Advantages and Disadvantages of Nuclear Energy

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Introduction: Nuclear energy is generated by a process called fission. Fission occurs within the reactor of a nuclear power plant when a neutron is fired at an atom of uranium causing it to split and release subsequent neutrons.1 These are able to crash into other uranium atoms causing a chain reaction and releasing a great deal of heat energy. Advantages and Disadvantages: As one of the greatest alternatives to fossil fuels, an important advantage of nuclear energy is the significantly lower emission rate of CO2 in comparison to plants which use coal and natural gas.2 Nuclear power is not reliant on fossil fuels and therefore producing energy by this method reduces pollution and the contribution to climate change. However, whilst the actual process of generating energy releases few emissions, uranium must be mined and purified and in the past this has not always been an environmentally clean process.2 Ultimately, uranium will one day run out, but nuclear reactors are versatile and may also run on Thorium. Despite being finite, this would allow nuclear power stations to function for a longer period of time. The energy produced from nuclear reactions is very dense, providing almost ten million times more energy per atom than fossil fuels.2 In addition, nuclear plants are cost competitive, being no more expensive than alternative sources. Although there are huge initial start up costs, the only other expenses are the costs to process nuclear fuel, safely remove and store radioactive waste and daily upkeep of the plant.2 The greatest disadvantages of nuclear energy are the risks posed to mankind and the environment by radioactive materials. ‘On average a nuclear plant annually generates 20 metric tons of used nuclear fuel cla... ... middle of paper ... ...he building of four nuclear plants to try and ease the transition from finite fuels.21The reactors used in these plants will be able to last longer and will run on 17% less uranium per energy unit than reactors in use currently. EDF estimate that their new reactors are capable of supplying up to 30% of the UK’s total energy. 21 Whilst there are clear arguments for and against nuclear energy, the future is promising; with scientists working on potential breakthroughs such as nuclear fusion, and the design of newer and better and reactors. Nuclear fusion is a reaction which causes the nuclei of atoms to collide and form a new atomic nucleus. It is essentially what heats the sun and stars and would produce no long-lived radioactive waste.22 If scientists could control the process of atomic fusion then it could become a never ending energy source for future use.
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