In contrast to 2010, when nuclear power accounted for 13% of global energy, it now only provides 10% of it. Despite being a long-term component of the global energy mix, its use may continue to decline. As the fossil fuel era draws to an end, it will play a part in decarbonizing energy supply.
The Fukushima tragedy in Japan on March 11, 2011, and the cataclysmic Chernobyl accident on April 26, 1986, both involve nuclear technology and both are heart-breaking disasters.
An earthquake that occurred off the coast of the island of Honshu and the ensuing tsunami claimed almost 19,300 lives in Japan. The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant’s protective sea wall was also breached by the tsunami, and the ensuing flooding caused the partial meltdown of three reactor cores, which resulted in flames and explosions. A nuclear reactor at the Chernobyl site experienced a meltdown 25 years prior due to human error, which caused radiation to be released throughout Europe.
Reactors are still being designed and built, including ones in China and India. However, the overall uptake of nuclear energy, particularly in high-income nations, is less than what the International Energy Agency (IEA) refers to as its Sustainable Development Scenario. It’s difficult to imagine the enthusiasm with which nuclear energy was once regarded, when it was seen by many as one answer to the world’s energy demand. Instead, attention is concentrated on nuclear tragedies. Reactors were put into service at an ever-increasing rate from the first experimental one in 1951, with a peak between the late 1960s and the end of the 1970s when 20 to 30 reactors were put into service nearly every year. The rate of worldwide growth was not slowed down by a fire that occurred in 1957 at one of the UK’s power plants, Windscale, subsequently renamed Sellafield.
That, however, changed following the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant accident in 1979, which had a cooling issue that partially caused a reactor core to melt down. Thankfully, nobody was hurt, but seven years later, the Chernobyl tragedy directly caused the deaths of 31 people. The radiation that spread over what was then the Soviet Union, as well as Eastern and Western Europe, has undoubtedly affected many more people, but the exact number is still debatable. One person died from lung cancer brought on by radiation exposure after the Fukushima accident, in which up to 50 people suffered non-fatal radiation burns.
In addition to the fatalities and health risks, Chernobyl is considered to have cost more than $200 billion in damages, while the Japan Centre for Economic Research calculates that decontaminating the Fukushima site will cost between $470 billion and $660 billion. A total of 24 reactors in Japan are still closed pending ongoing safety reviews, which is increasing the costs. Twelve reactors in Japan have been permanently shut down as a result of the tragedy.
Additionally, nations considering nuclear energy are expected to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Nuclear Suppliers Group, which regulate nuclear trade for peaceful reasons (IAEA). Although the IAEA is not a traditional energy regulator, the latter is crucial. It keeps an eye on and inspects nuclear power plants while simultaneously attempting to prevent a nation from diverting fissile materials for use in weapons. This is partially due to the fact that several countries—India, Pakistan, and most likely Israel—became nuclear powers after initially pursuing nuclear technology.
Nuclear Technology’s Various Applications
• In the 1950s, the first power plant that used heat from uranium atom splitting to generate electricity went into operation. Most people are now aware of the substantial role nuclear energy plays in producing a sizeable amount of the world’s low-carbon electricity.
• Nuclear technology’s uses outside of generating electricity for use in civic purposes in power plants are less well-known.
• Radioisotopes, nuclear power plant process heat, and non-stationary power reactors are vital for a variety of industries, including consumer goods, food and agriculture, business, transportation, water resources, and the environment.
Tracers for industry
Manufacturers employ radioisotopes as tracers to track fluid flow, filtering, leak detection, engine wear, and corrosion of process equipment. While there are no residues left in the environment, very low amounts of short-lived isotopes can still be found. It is feasible to analyse the mixing and flow rates of a wide range of materials, including liquids, powders, and gases, as well as to find leaks by adding small amounts of radioactive chemicals to materials used in various operations.
Most people are aware of how frequently radiation and radioisotopes are used in medicine, notably for the diagnosis and therapy (treatment) of numerous medical problems. In wealthy nations, around one in 50 people has diagnostic nuclear medicine procedures each year, with radioisotope therapy occurring only about ten times as frequently.
Electric vehicles And Hydrogen
In the future, hydrogen production could be fuelled by heat or energy from nuclear power plants. Hydrogen can be burned to provide heat in place of gas without emitting greenhouse gas emissions, or it can be used in fuel cells to power automobiles.
For the purpose of identifying and analysing contaminants, radioisotopes are crucial. Numerous pollution issues, such as smog formation, sulphur dioxide pollution of the atmosphere, sewage distribution from ocean outfalls, and oil spills, have been addressed using nuclear techniques.
Nuclear medicine is employed therapeutically as well. Most frequently, radioactive iodine (I-131) is used in tiny doses to treat thyroid disorders like cancer.
Radioisotopes are used in therapy for a relatively small number of but significant reasons. Cancerous growths are sensitive to radiation damage, which can come from either internal radiation or external radiation (using a gamma beam from a cobalt-60 source) (using a small gamma or beta radiation source). Brachytherapy, often known as short-range radiation, is increasingly used as a primary form of treatment. Palliative therapy methods are frequently used to treat pain.
Targeted alpha treatment (TAT) is a recent discipline, particularly for the management of scattered malignancies. Once a carrier, like a monoclonal antibody, has delivered the alpha-emitting radionuclide to precisely the proper locations, its short range means that a significant portion of that radiative energy enters the targeted cancer cells.