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What is Nuclear energy, is it cleaner or more dangerous?

What is Nuclear energy, is it cleaner or more dangerous?

The human being does not worry about long-term danger. Climate change and global warming already constitute the most important danger facing the human race; and are the direct and indirect cause of millions of deaths around the world (‘The Lancet‘).

We should have acted forcefully 50 years ago when the 1972 Club of Rome report ‘Limits to Growth’ warned us. But we have neither limited our runaway growth nor reduced the emissions that continue to poison our planet. We keep looking down, as suggested in the recent hit film Don’t look up.

Nuclear energy is expensive, dangerous and its waste is very polluting in the long term. But it is a ‘clean’ way of generating electricity, without producing greenhouse gas emissions.

What is nuclear energy?

It is a fundamental force that is governed by the interaction between particles. Specifically, nuclear energy is what holds together the subatomic particles in the nucleus (protons and neutrons) and is responsible for giving them stability.

In the 1930s, Lise Meitner and Otto Frisch contributed to the discovery of nuclear fission energy: hitting the nuclei of some unstable atoms with other neutrons produced a colossal burst of energy. For this reason, plutonium and uranium, which are unstable elements, are used as fuel in nuclear power plants.

We have already discovered a natural physical reaction that is capable of unleashing a huge amount of energy. The logical thing would be, then, to use it to our advantage. For this reason, in the middle of the 20th century, the first nuclear power plants in the world began to be built, which today number about 500 reactors worldwide, supplying 12% of all the energy that human beings need.

Is nuclear energy sustainable?

To consider an energy source as sustainable, two variables must be considered: if the energy source pollutes, that is, if it is clean or not; and whether your fuel is renewable (meaning it doesn’t run out over time).

Fossil fuels are definitely not sustainable since, in addition to emitting polluting gases, their availability on Earth is limited. Coal and oil deposits are the remains of ancient organic material (ancient plants and animals) trapped and compressed over thousands of years in layers and layers of the earth’s crust. And as such, it is finite.

The so-called renewable energies, for their part, are so because they come from unlimited energy sources: the Sun (solar energy), wind energy (wind) or hydroelectric energy (tidal force) are some examples. But renewables have certain limitations: they are less efficient since they do not generate by themselves the amount of energy sufficient for human supply.

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Thus, when asked whether nuclear energy is a sustainable energy source, the answer varies depending on what we consider ‘clean’ and ‘renewable’: it is clean in the sense that it does not emit CO2, but it does generate waste whose treatment is complicated.

Why Nuclear is Clean

Nuclear power is a clean and efficient way of boiling water to produce steam, which turns turbines to produce electricity.

Nuclear power plants use low-enriched uranium fuel to produce electricity through a process called fission – the splitting of uranium atoms in a nuclear reactor. Uranium fuel consists of small, hard ceramic pellets that are packed into long vertical tubes. Packets of this fuel are inserted into the reactor.

  • Nuclear energy protects air quality
  • Nuclear energy is a zero-emission clean energy source.
  • Nuclear energy’s land footprint is small
  • Nuclear energy produces minimal waste

Is there no alternative against climate change?

Nuclear power continues to gain favour despite its drawbacks, as many experts believe that these drawbacks are not enough to rule out this energy source, given the climate emergency. Furthermore, as quoted in an article in The Conversation, the European Joint Research Center has concluded that “there is no scientific evidence that nuclear power causes more harm to humans or the environment than other power generation technologies.”

On the contrary: nuclear energy is seen by many as a great ally to replace the use of fossil fuels with other less polluting energy sources. Currently, in Spain, the distribution of the total energy obtained is as follows: 40% fossil, 20% renewable and 20% nuclear. According to Foro Nuclear, if energy policies tend to dismantle more and more plants, it is possible that 20% cannot be replaced by sustainable energy sources.

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