A nuclear energy plant produces electricity in a similar way as the alternative power plants do. Most of the power plants create heat, which boils the water, then the produced steam is used to drive the turbines and produce electricity. The main difference between a nuclear-fuelled power plant and other plants is the source of heat. Nuclear plants use uranium fuel and produce heat through a process called fission. Fission occurs when uranium atoms are split which is safely undertaken in a nuclear reactor.
The nuclear power industry is a very mature industry compared to any of its rivals. Renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind and hydropower, are still relatively new energy industries and require a considerable amount of resources and knowledge before a plant is actually installed. According to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), nuclear reactor accidents have not caused any deaths aside from Chernobyl. The chances of a nationwide nuclear accident are very slim with the technology used today.
Even though nuclear power relies on uranium rather than renewable energy sources, it is a very dependable energy source because it does not depend on the environmental conditions. Compared to energy plants that run on fossil fuels, nuclear power has many economic advantages. A newly built plant is expected to run at least 60 years and usually is cheaper to run than other fossil fuel powered plants. The initial construction capital costs and nuclear waste disposal costs are two of the biggest costs that a nuclear power plant cannot avoid thus, nuclear power generates a million times more power than a fossil fuel plant. In addition, due to lower transmission costs per kilowatt-hour, power derived from a nuclear reactor is 15-40% cheaper compared to wind power and up to 80% less expensive than solar energy.
The greenhouse effect is a common concern around the world. According to Nuclear Industry Association, for each kilowatt-hour of nuclear electricity, 5g of carbon dioxide is emitted, compared to around 365g from gas fired power stations, or 900g from a coal-fired power station. Nuclear power plants are not heavy polluters but do come short compared to solar or wind power, therefore, it is not considered as a ‘green energy’ itself.
The Hinkley Point nuclear power station project was finally approved by the UK government. The new reactor holds the promise of an environmentally friendly and a low cost energy, thus, the British consumers will be expected to pay back the French and Chinese subsidy costs for the next 35 years and may have to face new energy tariffs which could be three times greater than the current ones. However, EDF Energy suggests that the new nuclear power station will create over 25,000 new employment opportunities and attract new investors to the UK. Once the construction is completed, the new nuclear plant will be able to provide 7% of the country’s electricity for the next 60 years and significantly reduce the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Hinkley Point C. Source: Reuters.
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