Why do we need nuclear energy?
Ronald Reagan once said: “All the waste in a year from a nuclear power plant can be stored under a desk.” A particularly nice way to sum up the efficiency of nuclear power, we think. In short, energy is produced by controlled nuclear reactions, whereby nuclear fission reactions heat water, produce steam and produce electricity.
The UK government favours the expansion of nuclear power plants, a trend that is being replicated internationally with 12.3% of the world’s electricity coming from nuclear energy. In fact, almost 75% of France’s energy comes from nuclear power.
Nuclear energy is by the far the most efficient and effective way to produce energy for the increasing demands of the world. With 436 nuclear power reactors in 31 countries throughout the world, and another 70 under construction, nuclear power is becoming more and more popular as the preferred source of energy. The contribution of nuclear energy in the UK offsets the equivalent of almost all of the emissions produced by cars on the road, a particularly enviable boost when considering the implications of so many other energy sources.
There are around 56,000 employees working in the nuclear industry in the UK alone, which represents a particularly big part of the overall energy and utilities sector. Given also that the government has recently approved the building of new nuclear power stations, the opportunities within this sector continue to increase.
Production vs Technical roles
There are two clear pathways when it comes to working in the nuclear industry: production and technical. Anybody working in production will be involved with the actual operation of the plants themselves, being responsible for all production activity on the site.
The technical side of things is more associated with ensuring all safety measures are adequate and appropriately followed. These guys are also responsible for ensuring that the overall output of the plant is sufficient and that the environmental impact of producing nuclear energy is kept to a minimum.
How is nuclear energy created?
As for the nuclear fuel cycle itself, it all begins with the mining of uranium. The ore is extracted, converted into a more stable form such as ‘yellowcake’ and then taken to a processing facility. It’s at this point that it is converted into ‘rods’ – enriched uranium that is used in reactors to produce energy.
Given the instability of uranium, the operation surrounding the rods requires extreme care. Once they have been fully used (each rod will usually have a six year cycle) the isotopes are taken to a ‘spent fuel pool’ where they gradually decay. After around five years in a cooling pond, where they become cool enough to handle, they are moved for storage (under Ronald Reagan’s desk perhaps?).
We promise nuclear energy has advanced a long way since it accidentally produced Godzilla, Spiderman and The Incredible Hulk. It’s rapidly growing, and jobs in the industry are going like hot (yellow)cakes.