Nuclear power is regarded as one of the prominent sources of energy with a huge potential. As nuclear power plants emit low greenhouse gas emissions, the energy is seen as environmentally friendly. Using a nuclear fission reaction, the power plants produce high amount of electricity with uranium as fuel. Although nuclear energy offers various advantages, concerns have been raised over the disposal of radioactive waste and harmful radiations from the nuclear plants.
Here are the major pros and cons of nuclear power plants:
Low harmful emissions:
Electricity produced from nuclear power plant emits fewer greenhouse gas emissions compared to those released by coal power plants and other traditional power generation sources. Nuclear energy generation does not lead to releases of methane and carbon dioxide, which are greenhouse gases responsible for global warming. Taking this into account, the environmental damage caused by nuclear energy sources is identified to be minimal.
When compared to renewable sources of energy such as solar and wind, the power generation from nuclear power plants is more reliable. While electricity production in case of renewable sources depends on climatic conditions, there is no such hurdle in nuclear energy. Nuclear power units can produce power continuously for several months without any interruption. In addition, with uranium reserves expected to last for more than 70 years from now, nuclear energy offers higher reliability compared to other energy sources.
Image: The Bruce Nuclear Generating Station, the largest nuclear power facility in the world. Photo courtesy of Chuck Szmurlo/Wikipedia.
Low operational expenses:
Though it requires huge investments to set up nuclear power plants, the costs involved in operating them are low. The fuel costs of a nuclear power plants are low and the electricity produced from them is also not expensive. Considering the normal lifetime, which is about 40-60 years, of a nuclear reactor, the overall expenses involved in producing power from nuclear power plants are low. Besides, fluctuations in prices of uranium will not have much impact on the costs to generate electricity from a nuclear power plant.
High energy density:
Nuclear energy sources have higher density than fossil fuels and release massive amounts of energy. Due to this, nuclear power plants require low quantities of fuel but produce enormous amounts of power. The energy produced by a nuclear fission process is million times more than that of a thermal power plant.
Image:A nuclear fuel rod assembly bundle being inspected before entering a reactor. Photo courtesy of Ruslan Krivobok / ?????? ????????/Wikipedia.
One of the major negatives of nuclear energy is the impact of uranium on the environment. While transportation of nuclear fuel to a power plant can cause pollution, the process involved in mining and refining uranium is also a concern. Also, the used uranium can pose risks, as the fuel is radioactive.
Fuel waste disposal concerns:
The vast amount of nuclear waste created by power plants can lead to high radiation and raise temperature levels. The transmission of this radiation can cause a potential damage to the surrounding atmosphere. The cost of managing the nuclear waste is also high.
Image:Modern medium to high level transport container for nuclear waste. Photo courtesy of Bill Ebbesen/Wikipedia.
Limited uranium reserves:
Similar to fossil fuels, uranium reserves are limited and present in few nations. The processes carried out to mine and refine uranium involve huge costs. Transporting refined uranium for use in nuclear power plants will also need huge spending. As large amounts of waste are created during the refinement of uranium, any mishandling of the processes can affect the environment and pose health risks to human beings.
Long construction timeframe:
The construction of nuclear power plants usually take several years to complete as they require large infrastructure. The difficulties in producing power from a nuclear plant in a short period of time makes them less favourable compared to building electricity plants that run on traditional sources. Also, massive investments are required to build a nuclear power plant, as costs involved in installing radiation containment systems are high.