When you hear the words “nuclear energy”, some of the first visuals that may come to mind are of a nuclear bomb or of an energy crisis such as Fukushima or Chernobyl. If these in fact are your first impressions of nuclear energy, then you’ll be surprised to learn that, when it comes to carbon dioxide emissions and other air pollutants, nuclear energy is nearly equal to other renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar.
As we discussed previously on our blog, when it comes to nuclear energy, there are plenty of advantages (including its low cost and high energy density) as well as disadvantages (including its steep stet up prices and potential risk of accidents) to consider. To dive deeper into the topic in today’s post, we will focus on nuclear energy’s most popular uses and highlight some examples.
What Are the Uses of Nuclear Energy?
Did you know that nuclear energy and its byproducts, such as cobalt-60, have multiple uses? There are a number of other beneficial uses for nuclear technology in addition to creating electricity. These range from agriculture to medical, and space exploration to water desalination.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), nuclear provides almost 20% of our electricity in the United States. In fact, the DOE claims that nuclear is the nation’s largest source of clean energy—making up nearly 60% of our emissions-free electricity. That’s more than all of the renewables combined. It is also said to be the most reliable energy source on the grid, since its fleet of reactors operates over than 92% of the time.
The first commercial nuclear power stations started operation in the 1950s. Today, over 50 countries utilize nuclear energy in about 220 research reactors. Situated in the towns of Kashiwazaki and Kariwa, the world’s largest nuclear power plant by capacity has seven nuclear reactors.
Also according to the DOE, almost one-third of all patients admitted to U.S. hospitals are diagnosed or treated using radiation or radioactive materials. Nuclear technologies (i.e. nuclear medical imaging) allows healthcare professionals to capture images inside the human body in order to help treat disease. For example, nuclear research has made it possible for doctors to accurately predict the amount of radiation required to kill cancer tumors without damaging healthy cells.
Hospitals also sterilize medical equipment, including syringes, burn dressings, surgical gloves and heart valves with gamma rays safely and inexpensively.
Nuclear energy and technology are used within food and agriculture to make processes safer and more effective. As an alternative to chemical pesticides, for example, farmers can use radioisotopes to control insects that destroy crops. This process involved rendering male insect pests infertile, which helps significantly reduce, and in some cases, even eliminate, pest populations. Nuclear energy techniques are also used to test foods to ensure harmful contaminants aren’t lingering on products. These techniques can also improve yields from livestock.
An exceptional amount of what we know about deep space can be attributed to radioisotope power systems (RPSs). These small nuclear power sources are used to power spaceships in the extreme environments of deep space. RPSs are proven to be safe, reliable, and maintenance-free for decades of space exploration, including missions to study Jupiter, Saturn, Mars, and Pluto. In Fact, the Nuclear Energy Institute claims that Voyager 1, which was launched in 1977 to study the outer solar system, is still transmitting data today.
While nuclear energy does have its fair share of downfalls, we hope that this post helped you understand a bit more about the positive uses of nuclear technology. If you’re interested in helping work in exploring innovative energy solutions, be sure to learn more about Kiwi Energy and our energy and natural gas products today.