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Nuclear Energy

The Diablo_Canyon_090618A
(The Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant - The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, U.S.A.)

 

 

- Clean Source of Power

[World Nuclear Association]: Nuclear technology uses the energy released by splitting the atoms of certain elements. It was first developed in the 1940s, and during the Second World War research initially focused on producing bombs. In the 1950s attention turned to the peaceful use of nuclear fission, controlling it for power generation. Nuclear energy is harnessed by either splitting (fission) or merging (fusion) the nuclei of two or more atoms. 

As the worldwide demand for power continues to surge, nuclear energy is gaining increasing importance as a clean source of power that is expected to address the global issue of climate change. Volatility in the prices of fossil fuels and the increasing concern of nations to secure energy supplies are other drivers of nuclear energy. Nuclear is often left out of the “clean energy” conversation despite it being the second largest source of low-carbon electricity in the world behind hydropower.

 

- The Major Challenges of Nuclear Energy

The major challenges facing the nuclear industry include ensuring power plant safety, protecting reactors from natural disasters and external aggression, and finding effective solutions for long-term waste management. Nuclear power's role in a decarbonized energy mix that can help limit global warming will depend on how these challenges are met.

There are currently 439 nuclear power reactors operational in 30 countries worldwide. This accounts for 14% of the total power generation of the world. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) expects the global nuclear power generation capacity to increase from the current 372 gigawatts (GW) to 437–542 GW by 2020 and to 473–748 GW by 2030. 

However, for nuclear power to emerge as a reliable and clean source of energy, several challenges need to be addressed. Some of these include improvement in economic competitiveness, designing safe and reliable nuclear power plants, management of spent fuel and disposal of radioactive waste, developing adequate skilled workforce, ensuring public confidence in nuclear power, and ensuring nuclear non-proliferation and security.  

 

- The Nuclear Fuel Cycle

 
The Nuclear Fuel Cycle
(The Nuclear Fuel Cycle - World Nuclear Association)

  • The nuclear fuel cycle is the series of industrial processes which involve the production of electricity from uranium in nuclear power reactors.
  • Uranium is a relatively common element that is found throughout the world. It is mined in a number of countries and must be processed before it can be used as fuel for a nuclear reactor.
  • Fuel removed from a reactor, after it has reached the end of its useful life, can be reprocessed so that most is recycled for new fuel.

The various activities associated with the production of electricity from nuclear reactions are referred to collectively as the nuclear fuel cycle. The nuclear fuel cycle starts with the mining of uranium and ends with the disposal of nuclear waste. With the reprocessing of used fuel as an option for nuclear energy, the stages form a true cycle.

To prepare uranium for use in a nuclear reactor, it undergoes the steps of mining and milling, conversion, enrichment and fuel fabrication. These steps make up the 'front end' of the nuclear fuel cycle.

After uranium has spent about three years in a reactor to produce electricity, the used fuel may undergo a further series of steps including temporary storage, reprocessing, and recycling before wastes are disposed. Collectively these steps are known as the 'back end' of the fuel cycle.

 

- Nuclear Waste Storage

Next to climate change, nuclear waste storage is one of the biggest generation-spanning issues facing the world. The stakes are high; world powers like the US and the U.K get a fifth of their power from nuclear plants, while in France the share is 40 percent. This reliance makes the need for safe and sustinable storage obvious.

The Onkalo spent nuclear fuel repository is a deep geological repository for the final disposal of spent nuclear fuel, the first such repository in the world. It is currently under construction at the Olkiluoto Nuclear Power Plant in the municipality of Eurajoki, on the west coast of Finland, by the company Posiva. It is based on the KBS-3 method of nuclear waste burial developed in Sweden by Svensk Kärnbränslehantering AB (SKB).

 
 

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