A large mushroom cloud hovering stealthily over barren land is the image that comes to a layman’s mind when the word “nuclear” is mentioned, and with good reason too, as to date the hydrogen bomb explosion in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II is the most famous example of the use of nuclear energy. But over the years, the world has developed considerably. It would be unfair now to associate a highly unfortunate hydrogen bomb with nuclear power, as sensible use of nuclear power has proved all its advantages to us.
Nuclear energy is the energy extracted from Gamma rays, which are released when an unstable and large nucleus is slowly bombarded with small nuclei, which causes the former to split, as there is net change in kinetic energy. The most common method is through controlled fission reactions in nuclear reactors. The energy released is used to heat water to produce steam, which is then converted into mechanical work for the purpose of generating electricity, very similar to the production of hydropower. To the layman, this whole process is defined as the splitting of Uranium, into other elements.
According to statistics, in 2007, 14% of the world’s electricity came from nuclear power, and as of 2005, nuclear provided 6.3% of the world’s energy, and 15% of the world’s electricity, with USA, France, and Japan accounting for 56.5% of the nuclear generated electricity. In the European Union as a whole, nuclear energy provides 30% of the total electricity. With this growth rate, the nuclear generators are estimated to be worth close to $18 billion by 2013.
Keeping the growth rate of nuclear power plants in mind; the International Association of Atomic Energy (IAEA) reported 439 functioning nuclear power reactors in the world; the advantages of nuclear energy are hard to miss. For starters, with growing development in Uranium enrichment using centrifuging, it might prove to be a renewable energy source. The efficiency of energy production is also a plus point, with majority of the waste ploughed back into production. In addition to this, nuclear energy has considerably reduced dependence on the import of foreign oil. Nuclear power also does not aid carbon emissions, and thus plays no role in the ever growing Global Warming.
With any developing idea, a debate always arises. In case of nuclear energy, the main concern is that of nuclear waste. A large reactor produces up to 25-30 tonnes of spent fuel, which is the major nuclear waste, every year. This storage waste can be very dangerous if a leakage occurs, as it is highly radioactive. For this reason, constant upgrading of containment vessels is essential.
With the development in nuclear technology, the issue of nuclear proliferation is also very important, especially in the design and construction of nuclear war heads. If, of course used responsibly, all disadvantages concerning nuclear energy and its development can be overcome, and this can aid to further advancement of the world, in general.
For starters, oil and gas reserves would be conserved, as more work is done the production of nuclear energy. Nuclear energy also opens windows for locked scientific theories, and can even aid research. Sadly, right now, the possession of any form of nuclear substance is considered illegal unless under Government orders and this has greatly hampered research in this field. A sound Government policy would do wonders for a technological and scientific program in any country; this would in turn develop the efficiency of the production of nuclear electricity. Coming from Pakistan, load-shedding is a major issue we face. I believe that if our Government actually ploughs more money into the use of nuclear energy for electricity, rather than war heads, it would strongly alleviate our economy.
Keeping all this in mind, the word “nuclear power” is always loosely used. Sadly, it only applies to the possession of nuclear weapons, and not to the extent of the development of the nuclear energy program. Nuclear power can be a real advantage and asset to any country if it pushed to its full potential, and this should not be hindered.