Some nuclear power plant accidents
Accidents at nuclear power plants have a great potential to cause great economic, environmental, and human losses. Over the years, the world has experienced occasional nuclear power plant accidents. Below we will see the most notable accidents involving nuclear plants.
1. Accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant (1986)
The accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, located in the then Soviet Union, now part of the territory of Ukraine, occurred in 1986. The catastrophic event, considered the worst nuclear accident in the world, was the result of some situations:
Serious operating errors;
Damage to the structure of the plant’s reactors.
The accident caused the immediate death of hundreds of people and great environmental damage to the region. The toxic cloud of radioactive material reached countries such as Belarus, Poland, Ukraine, and Russia.
2. Accident at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant (2011)
The accident at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant, located on the east coast of Japan, occurred in 2001. The meltdown of nuclear reactors caused it. This meltdown occurred after the aforementioned nuclear plant was hit by a tsunami resulting from a high-magnitude earthquake that hit the east coast of Japan.
This accident, the largest on Japanese soil, caused severe financial and environmental damage. Furthermore, a tremendous national mobilization was needed for Japan to abolish nuclear energy generation.
3. Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Plant Accident (1979)
The Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Plant accident, located in the eastern portion of the United States, occurred due to a failure in the plant’s secondary power generation system, which involved both issues of human error and deficiencies in the structural design.
The accident caused a substantial temporary evacuation of the population of Pennsylvania. There was a large set of economic and environmental losses due to the emission of toxic gases. It was the most significant nuclear accident in American history.
What is Nuclear Energy?
In obtaining electricity, nuclear energy is becoming increasingly important as an alternative to fossil fuels. It is the energy stored in the nucleus of an atom, which is obtained in the process of nuclear transformation.
The fission reaction is used to obtain nuclear energy. It involves dividing the nucleus of an atom into smaller fragments, which results in the release of a large amount of heat that is converted into energy. This process uses enriched uranium. This is because uranium 235 is the only naturally occurring isotope that undergoes fission under the influence of thermal neutrons.
Where Can You Use Nuclear Energy?
Nuclear energy is used in the process of generating electricity. This is done in unique nuclear power plants, which differ from classic power plants in how they obtain energy and the raw material used.
The most crucial element in a nuclear power plant is the nuclear reactor. This is a device designed for the controlled release of energy due to the chain reaction of fission of atomic nuclei in uranium particles.
Nuclear energy can also be used in other areas in which it facilitates or enables the implementation of specific activities:
nuclear energy is used to prevent diseases, mainly cancer and Alzheimer’s. It is used not only to detect these diseases but also to treat and eliminate the progressive effects of these diseases (e.g., in the case of hyperthyroidism, a radioisotope of iodine is used). Due to the effective use of nuclear energy in this field, new ways of using it in both diagnostics and therapy are constantly being sought;
Nuclear energy is used in rocket propulsion and to power space probes exploring the solar system. Thus, it ensures the operation of devices for a longer time, which is quite a practical solution;
Nuclear energy is used, among others, when testing the tightness of sewage installations. It is also used to detect pollution in rivers or lakes;
Nuclear energy is used to power submarines, icebreakers, and aircraft carriers, which has contributed mainly to revolutionizing this industry;
Using nuclear energy makes it possible to date the age of archaeological and paleontological excavations and geological samples.
Advantages of Nuclear Energy
1. Unlike commonly used non-renewable sources, nuclear energy is produced with almost no emissions of harmful pollutants, such as carbon dioxide or other gases, into the atmosphere. This is an essential aspect, especially given the current state of the natural environment. Power plants of this type do not contribute to global warming or acid rain.
2. Energy production in nuclear power plants allows us to reduce the use of the most popular non-renewable raw materials, which include hard coal and lignite. Less exploitation of this type of deposits prevents their rapid depletion.
3. The process of obtaining nuclear energy itself does not involve the production of waste in the form of ash, which must be appropriately managed or disposed of.
4. Nuclear energy has been used in the energy industry and other economic fields, thus improving many activities. It works perfectly, among others: in medicine, space, industry, and science.
5. Unlike, for example, wind energy, a nuclear power plant produces less noise, making it less burdensome for residents of areas located in its immediate vicinity.
6. The specific nature of the fuel used and the process for obtaining nuclear energy allows for producing a lot of energy from a small amount of raw material, contributing to its rational use.
7. Unlike renewable sources such as wind or solar radiation, a nuclear power plant is not dependent on changing weather conditions.
8. A positive effect of generating nuclear energy in power plants is also the social aspect – new jobs are created for people living near nuclear power plants.
Disadvantages of Nuclear Energy
1. In a major accident at a nuclear power plant, a large area may be contaminated, which may persist for many years. Harmful radiation released during a failure damages body cells, leading to severe diseases, genetic problems, and sometimes even death. Additionally, the contaminated area can no longer be used in any way. However, it should be remembered that the risk of failure in modern nuclear power plants is negligible.
2. The process of generating nuclear energy produces hazardous radioactive waste. They must be properly disposed of due to the possibility of contamination of water, air, and soil in their storage area. Radioactive waste is the most dangerous substance generated in energy production.
3. Because this energy is obtained from non-renewable energy sources, the uranium resources needed for the processes taking place in power plants are gradually depleting.
4. An adverse effect of obtaining nuclear energy is the need to devastate areas to build an appropriate power plant. It should be noted that the area where we plan to build it must meet specific requirements. These include, among others: good access to water resources used for cooling purposes.
5. Building a nuclear power plant also requires high investment costs. They are necessary due to the technology used and appropriate security measures. The construction and possible decommissioning of a power plant are costly projects (none of the constructed facilities have been decommissioned so far).
6. The location of nuclear power plants is essential in social and political terms. Due to its specificity, the topic of nuclear power plants usually arouses negative feelings among society.
7. Continuous reactor operation is necessary due to the unprofitability of shutting it down and restarting it.
What are the differences between nuclear and solar energy?
The main difference is established by the type of energy: renewable (solar) or non-renewable (nuclear). In this way, we can say that solar energy uses natural resources to produce electrical energy, using sunlight, while nuclear energy is generated through atomic nuclei.
Knowing what nuclear and solar energy are, their advantages and disadvantages, and how a nuclear power plant works will help you decide the best option for producing electricity. However, considering the risks and accidents, the ideal is to weigh the factors of each one, aiming for safety and efficiency after installation.