Nuclear Power Plant
Nuclear Fission

Is uranium renewable or non-renewable? Nuclear energy

Is uranium renewable or non-renewable? Nuclear energy

Nuclear energy is a source of energy whose fuel is uranium. Therefore, to determine if nuclear energy is renewable, we must consider whether uranium fuel is renewable.

Uranium is a mineral found naturally on Earth. With a small amount of uranium, a nuclear power plant produces energy massively, so it is an unlimited source, but it is not. Consumed uranium is not regenerated and therefore is not renewable.

For many years the primary source of electrical energy was coal. Still, the effects of the emission of gases triggering the climate change have forced a search for more sustainable energy alternatives: clean energy. Some examples of clean energy are solar energy, wind, or nuclear energy.

What is uranium?

Uranium is a natural energy resource found in the ground and mined for use as nuclear fuel. The characteristic that makes uranium ideal for nuclear power is that it is very unstable and, therefore, very prone to breaking apart  - this process is called nuclear fission reaction. When it breaks, it releases a large amount of energy that can be used to produce electricity.

This mineral is found in small amounts throughout the world, but large reserves exist in some countries, such as Australia, Canada, and Kazakhstan.

What is a fission reaction?

A fission reaction is a type of nuclear reaction in which the nucleus of an atom splits into two or several smaller nuclei when a neutron collides with the nucleus of a uranium atom. As a result of the reaction, one or two neutrons are also released, being capable of triggering more reactions leading to a chain reaction.

The most common fission reactions involve the isotopes uranium-235 and plutonium-239, but other nuclides can also undergo fission.

The process of fission usually releases a large amount of energy, which can be used to generate electricity in nuclear power plants. In addition, fission reactions can also be used to create new elements by bombarding nuclei with high-energy particles.

How is electricity obtained from uranium?

Nuclear power plants are facilities that deal with causing uranium atoms to break in a controlled manner. It is called nuclear fission, which occurs in a nuclear reactor inside the plant.

These reactions generate a large amount of thermal energy used to create steam. The steam drives turbines that are connected to an alternator. The alternator is responsible for generating electricity.

Currently, all nuclear reactors in operation are fission reactors whose fuel is uranium.

On the other hand, energy can also be obtained by fusing two atoms. This type of energy is called nuclear fusion, but it is still in development. The fuel for nuclear fusion is hydrogen. So, in this case, because of the abundance of these hydrogen atoms on Earth, nuclear fusion is practically considered an inexhaustible source.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Nuclear Power

Advantages of using this non-renewable energy resource:

  • A lot of electrical power can be obtained with minimal uranium.

  • It is considered a clean energy because it does not emit greenhouse gases abroad. Thus it does not contribute to global warming of the planet.

  • All the energy generated by nuclear energy implies a reduction of the energy produced by thermal power plants. Therefore, a reduction in the use of fossil fuels (mainly natural gas and coal).

  • Weather conditions do not influence the production of electrical energy obtained. Thanks to this, electrical output planning can be established.

Disadvantages of the use of nuclear energy:

  • Although few accidents occur, the accidents that do occur are hazardous for the environment and public health.

  • The nuclear fuel used is limited.

  • Nuclear power plants are potential targets for attacks.

  • It generates nuclear waste that must be managed and stored for years before reducing its radioactivity levels. Some of this radioactive waste remains active for thousands of years. 

Why is nuclear energy non-renewable?

Nuclear energy is a non-renewable resource because it relies on uranium to generate power. Uranium is a radioactive element not found in large quantities on Earth. Once it is used to fuel a nuclear reactor, it cannot be reused. This means that once all the uranium is gone, we will no longer be able to generate nuclear power. Some people believe nuclear energy is renewable because uranium can be mined from the sea. However, this process is costly and has yet to be proven viable on a large scale.

In contrast, nuclear fusion reactors are under study and invastigation. These different types of reactors use hydrogen atoms as fuel sources. As we know, hydrogen is everywhere in the air, especially in the oceans. Once it is available, it will be a renewable energy source-

Recently, scientists in the United States made significant achievements in their research. In 2022, for the first time in history, they could reproduce a fusion reaction that generates more energy than it consumes.



Publication Date: May 25, 2016
Last Revision: January 16, 2023