There is more than one benefit to nuclear energy. The questions that swirl around nuclear energy are concerned with comparing the benefits to the potential harm the failure of a nuclear reaction might cause.
One primary benefit of nuclear energy is the lack of pollution produced when compared with fossil fuel power plants. There is no ash or particulate matter spewed into the air surrounding a nuclear reactor. A nuclear power plant does not produce a chemically polluted runoff that pollutes water ways.
Another one of the benefits of nuclear energy is the fuel needed is spread over the globe rather than being located in a few specific areas. This allows a fuel source that is not easily disrupted by natural disasters or man made events. The uranium used to produce nuclear energy is a specific type of uranium called U-235. This particular form of uranium is easily split which makes it suitable for the fission processed used in a nuclear reactor.
Anthracite coal is the best coal available. This is the hard black coal that burns slowly and produces less pollution – but it is mined out throughout most of the world. Today most coal mines produce bituminous coal which is softer and burns faster. Lignite coal is also produced and is the least valuable coal available. The point is, coal is disappearing. Oil fields have a limited span of life before all of the oil has been removed from the ground. Some scientists predict we could run out of fossil fuels entirely in fifty years. Conventional fossil fuel plants will be useless if the fuel to run them is not available. This is the reason some are pushing for additional use of natural gas as an energy source and this is one potential source of energy.
There is enough U-235 to fuel nuclear power plants for at least 1000 years and that is a tremendous benefit of nuclear energy use. As oil becomes harder to find, we are tempted to open up that last of our nature wilderness areas to oil companies and for many years there was no limit on strip mining by coal companies. Uranium is in rock naturally and can be removed and used without damaged. The process of turning uranium-235 into fuel pellets than can create electricity does release radon. However, the radon released is radon that was naturally in the ground to being with. While the radon exposure is raised during the processing of uranium, the land shows a reduction of radon after the mining.
Benefit vs Choice
It’s interesting to debate the benefit of nuclear energy and weight benefits against risk and safety concerns. But nuclear energy benefits aside, the simple truth is we may have no choice except using nuclear energy.
There is a big movement to “green” energy and nuclear power seems to be poised right on the line between green and non-green power sources. It would be wonderful if we could harness enough power from the wind to provide for all of energy needs. How self sufficient we could be if homes came with solar panels and we could easily and comfortably live off the grid. Neither solar power nor wind power has the energy producing potential of a nuclear power plant.
In our atmosphere, greenhouse gases are building. These gases, mainly carbon dioxide, are changing the temperatures around the world. One third of the greenhouse emissions are the result of producing electricity by burning fossil fuels. We can argue pros and cons of global warming and climate change but the atmospheric change is measurable and we know where it comes from.
One benefit of nuclear energy is that no sulfur or carbon dioxide is emitted in the process. When it comes to pollution, nuclear energy is on par with solar energy, wind energy and hydro energy. Wind energy accounts for only 1% of the nation’s energy and solar is responsible for less than that. Nuclear energy isn’t the only answer but may be an important part of providing for our energy needs into the future.
Constant power production is another benefit of nuclear energy. A nuclear power plant produces electricity 24 hours a day. Solar and wind power depends on natural elements of sun and wind for their ability to create electricity. Both can be useful as energy sources but require frequent backup energy from a standard power grid and nuclear energy can power that grid.
We cannot fully utilize the benefit of nuclear energy without building more power plants. Costs are often cited as a reason against new nuclear plants but many of the costs involved are due to regulatory agencies and delays caused by red tape. Investors are hard to find for new plant development because they understand the time factor in building an industry so tightly regulated by various government agencies.