Is nuclear energy renewable?…3 ways to reduce radioactive waste

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Nuclear energy renewable


As the energy consumption of the developed world increases, millions are pulling out of poverty in developing countries, and the world population rises, global energy demand continues to grow. The discussion about the energy supply of the future is thus intensified. This discussion is compounded by continuing global climate destabilization as a result of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions primarily from the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas) for energy. These scientific discoveries and economic threats have catalyzed many developed countries commitments to curb GHG emissions. This resulted in the creation of an immense need for large-scale renewable energy sources to pollute and potentially diminish fossil fuel supplies. Nuclear technology is often proposed as a solution or as part of a renewable energy supply solution. In fact, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recommended nuclear energy as a key mitigation technology that is currently commercially available.

What is nuclear energy?

Nuclear energy is the energy inside an atom’s nucleus or core. Atoms are tiny units in the universe which make up all matter. The dense nucleus is kept together by energy and it contains a massive amount of electricity. Nuclear energy can be used to create electricity. Although it must be released from the atom first. Two kinds of atomic reactions create nuclear energy. In nuclear fusion, atoms are joined together and nuclear fission atoms are separated.

However, the nuclear power plant does not have the capability to produce energy from nuclear fusion safely and reliably. So, nuclear reactors use pellets of element uranium as fuel to produce nuclear fission. The nuclear reactor causes the uranium atoms to break apart. Tiny particles, called fission products, are emitted by the atoms when they break. Fission products, beginning a chain reaction, cause other uranium atoms to break. Heat is produced by the energy released from this chain reaction. The heat created by nuclear fission warms a cooling agent usually water. The cooling agent produces steam that turns turbines. The turbine drive generators or engines that create electricity.

Undoubtedly, nuclear energy is the main source of energy capable of, to a large degree, fulfilling the overall energy needs in the long term. Conventional nuclear energy, however, requires the creation of high-level radioactive waste that poses a threat to the environment as well as to humanity.

Advantages of Nuclear Energy

With limited sources of energy generation left and the renewable ones getting costlier day by day, there is a need for a clean and environmentally friendly energy source. Nuclear energy seems to the answer to this due to the numerous advantages that it has for society as a whole.

This nuclear energy was basically derived for the power generation, over the years many more advantages of nuclear energy have surfaced

The energy generated is a million times more than the one that comes from hydro and wind energy. If figures are to be believed then, about 12 to 18% of the world energy is contributed by nuclear.

  1. It is eco friendly, unlike the popular misconception, as it does not emit any greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, methane, ozone, and chlorofluorocarbon. These gases are supposed to be the main culprit of global warming and lead to the current climate change. So while producing this energy there is no harm caused to the environment.
  2. As energy doesn’t emit any carbon dioxide that burning of fossil fuels results in, the environment is free of this poisonous gas.
  3. Another advantage of energy is that it uses uranium in production. Currently, we have a huge resource of uranium on the earth which is said to last for 100 years and can create energy for longer hauls.
  4. As a high amount of energy is generated from a single power plant at any given point of time it is inexpensive.
  5. Nuclear energy is a compact fuel which makes it easy to transport easily.
  6. It reduces dependency on fossil fuel. A very little amount of uranium generates a huge amount of energy whereas fossil fuels like oil and coal are already depleting while creating a relatively lesser amount of energy.
  7. Medical uses of this energy include radiotherapy used in special medical conditions like cancer, where it weakens or destroys the particular cells.

Advantages of Nuclear Energy are growing day by day with the new inventions as the scientists around the world are working on it so thoroughly.

