Which is more efficient, better for the environment and a lower cost, a nuclear power plant or a coal power plant? They both have their pros and cons but the question remains which is better in the long run? The point of both plants is to create electricity. Which would you rather be living next to? You run a slim risk near a nuclear power plant. And next to a coal plant many different chemicals are released every day, that wouldn’t occur in that quantity where there was no power plant. What would you choose?
Coal Combustion can be tricky business. It releases Carbon Dioxide, Sulfur Dioxide, Ash and Nitrogen Oxides all contributors to Global Warming. The Sulfur Dioxide and Nitrogen Oxides can create acid rain. A consequence of burning coal for electricity. Another danger related to coal combustion is the emission of ash that is dangerous for the area’s health. Some of the ash that is not emitted however can be used for making concrete. Unfortunately coal contains low levels of uranium and thorium, which when released into the environment can lead to radioactive contamination. These substances may be miniscule nevertheless enough coal is burned that significant amounts of these substances are released. Even with these problems coal power plants cause, we continue to depend on them. Today 52% of the capacity for generating electricity in the United States is fueled by coal, compared with 14.8% for nuclear energy.
Nuclear power is a different story, it is a cleaner and less expensive process. Nuclear power plants release no greenhouse gases and don’t pollute the air at all. The cooling tower releases steam, which eventually falls back down to the source of water were it once was. The steam released from the cooling tower is not radioactive, the water vapor that is released through the cooling tower was created by the water from another source, for instance a lake. As the water from the lake travels through pipes it is in an enclosed circuit. Not interacting with any radioactive material. The steam you see rising out of the cooling tower, once was water in your local lake. There is almost no difference between a coal power plant and a nuclear power plant after you get past the reactor itself.
A big problem that nuclear power plants are facing is storing radioactive waste called spent fuel. Which does not have a practical purpose, as opposed to the ash that coal power plants create. Spent fuel is highly radioactive and needs to be handled with great care. Fresh from the reactor, it is so radioactive that less than a minute's exposure to it will cause death. However, spent nuclear fuel becomes less radioactive over time. Some power plants dispose of the spent fuel by burying it underground. After 40 years, the radiation is 99.9% lower than it was the moment the spent fuel was removed, although still remains dangerously radioactive.
Every kind power plant comes with consequences that we have to live with because our economy depends so much on electricity. It’s our responsibility to think of new ways to produce electricity with less of an affect on the environment, and humanity.