By Abhishek Jha:
What is Nuclear/Atomic Energy?
One will remember from high school science classes that all the matter in the world is made up of tiny particles called atoms. The energy that is derived from reactions occurring in the nucleus of this atom is what we call nuclear or atomic energy. Those who sleepwalked through high school might now wake up fearing that we have got terribly radioactive material all around us and that we are all going to die. But fret not, because some kind professors have put their stuff on the internet so that you don’t have trouble sleeping after school.
Popular Perceptions of Nuclear Energy
Burning coal and petroleum creates a lot of pollution and makes greenhouse gases (GHGs) that lead to global warming. Also, global reserves of coal and petroleum being limited, nuclear energy is often touted as an alternative. A 1000 MW plant requires only about 3.2 kg of fuel per day. Also, it doesn’t pump those GHGs. Hence, it’s popularly believed to be a cheap and clean energy source.
So Why Don’t We Switch Completely To Nuclear Energy?
A nuclear energy plant can work only if a high concentration of radioactive material is brought together, which is a nightmare for everybody. Exposure to nuclear radiation can cause anything from burns and vomiting to cancer and death. Nuclear energy production, therefore, requires thick gloves, deep pockets, and a lot of waiting. And although it doesn’t pump GHGs into the atmosphere, the used fuel is radioactive and requires safe dumping. In fact, just closing a nuclear energy plant requires about 10% of money required to set it up. This construction cost in itself is only about 2000 crores per year for a 440 MW plant, just about double of a similar capacity coal power plant.
And while a lot of care is taken in making the plant safe, a natural disaster like an earthquake or tsunami can always wreck the plant, in which case it is deadlier than any other kind of power plant. Remember Fukushima? And we haven’t yet considered countries using the import of radioactive materials for power plants as cover for nuclear weapons’ manufacture or terrorists trying to piggyback on the radioactive waste.
The high cost and risks involved has already got even big producers of nuclear power backing it out. Small hydro power plants, which require no money to be spent on the fuel (which is water), are an excellent avenue for exploration. Solar, wind, geothermal, and tidal power plants are other renewable resources that are clean, cost nothing for fuel, and can never be as harmful as a nuclear power plant. Nuclear energy is very much a cigarette. Both leave you high and dry.