What is Nuclear Power?
Nuclear power uses nuclear reactions to release nuclear energy and generate heat through steam turbines to produce electricity. It is considered a clean and efficient process of boiling water to make steam. Except for the nuclear reactor itself, nuclear power stations also work like most gas-fired or coal power stations. Nuclear power can be gathered from nuclear fusion reactions, nuclear fission, and nuclear decay. Today, most of the electricity supply from nuclear power is being produced by nuclear fission of plutonium and uranium.
In terms of efficiency and reliability, no other electricity sources can match nuclear because nuclear power plants can generate large-scale electricity supply, continuously for many months without any interruption.
Nuclear power offers arrays of benefits for the environment, power plants do not promote severe climate change but rather protect air quality since they do not produce greenhouse gases. Unlike other energy sources, nuclear power plants are not burning any materials so they are free from combustion by-products.
Also, it is considered as one of the energy sources with the lowest levels of fatalities per unit of generated energy as compared to other energy sources such as coal, natural gas, petroleum and hydroelectricity which can cause more fatalities per unit of energy due to air pollution and occurrence of accidents.
Since the 1970s when nuclear power has been commercialized, it has reduced emissions of about 64 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide that was produced by the burning of fossil fuels and it also prevented almost 1.84 million casualties related to air pollution.
Some commonly known accidents related to nuclear power plants include the Three Mile Island accident in the United States in 1979, the Chernobyl disaster in the Soviet Union in 1986 and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan in 2011. While some nuclear submarine accidents have also been reported.
Because of these incidents, debates about nuclear power has been set. Some of the proponents of the World Nuclear Association and Environmentalists for Nuclear Energy asserted that nuclear power is a clean, safe, and sustainable energy source that can reduce emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon. Whereas, nuclear power opponents, like the Greenpeace and NIRS, attested that nuclear power can cause many threats both to the environment and people’s health.
Nevertheless, nuclear energy supplies 12 percent of today’s electricity all over the world. In 2014, it was recorded that 30 countries worldwide were operating 435 nuclear reactors for electricity generation purposes.
What is a Nuclear Power Plant?
A nuclear power plant is a thermal power station that uses nuclear reactor as the source of heat. Typically, thermal power stations use heat to generate steam and the steam will be driven into the steam turbine which is connected to a generator to produce electricity.
Nuclear plants are usually considered as base-load stations because fuel is included in the cost of production and they cannot be easily discharged. Nuclear power plant’s fuel costs, operations and maintenance are at the lower end of the spectrum which makes them suitable as base-load power suppliers just like the hydropower stations. Although, the cost of spending on fuel management is somewhat unstable.
As of today, the electricity supply from nuclear power is mostly being produced by nuclear fission of plutonium and uranium. But uranium is the most commonly used because it is one of the most abundant metals in the world. With this, it can provide fuel for more commercial nuclear plants in the future, all over the world.
A nuclear power plant uses a low-enriched uranium fuel to produce electricity through the process of fission—where the uranium atoms in a nuclear reactor are being split together.
Uranium fuel is consists of small and hard ceramic pellets that are packaged into long and vertical tubes. And these uranium fuel bundles are being inserted into the nuclear reactor.
A single uranium pellet that is slightly larger in size of a pencil eraser, carry the same energy of 3 barrels of oil, a ton of coal, or 17,000 cubic feet of natural gas. Each uranium fuel pellet can give up to five years of heat for power generation purposes.
According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, there are 450 nuclear power reactors in operation in 31 countries in 2014.
The History of Nuclear Power
On September 3, 1948, a nuclear reactor generated electricity for the first time ever at the X-10 Graphite Reactor in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Also, this nuclear power station was the first station to power a light bulb. Followed by the experimental station near Arco, Idaho, which was considered a large experiment on nuclear power stations. This occurred on December 20, 1951, at the EBR-I experimental station.
The first nuclear power station in the world to generate electricity for a power grid was launched and started its operations in Obninsk, the Soviet Union in June 1954. This nuclear power station was named Obninsk Nuclear Power Plant and can produce around 5 megawatts of electric power.
Whereas, Calder Hall nuclear power plant at Windscale, England was launched in October 1956 and considered as the first full-scale power station in the world with an initial capacity of 50 MW per reactor and 200 MW in total. This nuclear power station was built to solely devote itself to electricity generation. Moreover, Calder Hall nuclear power plant produced plutonium and was connected to the grid in December 1957.
