Nuclear energy is obtained from nuclear interactions. The bonds found within the nucleus of atoms give rise to a series of reactions, either spontaneously or in a human-induced way.
This kind of energy is very efficient and allows us to obtain almost incalculable power levels. In return, it is non-renewable and also carries many risks that must be known.
What is nuclear energy?
When talking about nuclear or atomic energy, reference is made to the energy produced within the atoms, especially in the nucleus thereof. The atom is the smallest expression of matter. Within all atoms, there is a nucleus that contains protons and neutrons inside. Both components are united within the nucleus, the energy that maintains this link is nuclear energy. The uranium and plutonium are the elements that are used as a nuclear power source.
How does nuclear energy work?
To harness nuclear energy, it is first necessary to release the energy that is trapped inside the atomic nucleus. Nuclear energy can be released in two ways: by fusion or fission. With both processes, there is a decrease in atomic mass, but this is not lost but converted into heat energy.
The energy obtained through fusion and fission processes is much greater than that developed by any other process. With a small amount of dough, you can get a lot of energy. For example, the energy equivalent to that produced by 200 tons of coal is obtained from one kilogram of uranium.
Nuclear fission consists of the division of the atomic nucleus due to the impact caused by a neutron. The nucleus stores a huge amount of energy, thanks to this both neutrons and protons are attached. When fission occurs, energy is released and transformed into radiation and heat. The nuclear radiation is harmful to living things. In the nuclear division the atom is divided into smaller particles, but not less than half of the original mass
The nuclear division releases neutrons that at the same time collide with the nuclei of other atoms to fission them, creating a chain reaction that produces heat.The heat rises and feeds turbines formed by blades, which rotate at a certain speed to the point of producing energy that sustains a generator. This generator distributes energy for consumption.
In the case of nuclear fusion, the atom does not divide but joins with another to form a heavier particle. For this to be achieved, the temperature must be very high so that it can overcome electrostatic repulsion.
Light atoms are usually used to obtain nuclear fusion, as is the case with hydrogen atoms and their respective isotopes. Nuclear fusion is still under study.
Nuclear power characteristics
- It is quality energy with a lot of power.
- Its production generates radioactive waste that is difficult to degrade and very harmful.
- It is not renewable.
- Fusion or nuclear fission must occur for it to occur.
- The elements that are most used for this purpose are Uranium and Plutonium.
What is nuclear energy for?
- The first use that is given to nuclear energy is to provide electrical energy.
- In the area of health, it is used to diagnose or even treat certain pathologies. For example, it is useful in ultrasound, radiology, computed tomography, magnetic resonance imaging and in the analysis of cancer tumors.
- With regard to agriculture and food, it is used for pest control, food preservation, and mutations.
- He has also contributed in the areas of research, instrumentation, etc.
Requirements to implement nuclear energy
In order to obtain energy from nuclear reactions, a nuclear power plant is required. These plants are facilities that use reactors to produce electricity. These devices are specially designed to produce nuclear reactions in a controlled manner.
The raw material used by nuclear power plants is fissile elements, that is, those that can suffer fission and generate heat. This heat is used in a thermodynamic cycle to mobilize an alternator and generate electrical energy. Although nuclear energy does not produce polluting gases, it does cause hazardous radioactive waste.
The fissile element is placed inside tubes that are about five meters long and have a centimeter in diameter. These are known as nuclear reactors and can be considered the base element of nuclear energy. The tubes are made of stainless steel or zirconium alloy.
Fission occurs in the nucleus due to a rich source of neutrons that are immersed in light water, heavy water or graphite. This source is known as a moderator and is the one that reduces the speed in the neutrons, which ensures the impact on the nuclei in a controlled way.
Some control rods are responsible for regulating the activity produced within the core. The way to do this is by placing fewer or more mobile bars in the core. The bars regulate the number of fissions that must be produced and thus give more or less power to the reactor. In case you want to completely stop the chain reaction, the bars are completely inserted into the core. To increase the reaction again, only the bars should be removed.
Advantages of nuclear energy
- It produces a huge amount of electrical energy. This implies that more people can have access to electricity. In addition, electricity is produced throughout the year, making prices less fluctuating.
- No gases are produced that produce the greenhouse effect. From the moment the energy is obtained, in the plants, there is no production of gases such as N2O or CO2. The smoke that comes out of the chimneys is not smoke with gases. It is actually water vapor because water is used in the nuclear fission process and it evaporates, so the chimneys do not contaminate.
- It relies less on hydrocarbons as fuel, for example, oil. Since the amount of electricity produced by nuclear energy is very large, this reduces the use of fossil fuels to obtain electricity.
- It has a less harmful effect on the environment. The energy produced by nuclear fission causes less damage to the environment.
Disadvantages of nuclear energy
- It is not easy to get rid of nuclear waste and the radioactivity they present, they constitute a constant danger. The heavy metals are other contaminants that can affect living beings.
- Accidents increase with the presence of nuclear plants. If they are not built properly or are not required to be maintained, radioactive leaks have an adverse effect on the environment.
- Water that is near where the nuclear power plant is built can become contaminated. For the plant to function properly it must be built near a body of water, in order to use it for cooling. The liquid risks being contaminated and causing damage to living beings that consume it.
- The cost of the renovation of nuclear plants is high. These exchanges are disposable, they have an expiration date. It is necessary to renew them and the investment is considerably high.
- Uranium is a limited element. It is estimated that it will last only 50 years. It is also very unstable, it requires a lot of care to undermine, transport and store it.
Nuclear power production capacity
The IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) issued an annual report. In this report, it is estimated that the production capacity of electric energy from nuclear reactions will increase to 2030 between 1.9% and 56%. In a scenario of low growth, installed capacity will go from 382.9GW belonging to the end of 2015 to 390.2 GW. It will reach 598.2 GW in case of a high growth scenario.
Nuclear power contributes 14% of the electric power generated in the world, through 443 active reactors in some thirty countries, according to data from the World Nuclear Association.
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