What is nuclear power?
Nuclear power, also called nuclear energy, is power that is produced by human supervised nuclear reaction. Since uranium is the fuel nuclear reactors use the most and the process of harnessing usable nuclear power starts with the extraction of uranium. Uranium is a common (albeit non-renewable) naturally occurring element buried in the earth following its formation.
Uranium is radioactive and therefore is dangerous to handle and dispose of, but when put into a nuclear power system, it reacts with other elements in a fission reaction that splits the uranium nucleus. This reaction creates heat, which is used as a heat source that turns water into steam, which drives a turbine, which then spins a generator to produce electricity.
Some countries rely on nuclear power more than others, but with about 10% of the entire electricity of the world generated by nuclear energy, it is safe to say that humanity is currently reliant on nuclear power and its various applications.
The advantages and disadvantages of nuclear power
Despite its widespread use, nuclear power remains a highly contentious issue that tends to split the environmental community in two:
- Nuclear power pros: These people argue that nuclear energy is carbon-free, making it an excellent solution to our climate change challenges. In addition, nuclear power is a cost-effective source of power that is also reliable and is capable of providing power for the constantly growing global population.
- Nuclear power cons: This group argues that the resultant toxic waste, used or depleted uranium, which is still radioactive and highly dangerous, is very difficult and time-consuming to safely dispose of. In addition, the cost-effectiveness of nuclear power is not set in stone. Nuclear power lobbyists often exclude details like the costs of uranium disposal when calculating the price of nuclear-generated electricity. This is sometimes done deliberately in order to lobby for the continued use of nuclear power and “greenwash” it for the public.
Wherever one stands on the issue of nuclear power, the safety and health risks associated with it have to be considered. And even though proponents suggest that new technologies make current reactor designs highly safe, accidents such as the infamous Chernobyl accident in 1986 and the intense war activity near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in Ukraine do little to warm the public on the idea of nuclear power.
Frequently asked questions (FAQs)
What is nuclear power?
Nuclear power is the human manipulation of nuclear reactions in order to generate usable energy forms such as heat or electricity.
What are nuclear power stations?
Nuclear power stations are facilities that use nuclear reactions to generate electricity. The energy generated in these facilities is then sent out into the grid for households and businesses to use as a source of energy.
What can nuclear power be used for?
Nuclear power can be used to generate electricity, as well as heat and steam for industrial processes. It is also a possible source of propulsion for spacecrafts and submarines.