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Who uses nuclear energy? 
What is the difference between nuclear energy and fossil fuels? 
How does nuclear energy compare to other clean air alternatives? 
How does uranium become nuclear energy? 


Who uses nuclear energy – a part of the world’s diversified supply mix

Nuclear power has been the world’s fastest growing major source of energy in every decade since 1960. Today, 30 nations representing two-thirds of humanity use nuclear power to produce about 15% of global electricity (24% in developed countries). Nuclear energy produces 75% of France’s electricity, 30% for Europe and Japan and 20% for America – the world’s largest energy consumer. There are plans or proposals to build over 480 new reactors in both developed and developing nations over the next 20 years. This growth is underscored by escalating nuclear power programs in China, Russia, India and the U.K.

The global demand for electricity is projected to double in the next 20 years. Nuclear power is emerging as a proven, clean energy alterative to fossil fuels that is environmentally-friendly, safe, affordable and large scale source to meet the world’s rising energy needs.

 

What is the difference between nuclear energy and fossil fuels?

Nuclear energy is increasingly viewed as a proven, clean air alternative to fossil fuels.

Nuclear energy

  • 0.001 tonnes of uranium = 50,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity
  • Zero greenhouse gas emissions
  • Safe, proven, affordable large-scale capacity 
  • Spent fuel waste - 96% can be recycled into fuel, remaining 4% contained in solid disposal facility
  • Only energy industry taking full responsibility for all its waste products and cost is priced into contracts

Fossil fuels

  • 17,000 tonnes of coal = 50,000 kWh
  • 12.5 tonnes of oil = 50,000 kWh
  • 23 billion tonnes in global carbon emissions a year
  • Toxic elements released into atmosphere (eg. carbon, arsenic, lead, fly ash, mercury) - no viable plan to eliminate this release

 
How does nuclear energy compare to other clean air alternatives?

For large-scale, continuous reliable supply of electricity, nuclear power is a cost-effective and environmentally-friendly clean air alternative. Renewables such as wind and solar power although clean, are not complete alternatives because they cannot provide continuous reliable supply. Nuclear also requires less land use than most other forms of energy.

Conventional Nuclear Power Plants

  • Small environmental footprint (~80 hectares per 1,000MWe reactor)
  • Safe, large-scale, continuous, reliable supply
  • Developing flexibility in lower cost, smaller size reactors

Wind/Solar

  • Climate dependent; lacks commercial scale
  • Large footprint for small energy generation
  • Wind also environmental impact, noise, visibility, high maintenance costs

Hydroelectric

  • Good growth capacity
  • Large environmental footprint

Biomass/Ethanol

  • Neutral at best - transport of fuel, fertilizer and product emits as much greenhouse gas as biofuel saves
  • Competes with land for food production, which increases cost of basic foods and leads to more land clearing 


How does uranium become nuclear energy?

Before uranium can be used to fuel a nuclear reactor, it must be mined from the ground and processed into a useable form – the uranium fuel cycle.

Mining and Milling – The uranium fuel cycle begins as rock containing an unusually high concentration of uranium called uranium ore. The ore is mined – much like mining coal – underground or in open pits depending on the depth of the deposit.

In an onsite or nearby mill, the ore is ground up and a chemical process extracts the uranium and produces a uranium concentrate known as U3O8 or “yellowcake.” The yellowcake is a fine powder that is packaged in steel drums for shipping. Read more 

Conversion, Enrichment and Fuel Fabrication – The yellowcake is shipped to a refinery to be converted into a gas (uranium hexafluoride), then sent for enrichment (uranium-235). The enriched uranium is made into ceramic fuel pellets for use as fuel in nuclear reactors. The pellets are sealed in metal tubes called fuel rods and assembled into fuel bundles to be inserted into a nuclear reactor. One fuel pellet – the size of your fingertip – can produce as much energy as about 150 gallons of oil. Seven fuel pellets produce enough electricity to meet the annual needs of the average Canadian home.

Nuclear Reactor – Once inside the reactor, the enriched uranium in the fuel bundles are activated to begin a process called fission. Fission takes place in the reactor core surrounded by a shell housed in an airtight steel and concrete containment building. The heat produced by the fission reaction creates steam that drives a turbine linked to a large electric generator.

Waste Management – The residues left after the uranium has been extracted in the mining and milling process are called tailings. In deposits geologically similar to the Kurupung system drilled by U3O8 Corp., the radioactivity of the tailings should be similar to the natural radioactivity of the Kurupung granite. Tailings are contained in regulatory approved, monitored dams near the processing plant for long-term storage. Read more

Used fuel bundles constitute reactor waste. The used fuel bundles contain both radioactive waste and unused nuclear fuel. Once the spent fuel bundles are removed from the nuclear reactor, they are stored temporarily onsite in special pools until their heat and radioactivity decreases to the extent that they can be safely transported. 96% of the uranium in the reactor waste can be recycled and the remainder is transported to a permanent federal disposal site.

Nuclear power is the only energy producing industry which takes full responsibility for all its waste, and waste disposal is fully priced into the sales contracts.

Sources: World Nuclear Association, Nuclear Energy Institute, American Nuclear Society, Carleton University – Nuclear Governance, Economy & Ecology, Vol. 1, No. 3, 2007, Nuclear Tourist, 2008 Secondary Energy Infobook, Canadian Nuclear Association