by Umesh Rustagi, Nehru Science Center
As we know, fossil fuels are a limited resource and are likely to get exhausted in a few decades. We therefore have to look for alternate sources to meet the ever growing demand for energy. Nuclear energy is one such alternate resource that has been studied for its potential. It is said to be able to bridge the gap by providing us with limitless energy. This nuclear energy is produced in nuclear reactors running on nuclear fuels. This fuel is not commonly available and is supplied by a group of nations called the Nuclear Supplier Group. India has reactors and wants to ensure the continuous supply of fuels and hence the nuclear deal is being worked on. In nature the sun and stars produce energy by nuclear reactions in which matter is converted to energy. We have been able to harness this energy to generate power which accounts for approximately 16% of the world's electricity. Unlike the stars, the man-made nuclear reactors that we have today work on the principle of nuclear fission to provide electricity.
Nucleon is the collective name for a proton or a neutron. These sub-atomic particles are the principal constituents of atomic nuclei and therefore of most matter in the universe. Nucleons are held together by strong nuclear forces. In nuclear reactions, nuclear energy is either produced by the fi ssion (breaking down) of heavy nuclei into lighter ones or by fusion (joining together) of light nuclei into heavier ones. A nuclear reaction can thus be described as a process of fission, fusion or radioactive decay that alters the energy, composition, or structure of an atomic nucleus.
The most important factor involved in creating nuclear energy is the famous E=MCsquare relation given by Einstein in 1905. This says that mass and energy are inter-convertible. If a mass disappears, an equivalent amount of energy is produced. This is the basic principle of nuclear energy production.
ADVANTAGES OF NUCLEAR ENERGY
Fossil fuel reserves are limited. Nuclear power is a good alternative which consumes less fuel than that which is used to burn fossil fuels. One ton of uranium (the element used in the production of nuclear energy) produces more energy than is produced by several million tons of coal or several million barrels of oil. Also well-operated nuclear power plants do not release contaminants and are less polluting than oil and coal based plants. The demand for electricity, increasing pollution, greenhouse gases, ozone depletion due to emission from burning fossil fuels and acid rain have forced us to opt for nuclear power.