15 Advantages and Disadvantages of Nuclear Power Plants Explained

Advantages of nuclear power plants are fuel efficiency, reliability, relatively-clean, low operational cost, fuel availability, economic growth, security application, future prospects and safety measures. Disadvantages of nuclear power plants are radioactive-waste production, high capital cost, non-renewable fuel dependence, health and safety risk, and political implications.

In this article, the pros and cons of nuclear power plants are discussed as follows;


-Advantages of Nuclear Power Plants

-Disadvantages of Nuclear Power Plants









Advantages of Nuclear Power Plants

1). Minimal Space Requirement as one of the Advantages of Nuclear Power Plants

Compared to other types of power plants, a nuclear power plant demands less land space [15].

This is one of the major advantages of nuclear power plants. Other ‘clean’ energy facilities, including renewable energy plants like solar and wind, may occupy as much as 50 to 80 times land space as nuclear facilities.

Because land is one of the most important natural resources [11], it can be said that nuclear power plants are conservative. It may also be rephrased to describe nuclear power plants as having a ‘small land footprint’.


2). Fuel Efficiency

The main reason why it is debated that nuclear energy is a renewable form of energy, is due to the energy efficiency of nuclear fuels.

As a result, a nuclear power plant is typically fuel-efficient [6], and consumes small amounts of fuel compared to other types of power plants that have the same production capacity.

The amount of power which is generated from a given unit of nuclear fuel, exceeds that from other types of fuels (biomass, coal, petroleum). This is because nuclear fuels have high energy density.

The process of nuclear fission, by which these fuels are split to release energy, is a regenerative process, whereby fuel can be recycled and reused [9]. By such mechanisms, fuel is conserved in a nuclear power plant. Some modern technological efforts have led to the development of regenerative nuclear reactors like the breeder reactor [17], which are designed to optimize the efficiency of nuclear fuels.

Fuel efficiency ensured that natural reserves of nuclear fuels like uranium are sufficient for sustainable electricity generation over a long period of time.

Advantages of Nuclear Power Plants: Breeder Reactors Improve Fuel Efficiency (Credit: Marshall Astor 2006 .CC BY-SA 2.0.)
Advantages of Nuclear Power Plants: Breeder Reactors Improve Fuel Efficiency (Credit: Marshall Astor 2006 .CC BY-SA 2.0.)


3). Reliability as one of the Advantages of Nuclear Power Plants

Reliability is one of the advantages of nuclear power plants which they have over other types of power plants and energy facilities.

The main reason for this is the fact that nuclear energy is not weather-dependent, and is not influenced significantly by external environmental factors and conditions. On the other hand, renewable technologies like wind and solar are weather-dependent [18], meaning that their productivity declines when weather conditions are not favorable.

Nuclear power plants are therefore relatively-consistent in their generation and output of electricity. Consistency, reliability and all-year-round productivity imply that a nuclear power plant may yield good return on investment as a main or auxiliary supply facility.

Aside this, the high energy density of nuclear fuels compared to fossil fuels is another indication that a nuclear power plant is relatively reliable.


4). Relatively-Low Environmental Impact as one of the Advantages of Nuclear Power Plants

Although nuclear energy is not renewable, it is clean compared to energy from fossil fuels.

Relatively-clean operation is among the key advantages of nuclear power plants, used in defense of the agenda to boost nuclear power generation as part of efforts to achieve sustainable development.

The operation of nuclear power plants around the world is estimated to cut several million metric tons of carbon each year [4]. As a result, nuclear power has become a major topic within the context of measures to reduce the carbon footprint of the energy sector.

Also, most of the carbon produced in the nuclear energy sector is released during uranium (nuclear fuel) mining and construction of the nuclear power plant. The actual nuclear electricity generation process is nearly emission-free.

Other toxic substances like nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide which can degrade air quality are rarely produced in nuclear facilities. What this generally implies is that nuclear power plants are a fair option to mitigate environmental degradation which may occur in form of greenhouse emission, climate change and global warming.


5). Relatively-Low Operational Cost

While the initial cost of construction may be high, operational costs for nuclear facilities are relatively low [8].

