Nuclear energy is the energy that is trapped inside each atom. The trapped energy is released by three exoenergetic (or exothermic) processes:
- Radioactive decay
- Fission and
Commercial and utility plants currently use nuclear fission reactions to heat water to produce steam, which is then used to generate electricity.
Presently, there are 442 (Feb 2011) nuclear reactors in operation around the world in over 30 countries, providing almost 17% of the world’s electricity. A total of 65 reactors are under construction.
In terms of MW of nuclear generated in 2010, US (101,119), France (63,236) and Japan (47,104) are top three countries. China and India are both planning to build considerably more nuclear reactors than any other country, as the power needs of both countries is growing much faster than those of most other countries.
According to IAEA, 10 to 25 new countries to bring their first nuclear power plant online by 2030. There are probably 11 or 12 countries that are actively developing the infrastructure for a nuclear power programme. The region where we see the largest number of active countries is in Southeast Asia. There is also interest in Africa, the Middle East, Europe and Latin America. Recently, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates ordered their first nuclear power plants.
According to Indian Infrastructure major Larsen & Toubro, it sees a $1.5-billion annual business opportunity from nuclear power in another three to five years, despite the recent accident and sequel at Fukushima in Japan.
The company expects a major part of the growth in this business to come from nuclear power producers outside India, in the US, Britain and France. A number of reactors in these countries would go for replacements of some of the parts and upgrades.
Issues in nuclear energy
However, there are significant hurdles to introducing nuclear power in the developing world; it is an expensive, long-term commitment, with lead times of at least 10 years needed to set up the appropriate technical, regulatory and safety infrastructure.
Nuclear energy is highly capital-intensive industry making it much less attractive for small and medium businesses. A commercial power plant today with 1 000 megawatts requires an investment of some US $2 to 4 billion or more. Although the specific costs of renewables providing electricity at a similar reliability to nuclear power are not dissimilar, they can be deployed in much smaller units with lower total capital requirements and are therefore easier to finance. However, once built, nuclear plants are relatively inexpensive to run.
Nuclear Power Sector in China Opens Doors for New Business Opportunities
In 2007, China released its long-term development plan for its nuclear power industry (2005-2020), pledging to pump 450 billion yuan (67 billion US dollars) into the sector.
China is rapidly becoming self-sufficient in reactor design and construction, as well as many other aspects of the power generation process. With 12 nuclear power reactors in operation, 24 under construction, and more about to start construction, the Chinese market for nuclear power equipment is a vast business opportunity for vendors. According to the latest news, the forthcoming long-term development plan of installed capacity for the nuclear power development goal in 2020 was adjusted to 86 million kilowatts, which far exceeded the previous 70 million ~ 75 million kilowatts expectation. After calculation, to achieve the goal at least 189 billion U.S. dollars or about 1.25 trillion RMB will need to be invested by China. The nuclear power equipment business is expected to rise along with the growth of the nuclear power market.
Domestic firms are finding opportunities in making machinery parts for nuclear power plant - Hydropresses, cranes, planers, drills and lathes hum.
- Nuclear power costs about the same as coal, so it's not expensive to make.
- Does not produce smoke or carbon dioxide, so it does not contribute to the greenhouse effect.
- Produces huge amount of energy from small amounts of fuel. One ton or Uranium produces more energy than is produced by several million tons of coal or several barrels of oil.
- Produces small amount of wastes
- Nuclear power is reliable.
- Political resistance to nuclear energy
- Nuclear explosions produce radiation. The nuclear radiation harms the cells of the body which can make people sick or even kill them. Illness can strike people years after their exposure to nuclear radiation.
- One possible type of reactor disaster is known as a meltdown. In such an accident, the fission reaction goes out of control, leading to a nuclear explosion and the emission of great amounts of radiation.
- Nuclear reactors also have waste disposal problems. Reactors produce nuclear waste products which emit dangerous radiation. Because they could kill people who touch them, they cannot be thrown away like ordinary garbage. Currently, many nuclear wastes are stored in special cooling ponds at the nuclear reactors.
- It must be sealed up and buried for many thousands of years to allow the radioactivity to die away. For all that time, it must be kept safe from earthquakes, flooding, terrorists and everything else. This is difficult. Nuclear reactors only last to about 40 to 50 years.
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