Other Beneficial Uses of Nuclear Technology


Fossil fuel power plants burn carbon fuels such coal, oil or gas to generate steam that drives large turbines that produce electricity.
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  • Written by:

    Pratibha bissht

    pratibhabissht@mtkenyatimes.co.ke

    There are a number of other beneficial uses for nuclear technology.

    The first power station to produce electricity by using heat from the splitting of uranium atoms began operating in the 1950s.

    The applications of nuclear technology outside of civil electricity production in power plants are less well known.

    Radio isotopes, nuclear power process heat and non stationary power reactors have essential uses across multiple sectors, including consumer products, food and agriculture, industry, medicine and scientific research, transport, and water resources and the environment.

    The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations  estimates that about 795 million people were suffering from chronic under nourishment in 2014 -16. Radio isotopes and radiation used in food and agriculture are helping to reduce these figures. Plant mutation breeding is the process of exposing the seeds or cuttings of a given plant to radiation, such as gamma rays, to cause mutations. In Bangladesh, new varieties of rice produced through mutation breeding have increased crops three fold in the last few decades. During a period of rapid population growth, the use of nuclear techniques has enabled Bangladesh and large parts of Asia in general, to achieve food security and improved nutrition. Fertilizers are expensive and if not properly used can damage the environment.

    The IAEA itself was set up in 1957 precisely to promote the good applications of nuclear energy.

    Agriculture and Food – In many parts of the world, agricultural workers use radiation to prevent harmful insects from reproducing. Reducing the numbers of pests and bugs protects crops, providing the world with more food.

    Irradiation also kills bacteria and other harmful organisms in food. This type of sterilization occurs with out making food radio active or significantly affecting the nutritional value. In fact, irradiation is the only way to kill bacteria in raw and frozen foods effectively.

    The use of irradiation technology to preserve food is gaining more attention around the world. In 37 countries, health and safety authorities have approved irradiation of over 40 kinds of food, ranging from spices to grains, fruit and vegetables.

    Medical – Nuclear energy technologies provide images inside the human body and can help to treat disease. Nuclear research has allowed doctors to predict precisely the amount of radiation required to kill cancer tumors without damaging healthy cells.

    Hospitals sterilize medical equipment with gamma rays safely and inexpensively. Items sterilized by radiation include syringes, burn dressings, surgical gloves and heart valves.

    A major part of the IAEA’s technical co-operation programme is devoted to the promotion of human health.

    Water Desalination – The World Nuclear Association notes that one fifth of the world’s population does not have access to safe drinking water and that number is expected to grow. Nuclear technology can play an important role in over coming this challenge.

    Water desalination is the process of removing salt from salt water to make the water drink able. However, this process requires a lot of energy. Nuclear energy facilities can provide the large amount of energy that desalination plants need to provide fresh drinking water.

    Isotopic techniques provide important analytical tools in the management and husbanding of existing supplies of water.

    Nuclear Transport – There are a number of transport modes like Ships and Submarines which use Nuclear Based Propulsion. For the Military,Nuclear Submarines are of the most lethal weapons capable of staying under water for very long periods which diesel submarines are incapable of.

    No Green house Gas Emissions – Nuclear electricity does not produce any GHG emissions and cause air pollution from the combustion of fossil fuels unlike coal,oil or gas.

    Low Electricity Cost – The Electricity produced from Nuclear Power is quite low. Nuclear Plants also have long lives of between 40 – 60 years which means that they are extremely profitable once constructed with in reasonable costs. This is the greatest use of Nuclear Power using Nuclear Fission. Sixteen countries depend on nuclear power for at least a quarter of their electricity. France gets around three quarters of its power from nuclear energy, while Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, Slovenia and Ukraine get one third or more. Japan, Germany and Finland get more than a quarter of their power from nuclear energy, while in the USA one fifth is from nuclear. Among countries which do not host nuclear power plants, Italy gets about 10 percent of its power from nuclear and Denmark about 8%.

    Low Fuel Cost – Large amounts of Nuclear Energy can be produced from the fission on radio active elements like uranium.The costs of nuclear fuel is relatively very low compared to other energy sources like coal and gas.

    High Load Factor – Nuclear Power Plants have very high load factors in excess of 80%.They can generate power almost 24/7 and only require shut down for periodic maintenance.

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