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Nuclear energy: its advantages and disadvantages

 The advantages and disadvantages of nuclear energy It is a fairly common debate in today's society, which is clearly divided into two camps. Some argue that it is reliable and cheap energy, while others warn of the disasters that its misuse can cause.

Nuclear or atomic energy is obtained through the process of nuclear fission, which consists of bombarding a uranium atom with neutrons so that it splits in two, releasing large amounts of heat that is then used to generate electricity.

Nuclear energy: its advantages and disadvantages

The first nuclear power plant was opened in 1956 in the United Kingdom. According to Castells (2012), in 2000 there were 487 nuclear reactors that produced a quarter of the world's electricity. Currently six countries (USA, France, Japan, Germany, Russia and South Korea) concentrate approximately 75% of nuclear electricity production (Fernández and González, 2015).

Many people think that atomic energy is very dangerous thanks to famous accidents like Chernobyl or Fukushima. However, there are those who consider this type of energy "clean" because it has very little greenhouse gas emissions.

Advantages of nuclear energy:

    High energy density:

Uranium is the element commonly used in nuclear plants to produce electricity. This has the property of storing huge amounts of energy, Only one gram of uranium is equivalent to 18 liters of gasoline, and one kilo produces almost the same energy as 100 tons of coal (Castells, 2012).

    Cheaper than fossil fuels:

In principle, it seems that the cost of uranium is much more expensive than that of oil or gasoline, but if we consider that only small amounts of this element are required to generate large amounts of energy, in the end the cost becomes less than that of fossil fuels.


The nuclear power plant has the quality of operation all the time, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, to supply the city with electricity; This is thanks to the fact that the fuel refill period is every year or 6 months depending on the manufacturer.

Other types of energy depend on a continuous supply of fuel (eg coal-fired power plants), or are intermittent and limited by the climate (eg renewable sources).

    Lower greenhouse gas emissions:

Atomic energy can help governments meet their commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The operation process in a nuclear plant does not emit greenhouse gases because it does not require fossil fuels.

However, the emissions that occur throughout the life cycle of the plant; Build, operate, extract and grind uranium and dismantle a nuclear power plant. (Sovacol, 2008).

Of the most important studies conducted to estimate the amount of CO2 emitted by nuclear activity, the average value was 66 gCO2eq/kWh. It is an emissions value that is higher than other renewable resources but still lower than emissions from fossil fuels (Sovacool, 2008).

Disadvantages of nuclear energy:

    Uranium is a non-renewable resource:

Historical data from many countries show that, on average, no more than 50-70% of uranium can be extracted in a mine, since uranium concentrations below 0.01% are no longer viable, as they require processing more rock and energy used greater than those that can be generated in the factory. Moreover, the half-life of sediment extraction from uranium mining is 10 ± 2 years (Dettmar, 2013).

Dietmar proposed a model in 2013 for all existing and planned uranium mines up to 2030, where a global uranium mining peak of ~58 ± 4 kt is obtained in 2015 to be subsequently reduced to 54 ± 5 ​​kt by 2025 and a maximum 41 ± 5 kt by 2030.

This amount will no longer be sufficient to operate existing and planned nuclear power plants over the next 10-20 years.

    It can not replace fossil fuels:

Nuclear power alone does not represent an alternative to fuels based on oil, gas and coal, as 10,000 nuclear power plants would be needed to replace the 10 TWh that is being generated in the world from fossil fuels. As data, in the world there are only 486.

It takes a lot of investment of money and time to build a nuclear plant, it usually takes more than 5 to 10 years from start of construction to commissioning, and delays are very common with all new plants (Zimmerman, 1982).

Moreover, the operating period is relatively short, about 30 or 40 years, and additional investment is needed to dismantle the plant.

    Uranium mining is harmful to the environment:

Uranium mining is an activity very harmful to the environment, since to obtain 1 kg of uranium it is necessary to remove more than 190,000 kg from the earth (Fernández and González, 2015).

In the United States, the uranium resources found in conventional deposits, where uranium is the main product, are estimated at 1,600,000 tons of substrate, from which 250,000 tons of uranium can be recovered (Theobald, et al. 1972)

Uranium is mined at the surface or underground, pulverized, and then filtered to sulfuric acid (Fthenakis and Kim, 2007). The generated waste pollutes the soil and water of the place with radioactive elements and contributes to the deterioration of the environment.

    Nuclear disaster:

Nuclear power plants are built to strict safety standards and their walls are made of concrete several meters thick to isolate radioactive materials from the outside.

However, it cannot be claimed to be 100% safe. Over the years, there have been many incidents indicating that atomic energy is a danger to the health and safety of the population.

On March 11, 2011, a 9-magnitude earthquake struck the east coast of Japan causing a devastating tsunami. This caused severe damage to the Fukushima-Daichi nuclear plant, whose reactors were severely damaged.

Subsequent explosions inside the reactors released fissile products (radionuclides) into the atmosphere. The radionuclides quickly associated with aerosols (Gaffney et al., 2004), and then traveled great distances around the globe along with air masses due to the large circulation of the atmosphere. (Lozano et al. 2011).

In addition, a large amount of radioactive material was spilled into the ocean, and to this day, the Fukushima plant continues to release polluted water (300 tons / day) (Fernandez and Gonzalez, 2015).

The Chernobyl accident occurred on April 26, 1986 during the evaluation of the station's electrical control system. The disaster exposed the 30,000 people living near the reactor to about 45 rem of radiation each, the same level as the Hiroshima bomb survivors (Zinner, 2012).


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