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A Kids’ Guide to the Pros and Cons of Nuclear Energy

August 5, 2023 - earthorgkids

As we try to reduce carbon emissions, we need to decide if we should keep using nuclear power or focus more on fossil fuels and renewable energy. Let’s explore the pros and cons of nuclear energy to understand if nuclear energy is a good alternative to planet-warming fossil fuels.

What Is Nuclear Energy?

Nuclear energy is a special kind of energy that comes from the centre of an atom, called the nucleus. This energy can be used to make electricity. There are two types of atomic reactions used to create this energy: nuclear fusion and nuclear fission.

When we use nuclear fission, we use a special kind of fuel called uranium. Uranium is used in a reactor, and it makes the atoms split into two or more pieces. This splitting creates a lot of heat. The heat is used to make water boil, and the steam from the boiling water spins turbines. These spinning turbines create electricity.

Nuclear energy has been around for a long time. In the past, we mostly used fossil fuels like coal, natural gas, and oil to make electricity. But now, more and more countries are using nuclear power because it is cleaner and doesn’t harm the environment as much as fossil fuels do. Nuclear power plants started operating in the 1950s and have been a good alternative to oil and gas.

Today, around 10% of the world’s energy comes from nuclear power. There are 439 nuclear power plants in 32 countries, and more are being built. Countries like the United States, China, and France use a lot of nuclear energy to make electricity. France, for example, gets 70% of its electricity from nuclear power.

When discussing the use of nuclear power as an energy source, it is important to consider both its advantages and disadvantages.

4 Advantages of Nuclear Energy

1. Nuclear energy produces a lot of electricity

Nuclear power plants can generate a large amount of electricity, which can help meet the energy needs of many people.

2. It is low greenhouse gas emissions

Nuclear power produces very low greenhouse gas emissions compared to fossil fuels like coal and oil. This helps reduce air pollution and the impact on climate change.

3. It is reliable and consistent

Nuclear power plants can operate continuously and provide a steady supply of electricity, unlike some renewable energy sources that depend on weather conditions.

4. It has a high energy density

Nuclear fuel contains a lot of energy in a small amount, which means a small amount of fuel can produce a large amount of electricity.

4 Disadvantages of Nuclear Energy

1. Radioactive waste

Nuclear power plants produce radioactive waste that remains dangerous for a long time. Proper management and disposal of this waste is crucial to prevent harm to people and the environment.

2. Accidents can have huge consequences

Although nuclear power plants are designed to be safe, accidents can still happen. If there is a major accident, it can release harmful radiation and have serious consequences for people and the environment. You might have heard of the Chernobyl nuclear accident before. It happened in 1986 in Ukraine, when a big explosion and a fire in the reactor released huge quantities of dangerous radiation into the air. Radiation is something we cannot see or feel, but it can be harmful to our bodies if we are exposed to too much of it. Thousands of people had to flee their home, hundreds lost their lives. The radiation from the accident also affected the environment, hurting plants, animals, and the land around the power plant and making area unsafe for people to live up to this day.

Even though the Chernobyl disaster was a terrible accident, we learned a lot from it. It made us understand how important it is to be very careful when we use nuclear power. We now have better safety measures and rules to make sure accidents like that don’t happen again.

3. Uranium supplies are limited

Uranium, the fuel used in nuclear reactors, is a finite resource. It is important to use it efficiently and explore alternative fuel sources for the long-term sustainability of nuclear power.

4. It is very expensive to build and maintain

Nuclear power plants are expensive to build, and the costs of maintaining and operating them can also be high. It requires significant investment and expertise to ensure the safe and efficient operation of nuclear facilities.

What’s the Verdict?

Scientists and experts are always working to make nuclear power safer and find ways to handle the waste. They are also exploring other renewable energy sources like solar and wind power, which are considered even cleaner and safer.

In the end, it is important to keep learning about different energy sources and think about what is best for our planet and the people who live on it. We need to find ways to create energy that is safe, clean, and does not harm the environment.