Sources of Energy

Nuclear Energy and Environmental Consequences of Energy

Well, we all are aware that nucleus of an atom is very small. But do you know the enormous amount of nuclear energy we can obtain from one tiny nucleus of an atom? And how do we obtain this energy? Let us learn more about nuclear energy, and how is it different from other forms of energy.

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What is nuclear energy?

Scientists obtain nuclear energy in two ways:

  • Nuclear fusion: This reaction involves the combination or fusion of two light elements to form a heavier element and energy is released.
  • Nuclear fission: Fission of nuclei of some heavy elements like uranium is called nuclear fission.

It is can also produce electricity. Nuclear power is used in nuclear reactions that release nuclear energy to generate heat, which is then used in steam turbines to produce electricity in the nuclear power plant. Today nuclear power provides almost 20% of world’s electricity. Nuclear power is the fourth largest source of electricity in India after thermal and hydroelectric, and it is a renewable source of energy. Did you know that sun’s energy is generated by the nuclear fusion reaction? The heat and light that we get from the sun are all due to the continuous reaction.

Nuclear energy comes either from nuclei conversions which are spontaneous or from nuclei conversions. As mass and energy change, these conversions also change. Equivalence of the mass-energy is described by Einstein’s formula  E = mc2

What does this mean?  If nuclear energy is generated, a small amount of mass transforms into pure energy such as thermal energy or radiant energy.

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Example: The energy equivalent of one gram of mass is equivalent to:

  • 89.9 terajoules
  • 25.0 million kilowatt-hours
  • 21.5 billion kilocalories
  • 85.2 billion BTUs

and the energy released by the combustion of the following :

  • 21.5 kilotons of equivalent energy.
  • 568,000 US gallons of automotive gasoline.

Energy releases in this way.

Nuclear reactors

Power plants use nuclear reactors for generation of electricity.  A nuclear reactor produces and controls the release of energy from splitting the atoms of uranium. Heat from the nuclear fission then passes to a fluid which runs through turbines. Most reactors are working on the principle of fission. Except for the reactor itself, a nuclear power station works like coal or gas power stations. A typical reactor may contain about 165 tonnes of fuels. This fuel contains 157 fuel assemblies constituting over 4,50,000 fuels rods. When control rods are lifted the fission starts and makes heat. Generally, fuel assembly contains energy for nearly 4 years of operation at full power.

Is Nuclear Energy Renewable Energy?

We can find uranium in rocks all over the world but power plants for same are very rare.Unlike solar energy and wind energy, uranium is a non-renewable source of energy. The problem with uranium is its confinement. So nuclear energy is not a renewable source of energy. All the nuclear energy we are ever going to get is locked up in the strong and weak nuclear forces in the atoms of the earth. Fission by itself is rare enough that we could never get useful energy out of it, but the neutrons can be absorbed by other atoms, making those atoms unstable and causing further fission.

Disposal of nuclear reactions

Mutations and DNA alterations may occur in the living cells if the handling of radioactive material doesn’t occur with adequate precautions. The radiations of radioactive materials are invisible due to which our sense organs cannot feel the radiations. Precautions such as lead jackets are necessary for the workers in nuclear laboratories. When the workers store these waste products which are dangerous for long periods, they must be careful. The spent fuel is highly radioactive and so one has to carefully store it for many years or decades. This also adds to the cost.

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Consequences of nuclear energy

  • Disposing of nuclear waste is very difficult.The radioactive waste takes years to be no longer hazardous.
  • As uranium is not renewable and can lead to environmental problems through the means of processing.
  • Nuclear weapons are very much expensive to build, maintain and also harmful.
  • Nuclear power plants can be very unsafe to its surroundings, it also it costs a lot in case of spillages.
  • These industries render hundreds of square miles of land and unsuitable for use for years and kill entire river system.
  • This energy is not at all safe and clean for the future.
  • They may not emit carbon dioxide while operation, yet a lot of inactive carbon dioxide escapes.
  • Carbon dioxide releases in excessive amounts as these nuclear power plants use uranium as fuel.
  • Radioactive waste is of huge concern. These can remain active for hundreds of years.
  • Fishes die during the process of the cooling system, as water pulls from oceans and rivers.
  • Plants use this water to cool down, it then returns to the ocean and as the water is at 25 degrees, it kills plants and fishes.

Question For You

Q.Which device can be fitted in the exhaust system of vehicles to control the pollution of air caused by burning petroleum fuels like petrol and diesel?

a. Electrostatic precipitator      b. Catalytic converter

c. Chimney                                   d. Scrubber

Sol: b. Catalytic converter

Catalytic converters work on a redox reaction where they convert the toxic gases emitting out the vehicle into a less polluted form.

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Why should we give more emphasis on the uses of non conventional energy sources than conventional sources? Discuss

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