Nuclear energy is the energy that is released from the nucleus of an atom, as it is evident from the term nuclear. During the process, mass gets converted into energy.
In brief, nuclear energy is the energy that is obtained from the splitting of uranium atoms in a process known as 'nuclear fission'. There are three ways from which nuclear reaction is possible - fission, fusion, and decay. All these three are actively used for various purposes. But before listing the uses, we should first understand the reasons behind its usage.
The Pros of Nuclear Energy
The process to generate nuclear energy is one of the cleanest processes, and makes lowest impact on the environment. It is due to the fact that nuclear plants do not emit any harmful gases like carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide, produced from the conventional electricity power plants that threaten atmosphere by increasing global warming. The energy can, hence, be termed as 'emission-free energy'. It requires little space for the production, thus, promoting land and habitat preservation. There is absolutely no effect on land, water, and air resources.
The water discharged from nuclear power plants is very safe, free of radiation or harmful pollutants, and meets all regulatory standards. Hence, it helps in protecting the aquatic life and conserving wildlife.
One utmost importance of nuclear energy is reliability. The energy doesn't have to depend upon weather conditions, unpredictable costs, or foreign supplies. It's a reliable source of energy, even during extreme weather changes. The plants can run for about 500 to 700 days continuously, before they are shut down for refueling.
Reduces the Dependence on Fossil Fuels
There has been an increase in production and supply of fossil fuels like oil and gas, as the world has been using them at an unbelievable pace. Their deposits are emptying. On the other hand, nuclear energy requires very little quantity of fuel to produce large quantities of energy. Consider this: one ton of uranium can produce energy that is more than that of several million tons of coal and oil.
There have been great advances in using nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, such as medicinal use of isotopes, radiation techniques or production of electricity. Other uses are:
Food and Agriculture
The use of isotopes and radiation techniques in agriculture comes under this category. Leading organizations have been working on the technology to increase agricultural production, improve food availability and quality, reduce production costs and minimize pollution of food crops. One major ongoing advancement is Sterile Insect Technique (SIT), that helps in large-scale food irrigation and biological control of pests.
One very common application is in the treatment of cancer, i.e., through the use of radiotherapy. Also, small amounts of radioisotope tracers are used for diagnostic and research purposes. The radioisotopes aid in measuring the concentration of various enzymes, some drugs, hormones and many other substances that are present in the human blood. These techniques have also helped in monitoring the levels of toxic substances in food, air and water.
Gamma emissions can be used for the sterilization of medical supplies like cotton, bandages, gloves used for surgery, syringes, burn dressings, etc.
Radioisotopes can be actively used for tracing the pollutants present in air. The dangerous residues of the radioisotope present even in small amounts in air can be very harmful to humans (can cause health effects such as kidney disease, etc.). Hence, the tracing quality helps to detect the residue easily, thereby ensuring a healthy and safe environment.
Detecting Leaks in Pipelines
The gamma rays emitted by the radioisotopes can now be used to check welds of gas and oil pipelines. In this, the radioactive source is placed inside the pipe and the film outside the welds. This being convenient, can successfully be used in place of X-ray equipment, which was earlier used to detect leakage in pipelines.
While decaying, the radioisotopes emit lots of energy, which is used to control the heart pacemaker. This energy also provides power to the beacons and satellites used for navigation.
Determination of Age
The most interesting use of the nuclear energy is that it can be used by the archaeologists, geologists and anthropologists in determining the age of rocks, insects, etc.
Its Use in Space
Both fission and fusion of nuclear power is actively used in providing power for the missions in space. It generates higher velocities that increases the speed of rockets. This high generation of velocity is due to the higher density reactions that take place and is around 7 magnitudes more than the chemical reactions, which is used to power the current generation of rockets.
With so many different uses, the use of nuclear energy for the production of electricity is the most important one. The energy released by the fission that takes place in a nuclear reactor of the nuclear power plant is converted and generated into electricity.
Nuclear energy can also be used in industries for processing of various products by means of radiation. With its own share of advantages and disadvantages, it is surely the fuel for the 21st century. It has enormous benefits, but it's up to humans to use it safely, and for peaceful purposes.