Jamie has taught Middle School Science and History. She has a master's degree in teaching.
How is Nuclear Energy Produced?
Nuclear energy is used to provide electricity in many countries around the world, including the United States. The production of nuclear energy involves splitting uranium atoms in reactors at nuclear power plants. This creates a tremendous amount of heat, which raises the temperature of water at the plants to create steam. The steam turns turbines which then drive generators to create electricity.
The fuel used in a nuclear power plant is uranium. Uranium is a naturally occurring radioactive element classified as a metal. It's found in many different regions of the planet, primarily Australia, Russia, and Canada. Once mined from the ground, it is processed for use in nuclear power plants.
In terms of energy production, uranium atom fission is a very efficient means of producing heat. Technically, one kilogram of uranium can produce more heat than a ton of burned coal. However, uranium is a nonrenewable resource much like coal and oil. Once depleted, nonrenewable resources can take millions of years to replenish.
Benefits of Nuclear Energy Production
The process of producing nuclear energy is a relatively clean process compared to petroleum or coal energy production. When petroleum or coal is burned to create heat, they both create large amounts of carbon dioxide waste that is released into the air, polluting the atmosphere. Additionally, nuclear energy production is a relatively inexpensive process. However with these benefits come some disadvantages.
The Disadvantages of Nuclear Energy Production
Uranium atom fission creates radioactive toxic waste as a byproduct. The waste doesn't readily break down but instead remains in an ecosystem for thousands to millions of years. If it leaks into the water table, it can ultimately cause cancer to organisms. Research to find ecologically safe disposal facilities for nuclear waste can be costly.
The cost of operating nuclear power plants is also high. Nuclear plant reactors and cooling towers need to be watched twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. In 2014, the average salary of a nuclear technician was more than $74,000 per year. Workers must undergo training to ensure they follow the proper safety regulations to create a safe working environment.
There have been many nuclear disasters over the years. One significant nuclear disaster occurred in 1986 at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the Ukraine. This accident occurred when poorly designed nuclear reactors malfunctioned and staff did not have the proper training to handle the situation. As a result nuclear fallout damaged the local environment and people died. Another significant disaster occurred after an earthquake and tsunami hit Japan in 2011. The Japanese power plant in Fukushima lost power. This caused a cooling tower to malfunction which resulted in an explosion. Many people had to be evacuated from the area to avoid exposure to harmful radiation.
Nuclear energy is created by splitting uranium atoms to produce heat. The heat turns water to steam which turns turbines and drives generators to create electricity. Uranium is a naturally occurring metal and nonrenewable resource. Although nuclear energy is less polluting to the atmosphere than coal or petroleum energy production, it results in toxic radioactive waste which takes thousands to millions of years to break down in an ecosystem. There are steep financial costs involved with both safely disposing of nuclear waste and operating nuclear power plants.
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