Disadvantages of Nuclear Energy

  1. The process of nuclear fusion generates radiation and wastes, which are harmful and hazardous or even fatal to people causing cancer and other such ailments.
  2. The waste products and spent fuel rods used in the generation of electricity last for many thousands of years which is why nuclear waste is stored in sealed containers and buried in controlled locations and not just dumped but the more nuclear energy that is generated the more hazardous wastes get accumulated.
  3. Nuclear and radioactive accidents are worst than in conventional fossil fuel power stations releasing radioactive pollutants and water into the surrounding environment which can have a significant impact on the planet in general.
  4. Some countries can use the simple technology of generating nuclear power to generate fuel for producing nuclear weapons as well as being a possible target for terrorist attacks.
  5. Radioactive materials such as plutonium, uranium and thorium are very expensive. While they can be found in abundance in the earth, they are not located everywhere so extraction, purification and transportation can be expensive.
  6. It is controversial to build large nuclear power plants which can take up to 10 years to complete, which can lead to a long period which cost overruns as plants are updated to account for the current legislation and delays due to protests and delays in starting the project.

Fossil fuel reserves are a dwindling natural resource that makes it more costly to produce and refine as time progresses such that new sources of “alternative energy” are found and used to supply the worlds ever-increasing energy needs and for much nuclear energy is the answer.

While nuclear processing and nuclear power plants produce radioactive wastes and the potential for environmental disaster could be large, the benefits of nuclear power in producing vast quantities of renewable energy without polluting the environment with radioactive fumes and greenhouse gases, are harmful to nuclear power. As technology advances and we learn strategies for optimizing energy production and reducing hazardous radioactive wastes and residues, nuclear energy will become more embraced.

Top 10 Countries Operating Nuclear Reactors 

At present, in some 30 countries around the world, there are 440 nuclear reactors in operation. One of the largest plants is situated in France, where about 70 per cent of total electricity generation was derived from nuclear sources in 2018. In 2011, behind France’s Areva and Russia’s Rosatom, the partnership between General Electric and Hitachi was ranked as the third-largest producer of nuclear reactors. Global nuclear power capacity is expected to hit 506 gigawatts in 2050..

Here are the top 10 countries in the world that that operate nuclear reactors :

Image by Google | Image source – Statista

Projected worldwide installed capacity for nuclear power generation from 2018 to 2050 (in gigawatts)

Image by Google | Image source- Statista

3 ways to reduce radioactive waste:

Undoubtedly, nuclear energy is the main source of energy capable of, to a large degree, fulfilling the overall energy needs in the long term. Conventional nuclear energy, however, requires the creation of high-level radioactive waste that poses a threat to the environment as well as to humanity.

It is not an easy job to dispose of nuclear waste, it is in fact a very complicated and costly operation involving a protected transport system and the construction of a highly guarded hermetically sealed building.

1.Use of Thorium as Nuclear fuel

A safer nuclear fuel is known to be thorium, which is a radioactive chemical element that can be used as a nuclear fuel in nuclear reactors to produce renewable energy during a nuclear fission reaction, which releases less nuclear waste than uranium.

2. Use of Microbots 

In the event of a spill, scientists need a way to clean up radioactive isotopes from wastewater produced by nuclear power plants as well as from the atmosphere. Scientists have now created small self-propelled robots that extract radioactive uranium from simulated wastewater.

A recent approach is the use of the metal-organic framework. They are compounds that can trap substances includes radioactive uranium within their hollow structures.  In simulated nuclear wastewater, 96 per cent of uranium was extracted in an hour by microbots.

3. Use of Molten Salt Reactors instead of Light Water Reactors

Transatomic nuclear reactor uses fuel in liquid form so it can stay in the reactor for a longer period of time. A lot of the advanced nuclear reactors will use even more of the uranium energy. So,  you can expect much higher fuel utilization which means that less radioactive waste behind reducing the total volume of waste by over 50%. As far as safety is concerned, molten salt reactors have already proven to be extremely safe since Molten salt remains liquid at atmospheric pressure, even at the very high temperatures present in a nuclear reactor. 

The design does not require a complete containment dome because it is at ambient pressure, and in the event of an accident, there is no pressure to serve as a driving force to drive radioactive material beyond the boundaries of the facility.

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