For over the last half-century, the production and exploit of nuclear technology has spread into many areas of the current modern society and affects each individual in one way or another. Nuclear technology has become relevant in areas of the growth of energy production, national defence, and also the medicinal field. Did you know nuclear energy is one of the cleanest energy sources on Earth? Nuclear power plants can produce one kilowatt of energy and only emit 12 grams of CO2, enough to fill two-litre soda bottles. However, when coal plants produce 1 kilowatt of nuclear energy, they emit 820 grams of CO2 in the atmosphere. Nuclear energy is cleaner than geothermal, hydropower, solar energy but not wind power. Does this mean that nuclear energy is the long-term solution for the world? No, this is because nuclear material is the most lethal and dangerous substance on Earth, there have been only two times on earth that nuclear power plants have leaked significant amounts of radiation, 1986 in Chernobyl Ukraine and 2011, Fukushima Japan. There has been 31 deaths and at least 4000 expected to contract early lethal cancer due to radiation in Chernobyl. Fukushima was slightly better contained at only 2 deaths and only 130 people expected to contract some sort of cancer in their lives. But still today, both sites have mass exclusion zones where humans cannot live because of on-going radiation. Pictures of these exclusion zones will seem like a ghost town in a movie or a video, families had to leave everything behind and evacuate outside these exclusion zones.`
Belgium has only seven operable nuclear reactors with a net capacity of 5.7 gig watts of energy, in 2017, nuclear energy generated around 50% of the country’s electricity. Some people say that nuclear energy is only a temporary solution to reduce CO2 emissions until a more viable solution is commonplace. But this biggest problem with nuclear energy isn’t the risk of meltdown, not the risk of the supply of uranium or plutonium, it’s the nuclear waste.
All current nuclear power plants work under the process of nuclear fission. As a radioactive atom decays, the individual atom split into two, when that happens, the reaction releases energy. The nuclear element used is typically uranium which about 6 to 8 years of usage in a nuclear power plant will have released enough of its energy that it is no longer useful in reactors. But the fuel rod will stay radioactive even though it cannot be used in reactors, but it can still emit a lethal dose for tens or thousands of years. The common solution that humans would come up with is to put them somewhere where they can stay undisturbed and isolated forever, but that is easier said than done.
Did you know that no nuclear waste worldwide is in what is considered “long term storage” Most nuclear waste is stored in pools of water, this is because water does a very good job at shielding radiation and it is very cheap and inexpensive. Normally, these pools are directly inside the nuclear power plant, so when spent fuel is extracted from the reactor it is directly put in the pool of water. The nuclear (or radioactive) material, commonly uranium, is still emitting energy which heats the water but the cooling systems and pumps keep the water below the boiling temperature so the fuel rod does not release radiation into the environment. If the power fails and the backup generators fail, the pumps and cooling systems stop working. This results in the water heating up and boiling off, the water is what is shielding the radiation, so this means radiation can be exposed into the environment, and this is what happened in Fukushima, Japan.
If nuclear energy is going to be our catapult into the future of renewable energy and decarbonisation of the world, we will need to solve a dozen problems; this includes the production of nuclear weapons, nuclear waste, extinction of materials such as uranium and cost. These are massive problems when it comes to the survival of nuclear energy in the world and its usefulness, the expansion of the nuclear generation will lay behind the solution of these dilemmas.`
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