Nuclear energy is one of the most important ressources of our day. We vote and discuss if we should abandon this power for the risks it entails.
Nuclear power stations are used in many countries to generate electricity. It has been claimed to be a good alternative to fossil fuels which can mitigate problems of global warming and dependency on gas exporters. Nuclear technology can produce great amounts of energy in a very efficient way. About 12% of the total electricity generated in the world comes from nuclear fission power reactors. But there is a dark side to nuclear power too. Disasters such as those of Chernobyl (Ukraine) and Fukushima (Japan) remind us of how vulnerable life is to the radioactive pollution from nuclear reactors. Before deciding whether nuclear power should be abandoned it is important to consider how it works and its mains pros and cons.
How does a nuclear reactor make electricity
In simple terms, nuclear power is generated by a process in which atoms of uranium are split (nuclear fission). The neutrons, produced by fission of the uranium nuclei, trigger a chain reaction in other uranium atoms, which are in turn split. This process is controlled using water or graphite as moderators within the core of the reactor, The nuclear core reactor sits inside a steel pressure vessel which is capable of keeping water liquid even at temperatures of over 320°C. The fission products undergo radioactive decay, releasing more heat. They are the main dangerous wastes from the process. Outside the core reactor the process to transform this energy in electricity is very similar to how coal or gas power stations work. The heat generated from nuclear fission boils water and the steam it produces make turbine generators spin, creating electricity.
Nuclear power pros and cons
The main advantages of nuclear power:
- It replaces fossil fuels (coal, gas and oil) which reserves are finite.
- Fossil fuels produce large quantities of greenhouse gas emissions and are to a great extent responsible for global warming and pollution. From this point of view nuclear power contributes to mitigate environmental problems.
- Countries with nuclear capacity are less dependent on gas producers and the fluctuations of oil prices.
- Nuclear power plants have a more steady production of energy than hydro-electric, tidal and solar power generation. This stability contributes to governments energy plans and to ensure supply.
- Nuclear energy is arguably the cheapest low-carbon option of power generation.
Hoever, there are also disadvantages to the use of nuclear energy.
- The radioactive waste generated in the process is difficult to eliminate and expensive to deal with. If nuclear waste is not dealt with properly it can have very severe consequences on the environment.
- Although accidents are rare, they are extremely lethal and have longstanding negative impacts.
- Nuclear reactors for electricity generation could be the basis to develop nuclear weapons.
- The dependency from foreign suppliers does not completely disappear. Gas producers are replaced by uranium producers.
- Nuclear power plants require high initial investments. Their running costs are high. Moreover it is also very expensive to dismantle them once they have been operational.
- High security costs to preserve them from any potential external attack.
Many argue that the solution would be to develop nuclear fusion as a cleaner and non-depletable alternative to the current nuclear fission. But until nuclear fusion becomes a reality in practical terms, what should we do? Do the pros of nuclear power outweight its cons? Is this energy as dangerous and harmful as many activists claim?
If you change your mind, you can change your vote simply by clicking on another option.
Should we abandon nuclear energy? Time for a nuclear power phase-out?
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