Here, operational costs may refer to the cost of fuel, maintenance, waste management and decommissioning.

The reason why nuclear power plants can be operated at relatively-low cost is due to their conservative nature. Fuel is recycled through a process called ‘reprocessing’ that enables the products of fission to be reused to generate nuclear power.

For the same reason, waste is produced in relatively-small quantities, thereby reducing the cost of waste management and remediation. Given that environmental remediation is an aspect of decommissioning [7], the expenses at this stage are reduced as well.


6). Fuel Availability as one of the Advantages of Nuclear Power Plants

Uranium, which is the most common nuclear fuel, occurs in the earth’s crust and the marine ecosystem [3].

Natural reserves of uranium are fairly abundant and amount to trillions of metric tons that can be used to generate nuclear power.

One of the advantages of nuclear power plants is their dependence on these abundant reserves.

At present consumption rates, the known volume of uranium reserves is enough to last for several centuries to come.

Availability of fuel sets nuclear power technologies ahead of fossil fuels which are currently in high demand and are being actively depleted. The reprocessing technique which maximizes nuclear fuel also contributes to the conservation and sustainable consumption of natural reserves.


Advantages of Nuclear Power Plants: Availability of Fuel (Credit: RIA Novosti archive, image #132603, /Ruslan Krivobok / Руслан Кривобок 2006 .CC BY-SA 3.0.)
Advantages of Nuclear Power Plants: Availability of Fuel (Credit: RIA Novosti archive, image #132603, /Ruslan Krivobok / Руслан Кривобок 2006 .CC BY-SA 3.0.)


7). Economic Growth as one of the Advantages of Nuclear Power Plants

At all stages of its lifespan including construction, operation and decommissioning, nuclear facilities present prospects of economic advancement.

The economic advantages of nuclear power plants are linked to potential growth in industrial and commercial output, as well as growth in employment opportunities.

By generating consistent and reliable electricity with minimal environmental consequences, nuclear power plants support the industrial and commercial sector. This is because several industrial and commercial processes and activities like refining and manufacturing, depend on a reliable supply of electricity.

Job creation in the nuclear power sector may include opportunities in financial, technical and architectural planning, construction, maintenance, monitoring and engineering. These opportunities account for a significant number of jobs in the United States and other nuclear-powered nations [10].

Other forms of economic growth include regional development which may occur within the host environment of nuclear power plants.


8). Security Application

Nuclear energy technology is generally a security asset.

Countries with a well-developed nuclear sector (including reactors and power plants) are better equipped to handle national security issues than their counterparts with less-developed nuclear technologies. This is useful in cases where international diplomatic agreements regarding security are required.  


9). Positive Future Prospects

There are various indications that nuclear energy can become much more efficient, sustainable and effective in the future.

These indications include the abundance of nuclear fuel, and the use of reprocessing techniques to boost fuel efficiency of nuclear power plants.

An increase in the rate of development of nuclear technology will lead to better performance and reliability of this form of energy. Discovery of more uranium deposits as well as techniques to maximize the efficiency of nuclear fuel will also make nuclear power plants to be more reliable as a type of energy facility.


10). Effective Safety Measures as one of the Advantages of Nuclear Power Plants

One of the advantages of nuclear power plants is the existence and utilization of safety measures and procedures to mitigate the risks posed by these facilities to the environment and health.

These measures and procedures are collectively referred to as ‘nuclear safety’, which is the establishment of optimal conditions of operation and management on the sites of nuclear facilities [2].

Nuclear safety measures ensure that the natural ecosystem is protected from degradation as a result of nuclear operations, at all stages in the life of a nuclear power plant. They also mitigate nuclear degradation and damages that may occur in the event of natural hazards like earthquakes.


Disadvantages of Nuclear Power Plants

1). Radioactive Waste Production as one of the Disadvantages of Nuclear Power Plants

Production of radioactive waste is perhaps the most common of all the disadvantages of nuclear power plants.

Although nuclear energy has minimal emissions and environmental impact compared to fossil fuels, the production of radioactive waste materials is a major issue.

In nuclear power plants, radioactive waste is produced as byproducts of the fission of nuclear fuel [13].

