Is Nuclear Power the safest way to achieve Energy Independence?
Nuclear power has become the future of Global Energy Independence. Hence, this Global Energy Independence Day, we will explore the potential of nuclear power as a far safer option to achieve the goal of energy independence than any other energy source. Suppose you are wondering what the significance of this day is. In that case, it is not just a day to acknowledge the efforts of various countries to become independent in terms of energy – it is a day to create awareness about the alternative sources of energy that are more environment-friendly, safer, and efficient.
For the first time, electricity was generated from nuclear energy in 1951, and evidence from the last seven decades suggests that nuclear power is a safe way to generate electricity.
Before we get into the safety aspect of nuclear energy, let’s look at how nuclear reactors work.
In a nuclear reactor, atoms of elements like uranium are split – this process is called nuclear fission. Nuclear fission releases a high amount of energy, which heats the water present at the core of a nuclear reactor. This water is pumped into separate tubes inside a heat exchanger, which heat a separate water source. The steam emitted by this water source generates electricity through a turbine generator. The core water cycles back into the reactor and is ready to be reheated.
Now that we know how a nuclear reactor works let us explore what could go wrong!
- A nuclear plant may not produce carbon emissions, but it generates radioactive waste that is harmful to humans and the environment if not managed safely.
- Accidental radioactive release or leakages
- Risk of graphite fire
- Corrosion and cracking of components
- Failure of emergency core cooling systems may lead to over-heating, which could lead to the risk of rupture in pipes or explosion.
- Aging may lead to deterioration of the reactor making the reactors more susceptible to damage and accidents.
- Terror attacks on nuclear plants may have devastating consequences due to the radioactive contamination in the surrounding areas.
- Long-term exposure of employees to radiation
- Design flaws
No industry is immune from hazards; hence, in spite of the abovementioned hazards, nuclear energy is a safer alternative to conventional sources. An analysis published in the medical journal “The Lancet” concluded that nuclear energy causes 99.8% fewer deaths than brown coal, 99.7% fewer than coal, 99.6% fewer than oil, and 97.5% fewer than gas.
Nuclear energy is a zero-emission energy source. Unlike fossil fuels, nuclear energy does not emit carbon dioxide emissions. This helps to maintain clean air by reducing the toxic air pollutants released by fossil fuels and other renewable energy sources.
Compared to conventional sources, nuclear power produces more energy on a lesser land area. 20% of America’s electricity comes from the 94 nuclear reactors in America. This gives us an idea about the capacity of nuclear reactors to produce more energy in a smaller area.
The waste production from nuclear energy is also lower than other sources because nuclear fuel is denser. Moreover, the waste produced by nuclear plants can be recycled, although most countries are not doing the same. Safety of the operating staff and security is given utmost priority in nuclear power plants in comparison to other plants – like coal mines where thousands of workers die every year.
Although a nuclear disaster has devastating consequences, in the history of the world, there have been only three major nuclear disasters – Chernobyl, Fukushima, and Three Mile Island. It is important to remember that there are more than 400 nuclear reactors worldwide, covering at least 30 countries. Moreover, Fukushima and Three Mile Island nuclear disasters reported no deaths caused due to the accident or the radiation.
However, it is important to understand how these disasters took place and what could be done to prevent them in the future. Hence, let us look into these nuclear incidents:
1.Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster
- Location – Chernobyl nuclear power plant, Pripyat, Chernobyl Raion, Kyiv Oblast, Ukrainian SSR, Soviet Union
- Power Generation – Approx. 4000 Megawatts which is 10% of Ukraine
- What Happened – Reactor core explosion
- What Went Wrong – Sudden and big explosions occurred inside reactor 4 due to the uncontrolled chain reaction that occurred from the power operating system & its emergency safety procedures got shut downed by the safety testing performing team. They also extracted the control rods while the reactor was operating at low power.
2. Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Disaster
- Location – Ōkuma, Fukushima, Japan
- Power Generation – 4.7 GW
- What Happened – Failure in emergency procedures due to the Natural disasters.
- What Went Wrong – on the day of 11th march 2011, a natural disaster earthquake & disaster triggered the accident. With some extortionary efforts by the crew, the sister nuclear power plant in the south, its emergency procedures shut the Fukushima Daini power plant took to a safer situation. But Fukushima Daiichi receives heavy floods onto reactors 1-4. This resulted in damage to the emergency generators & loss of power. Following to this hydrogen explosion took place, which led to radioactive contamination.
3. Three Mile Island
- Location – Londonderry Township, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, near Harrisburg
- Power Generation – 819 Mwe
- What Happened – loss of coolant accident, reactor core ceiling explosion
- What Went Wrong – A series of failures in the non-nuclear secondary system, pilot-operated relief valve, mechanical failure, and operators & management no preparing for the emergency situations make this nuclear power plant into an accident. These failures led to the explosion of the nuclear reactor explosion and followed by the emergency aftermath.
In conclusion, no industry is immune to accidents, and however, the risk of accidents in nuclear power plants is low and declining. To solve the problem of land crises in the world, Nuclear sources are the future for the infinite generation of energy.
Article written by:
Veldhi Sai, HSE Trainer / Consultant, Green World Group – Dubai