We know that widely used fossil fuels like coal, petrol, diesel etc. have limited reserves and are getting depleted very rapidly due to advancements in science and technology. The day is not very far away when these will be completely exhausted and we will be left with no option than to develop other non-conventional sources of energy such as nuclear, wind and solar energy. Among them, nuclear energy shows a promising future.
The main advantage of using nuclear energy is that it does not cause any known change in climate and does not emit carbon compounds into the environment. However, it has a major disadvantage. The raw materials used for producing nuclear energy are highly radioactive. Even the byproducts produced from the nuclear reactions used are radioactive and hence involve a lot of hazards. Nuclear energy shares one disadvantage with fossil fuels in that the main fuel source with nuclear energy- uranium- is also present in limited amounts, although available deposits can produce much greater energy output than current reserves of fossil fuels.
At present, less than 10% of the world’s energy requirement is satisfied by nuclear energy. The reasons for such a low percentage are mainly the hazards associated with nuclear energy production and addiction of people to fossil fuels. Nuclear energy is mainly produced from nuclear fission of uranium, producing lighter nuclei which are also radioactive like uranium. Moreover, the fission reaction is a chain reaction and needs to be controlled. If this is not effectively done, the facility may not be able to contain the reaction initiated and the compromise of the reactor can unfortunately lead to catastrophic consequences. Disposal of nuclear wastes possesses another serious threat to widespread implementation of this technology. The harmful radiation from radioactive materials is potentially deadly to humans and other living things.
At present, further nuclear energy development is facing many challenges including high fuel costs, the radioactive nature of raw materials and wastes, health hazards due to harmful radiation emitted and handling of the waste. It is expected that further development in science and technology will help to overcome these challenges. One possibility being explored to reduce these hazards is using non-radioactive nuclei for nuclear reactions. Perhaps in the future, research and development work in this field may lead to more productive ways of recycling waste from the process, even within the reactor itself.
Another important challenge to widespread use of nuclear power is the high cost involved in setting up and maintaining a nuclear power plant. Due to the hazardous nature of the substances involved, the infrastructure required to run a plant of this type is expensive when compared to fossil fuel plants. Unlike other fuels uranium needs to be processed before it is capable of undergoing fission reaction and produce energy. This processing is called enriching the fuel and it is another factor which increases the cost of energy production.
It has been estimated that, the contribution of nuclear energy towards the energy needs of the whole world will show an increase in the years to come. Its use is generally encouraged because it is cleaner than fossil fuels. Hence, scientists are hard at work developing innovative ways to overcome its challenges and minimize the hazards it poses.