The approach to management of this waste is similar to the approach used in carbon capture technology. Nuclear waste is stored securely in vessels which may be buried underground to prevent them from causing environmental contamination [14].

This approach is flawed because it does not provide a means by which the radioactive waste can be eliminated. As a result, the threat of contamination is not fully erased when waste from a nuclear power plant is stored and isolated from the environment.

Exposure to radioactive waste can be hazardous and poses a threat to the health of both workers in nuclear facilities and the general public.

Disadvantages of Nuclear Power Plants: Radioactive Waste Production (Credit: Federal Government of the United States 2011)
Disadvantages of Nuclear Power Plants: Radioactive Waste Production (Credit: Federal Government of the United States 2011)


2). High Construction Cost as one of the Disadvantages of Nuclear Power Plants

Another of the most common disadvantages of nuclear power plants is high cost of construction.

While they may require relatively-low operational expenses, the construction of nuclear power plants is capital-intensive [1].

Much of this cost comes from specialized equipment used in nuclear fission and electricity generation, as well as tools and mechanisms for waste management. The careful planning and execution of nuclear projects often lead to prolonged or extended time usage, which increases cost further.

Designs used for nuclear power systems are highly elaborate and often tailored to suit specific requirements and conditions. Also, the cost of nuclear facilities is increased by the fact that nuclear energy technologies have not yet been fully developed.


3). Non-Renewable Fuel Dependence

Considering that there have been recent efforts to achieve sustainability in the energy sector as a whole, the fact that nuclear energy is derived from non-renewable fuel can be viewed as a disadvantage.

The dependence of nuclear power plants on elements like uranium which occur in finite quantity on Earth, implies that nuclear energy is not renewable. This places nuclear facilities behind others like solar and wind power plants in terms of long tern sustainability.

It also means that nuclear energy is only a temporary option since the natural reserves of fuels that produce this type of energy can be depleted.

Factors that reduce the disadvantage posed by non-renewable nuclear fuel include reprocessing and fuel recycling, and the simultaneous improvement and development of renewable energy technology while nuclear facilities are still usable.


4). Health and Safety Risks as Disadvantages of Nuclear Power Plants

Malfunctions, mismanagement and negligence in nuclear power plants can have serious consequences.

This is because of the highly-energetic nature of electromagnetic radiation from nuclear fuels, which is potentially harmful on exposure to the biotic and abiotic components of the ecosystem.

Environmental pollution by waste from nuclear power plants can lead to health problems and deaths of terrestrial and aquatic organisms. These effects may also occur over a prolonged period of time, because of the long-term nature of radioactive decay [12].

Mining of uranium deposits also puts the ecosystem at risk, since radioactive tailings can contaminate soil and water.


5). Political Implications and Conflict Vulnerability

Disadvantages of nuclear power plants include their possible use as political weapons or centers of conflict.

Just as they can be security assets, nuclear facilities can easily be liabilities to national security. One of the reasons for this is the fact that nuclear facilities are vulnerable targets of terrorist attacks [5] aimed at causing large-scale disaster.

Social conflict can arise from issues concerned with the construction and operation of nuclear power plants, due to the effects which these practices have on the allocation of resources and the quality of public health and environment.

Poor governance, unfavorable policies and decisions can transform nuclear facilities into production points for wrongly-used weapons.

Sociopolitical disadvantages of nuclear power plants also include the poor public image which nuclear energy has in general, as a result of hazardous events like the Chernobyl disaster which led to major economic and infrastructural damages [16].



Advantages of nuclear power plants are;

  1. Minimal Space Requirement
  2. Fuel Efficiency
  3. Reliability
  4. Relatively-Low Environmental Impact
  5. Relatively-Low Operational Cost
  6. Fuel Availability
  7. Economic Growth
  8. Security Application
  9. Positive Future Prospects
  10. Effective Safety Measures


Disadvantages of nuclear power plants are;

  1. Radioactive Waste Production
  2. High Construction Cost
  3. Non-Renewable Fuel Dependence
  4. Health and Safety Risks
  5. Political Implications and Conflict Vulnerability



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