Ecology

What is nuclear energy and how does it work

Nuclear energy is a type of energy that is obtained thanks to nuclear fission or nuclear fusion and that for its operation needs uranium, making this a non-renewable resource, due to the speed with which it is being extracted. In addition, it is an energy with double standards, since when it is produced it does not emit greenhouse gases, but it does produce large amounts of toxic waste.

What is nuclear energy and what is it used for?

Nuclear energy is that which is released when a nuclear reaction occurs ( nuclear fission or nuclear fusion), that is to say, that which occurs in the nucleus of an atom, which can occur artificially or spontaneously.

If you wonder what nuclear energy is for , keep in mind that this type of energy is very present in our lives since it is used to produce thermal, electrical and mechanical energy. In addition, it also has other uses in medicine, in agriculture for pest control, in the manufacture of weapons, in archeology, among other uses. 

Within nuclear energy, could you tell how many types of nuclear energy there are ? Depending on the way it is produced, there are two types:

  • Nuclear fission: this is used to obtain atomic energy and consists of the rupture of an atomic nucleus to acquire other smaller ones. It is the most used since so far it is the one that has been best managed.
  • Nuclear fusion: this process consists of the union of two or more atomic nuclei to produce energy, although nowadays this option is not viable.
How nuclear energy works

Let’s start by clarifying what is the raw material of nuclear energy . This is obtained by the fission of uranium isotopes , specifically U-235 . This chemical element is the only one capable of causing the nuclear fission reaction, which can produce highly radioactive and polluting waste such as plutonium.

Now you know where it comes from, but it remains to clarify how nuclear energy is obtained to know how it works or what is the process that is followed to obtain thermal, electrical and mechanical energy from it. From the uranium U-235 from which this energy is obtained, the process to achieve nuclear fission is as follows:

  1. In the nuclear fission process, which is practically based on a collision, a neutron is fired to strike the nucleus of the uranium atom.
  2. This will fragment into two or more elements with a lower atomic weight.
  3. As a consequence, there is a massive release of energy, in addition to the generation of new neutrons, thus initiating a chain reaction of neutrons that will continue to hit other atoms so that they divide into smaller ones.

Nuclear energy is produced in nuclear power plants and the most common are those that work through pressurized water reactors.

Nuclear energy falls within the non-renewable energies since it is obtained thanks to uranium, specifically U-235. But why is it not renewable? It is not renewable because uranium is a chemical compound that is extracted from nature and, although there are large reserves such as the one that can be found under sea water, it is not economically profitable to exploit them. So, you can only have those reserves present on the earth’s surface, these are being exploited at a rate greater than their regeneration, therefore this means that uranium is not a renewable element and consequently nuclear energy is not either. .

Here we tell you much more about the question: Is nuclear energy renewable?

Advantages and disadvantages of nuclear energy

Finally, the main advantages and disadvantages of nuclear energy are mentioned below . We start with the advantages of nuclear energy:

  • Among the characteristics of nuclear energy that we can see as an advantage, we find that it is an energy considered as clean with respect to the emission of polluting gases, since no gases are emitted into the atmosphere to generate it.
  • Producing nuclear energy has a very economic cost, being able to reduce energy costs.
  • A nuclear power plant in general does not interrupt the production of its energy, practically the operation of these is constant, so large amounts of energy can be produced.

Nuclear energy not only has advantages, which could well contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, it has some disadvantages that unfortunately outweigh the advantages. The disadvantages of nuclear power are:

  • Nuclear power plants generate very dangerous waste that takes thousands of years to decompose, as well as being highly polluting. Waste from a nuclear power plant can be deadly.
  • Nuclear energy is part of non-renewable energy.
  • When a nuclear power plant suffers an accident, the consequences they have for the environment are very serious, extending over time; they are also a danger to people’s health. Surely you know the Chernobyl or Fukushima accidents , and the consequences they had for both the population and the environment.

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