What is Nuclear energy? The energy trapped inside the nucleus of an atom is called nuclear energy or atomic energy.
There are two distinct ways of generating nuclear energy. These are:
- Nuclear fission
- Nuclear fusion
1. Nuclear Fission
Nuclear fission is the phenomenon of splitting of the unstable nucleus of a heavy atom like uranium, plutonium, or thorium into lighter nuclei with the liberation of an enormous amount of energy.
The fission is carried out by bombarding the heavy nuclei with suitable low-energy neutrons. In this process, if the mass of the heavy nucleus is slightly higher than the sum of the masses of the lighter nuclei, then an enormous amount of energy is released.
For example, the fission of an atom of uranium produces 10 million times the energy produced by combustion of an atom of carbon from coal.
In a nuclear reactor designed for electric power generation, this nuclear fuel can be part of a self-sustaining fission chain reaction that releases energy at a controlled rate. This released energy is used to produce steam, which is further used for the generation of electricity.
2. Nuclear Fusion
Nuclear fusion is the phenomenon of fusing together two or lighter nuclei to form a more stable heavy nucleus with the liberation of a vast amount of energy. The fusion of nuclei requires a considerably large amount of energy. Extreme conditions such as millions of degrees of temperature and extremely high pressure are needed to bring about nuclear fusion.
Do you know the source of energy in the Sun? Yes! The fusion reactions are believed to be the source of energy in the Sun and other stars.
The hydrogen bomb is also based on the thermonuclear fusion reaction. The nuclear bomb based on the fission of uranium and plutonium is placed at the core of the hydrogen bomb. This nuclear bomb is embedded in a substance containing deuterium and lithium.
On being detonated, the temperature of this substance raises to 107 Kelvin in a few microseconds. This high temperature generates sufficient energy for the light nuclei to fuse, thus releasing a devastating amount of energy.
- Inexpensive: The operational cost is low.
- Environment Friendly : In comparison to fossil fuels, nuclear energy is environment friendly as it generates clean energy.
- Reliable and Stable: Nuclear plants can be installed anywhere and are very stable in nature as they are self relied on and do not depend on external factors.
Although a potential alternative source of energy, nuclear radiations have some serious deleterious effects. Difficulty in nuclear-waste storage and disposal limits large-scale use of nuclear energy.
Other important factors that make the use of nuclear energy prohibitive are:
• High risk of environmental contamination due to accidental radiation leakages
• High installation costs of nuclear power plants, and…
• Limited availability of uranium