In the same month and year, the first commercial nuclear station to become operational in Pennsylvania, United States was the 60 MW Shippingport Reactor.
The total global installed nuclear capacity significantly increase, rising from less than 1 gigawatt (GW) in 1960 to 100 GW in the late 1970s, and 300 GW in the late 1980s. In the late 1980s, the nuclear capacity has significantly dropped worldwide, only reaching 366 GW in 2005. Between the years 1970 and 1990, more than 50 GW of capacity was under construction. More than two-thirds of all the ordered nuclear plants after January 1970 were eventually cancelled.
In the early 2000s, the nuclear industry was expecting a nuclear renaissance, where there will be an increase in the construction of new reactors because of carbon dioxide emissions concerns. While in 2005, a new capacity of nuclear power around 25 GW was planned.
In 2006, a public policy organization–the Brookings Institution, announced that new nuclear power units had not been built in the United States due to the low demand for electricity, and its potential cost overruns on nuclear reactors because of some regulatory issues, leading to delays in construction.
However, in 2009, the director of STUK’s nuclear power plant division, Petteri Tiippana told the BBC that it was quite hard to deliver a Generation III reactor project on schedule due to the builders’ lack of training to the exacting standards required on nuclear construction sites.
Whereas 2012 became the biggest ever fall year of nuclear power generation, the world’s nuclear power plants producing 2,346 TWh of electricity dropped by 7 percent from 2011. This happened because the majority of Japanese reactors remained offline that year and the eight reactors in Germany permanently closed.
However, in 2015, the IAEA’s outlook for nuclear energy had become more promising. As they saw that nuclear power plant is critical in limiting the greenhouse gas emissions and it shows signs of future success despite a negative impact in some countries after the nuclear-related incident in Fukushima-Daiichi. Also, nuclear power is still the second-largest source of energy worldwide with low-carbon electricity. In the same year, the global trend was the launching of new nuclear power stations to balance the number of old plants. China also completed eight new grid connections in that year.
As of 2018, there are over 150 nuclear reactors planned including 50 under construction.
Pros and Cons of Nuclear Power Usage
Generating electricity using nuclear power offers arrays of benefits but this also entails negative impacts on the environment and people.
- Not producing gases that can cause air pollutions
- Nuclear power stations have a long lifespan
- Do not contribute to global warming and climate change
- Free from combustion by-products
- Have affordable fuel costs
- High technology-based research
- Have low fuel quantity which reduces mining and transportation impacts on the environment
- Safety decommissioning and costs of building are very expensive
- Slow adaptation of changes in electricity demand
- Negative perception of the public about Nuclear power plant
- Large-scale can cause catastrophic accidents
- Local Thermal pollutions from wastewater can affect marine life
- By-product is radioactive and it is very difficult and expensive to dispose
Cost of Nuclear Power Plant
Nuclear power plants are expensive to build but are cheaper to operate.
Companies that are planning to offer new nuclear units indicate that the total costs including escalation and financing costs will be in the range of $5,500 per kW to $8,100 per kW and for each 1,100 MW plant its cost would be around $6 billion to $9 billion.
Between 2002 and 2008, new nuclear plant construction cost estimates between $2 billion and $4 billion per unit to $9 billion per unit.
Geordie Mark in his Big Nuclear Future on Horizon
Link for the complete and detailed interview:
- Brian Sylvester of The Energy Report conducted this interview. He personally and/or his family own shares of the following companies mentioned in this interview: None.
- The following companies mentioned in the interview are sponsors of The Energy Report: Uranium Energy Corp., Mega Uranium Uranerz, Ur-Energy, Strateco and Bannerman.
- Geordie Mark personally doesn’t own shares of the following companies mentioned in the interview. He was not being paid by the following companies mentioned in this interview.
- As of the end of the month, immediately preceding this publication, either Haywood Securities, Inc., its officers or directors beneficially owned 1% or more of Uranerz and Strateco.
- Haywood Securities Inc. or an affiliate has managed or co-managed as selling group in a public offering of securities for Strateco and Denison Mines in the past 12 months.
- In the past 12 months, Haywood Securities, Inc. or an affiliate has received compensation for investment banking services from Uranium Energy Corp.
Reviews on Nuclear Power
Why I changed my mind about nuclear power | Michael Shellenberger | TEDxBerlin
Save the World with Nuclear Power | Leslie Dewan | TEDx University of Rochester
Is Nuclear Power Good Or Bad?
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