Nuclear energy is the result of nuclear fission. In a nuclear fission, the nucleus of a heavy atom like uranium or plutonium splits into two lighter elements. The sum of the masses of the products is lower that the reactant atom. This small difference in mass gets converted to energy as per the following equation:
Here ?M? stands for the difference in the mass of the original atom and its products, ?C? is the speed of light in a vacuum. This formula was first derived by Albert Einstein in 1905.
Nuclear reactors generate nuclear energy. A nuclear reactor is a complex equipment where neutrons bombard the atoms of uranium. As a result, the atoms of uranium split into two lighter elements- Krypton and boron. Along with the lighter elements, three neutrons are also produced. The neutrons set up a self-perpetuating reaction, and the reactor is said to have gone critical. This reaction can be controlled using a boron rod and a steady state of fission is established. The energy produced by the fission reaction is used to produce steam, which is then used to drive a turbine, thus producing electricity.
The biggest advantage of nuclear power is that a single atom of uranium can produce an immense amount of energy. The energy produced from one atom of uranium is equal to that from 100 million atoms of carbon. ?One atomic mass unit of uranium can produce more than 900 electron megavolts (eMV) of electricity. Thus, nuclear energy has emerged as a very attractive source of energy.
Presently, nuclear power plants are located in Tarapur, Kalpakam, Rana Pratap Sagar (Rajasthan), Narora (UP), Kakrapar (Gujarat) and Kaiga (Karnataka). The total installed capacity of nuclear energy in India contributes to less than 3% of the energy requirement of the country. In contrast, some countries source nearly 30% of their energy need from nuclear power. Many reactors have been planned to increase the share of nuclear power in power generation in India.
However, nuclear energy is not easy to harness. The biggest problem with nuclear power is the storage and disposal of nuclear waste. Used uranium produces harmful radiation for many years. Therefore, used fuel needs to be stored and disposed properly. The second major problem is with security. Long before being used for power generation, nuclear power was used for destructive purposes- Japan was attacked with nuclear bombs World War II. Used uranium can be used to make atomic bombs. Therefore, stringent standards are required to ensure the safety of the used fuel.
Setting up a nuclear energy plant requires a huge investment. The technology is expensive, and there are safety issues involved. Due to the fear of accidental leakage, there is a lot of unrest in local communities over proposed nuclear plants.
Investment in research will improve the safety of nuclear energy plants and may allow setting up of more nuclear plants. Increased share of nuclear energy will ultimately help feed the immense appetite for energy in the country.
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