Nuclear energy

When the word nuclear energy is heard, one automatically would think of a very powerful bomb. It is an efficient means to fuel power plants to generate electricity. Also, nuclear energy is cost competitive with other forms to generate electricity unless there is a direct access to low-cost fossil fuel. Coal and gas fueled power plants still remain relatively cheap in countries where it is very abundant like the USA and China. However, in countries where the cost for these fuels remain economically impractical, they tend to favor nuclear energy. Since nuclear energy has a tarnished name, countries that plan to generate electricity by means of nuclear fuel are also steps away from building a nuclear weapon if they wish to do so. Such action is under close scrutiny from the international community.

Normal operation costs for nuclear power plants include plant decommissioning and waste disposal. These are normally an external cost for other alternatives like coal or gas fueled plants. But since nuclear waste is a primary environmental concern, the cost to decommission a nuclear power plant surpasses the initial cost to set it up for operation by as much as 15%. Overall, the cost to construct nuclear power plants are higher than coal or gas plants. The need to use specialized methods, materials, and operational safety measures also contributes to the initial cost in building and maintaining a nuclear power plant.

The initial cost to build nuclear power plants may be higher than other methods but its electricity generating costs are projected to be one the cheapest. Already well below the electricity generating cost of coal and gas, nuclear fueled power stations may see an increase in construction demand in years to come. On the operational side, nuclear power stations are just like any other power plants except that they use nuclear fission as fuel to heat up the boilers that are used to operate the power generators. Fission is a way to extract expended energy by atoms that are forcefully split. To put it in simple terms, when matter is destroyed, it is converted into energy. On nuclear reactors, uranium is the preferred choice since it already undergoes slow fission. When it is bombarded with a neutron, it splits and generates intense heat. This heat is harnessed by placing the uranium pellets inside a rod which can be raised or lowered to control heat inside the reactor core. For some system, heavy water is used to slow neutrons and at the same time, carry heat towards the normal water on the boiler. The boiler produces steam which moves the turbines that powers the generators.

Nuclear players
General Electric co.(NYSE : GE)  US
British Energy group (Privately held)  UK
Energy Metals Ltd. (ASX: EME)   Australia
Chubu electric power co. inc. (TYO: 9502)  Japan
Tokyo Electric Power co. (TYO: TKECF) Japan

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