Is Nuclear Energy Renewable?

Night scene with view on riverbank with nuclear reactor Doel, Port of Antwerp, Belgium.
Night scene with view on riverbank with nuclear reactor Doel, Port of Antwerp, Belgium.

Nuclear energy is used worldwide to provide electricity for billions of people. However, the whole process of creating electricity that way relies on the use of Uranium, which acts as a fuel for nuclear fission. Can energy produced this way be truly renewable?

First of all, to understand what renewable energy actually means. Basically, any resource that has the ability to replenish itself within a given period can be considered renewable. For example, the most commonly used sources of renewable energy are wind, solar energy, biomass, and geothermal processes. In this case, this means that people can harness power through these sources because they are, in a way, always there. 

Uranium-Fueled Nuclear Power Plants

On the other hand, the whole process of creating nuclear energy is based on the use of Uranium, a heavy metal element that was discovered in 1789. One thing about Uranium is that it has a melting point at 1132°C/ 2069.6°F, which makes it an excellent resource for nuclear power plants. Uranium is not a renewable source, and it is all because of fission. 

Nuclear energy is created by a process called fission (the opposite of fusion) who is responsible for raising heat to create steam. That steam is then being converted into electricity. However, during fission, a tremendous amount of energy is released between the atoms. The released neutrons from those atoms then continue to collide with other neutrons, and the whole process repeats itself until there is enough fuel, meaning Uranium. 

Nuclear fission of uranium-235 on chalkboard.
Nuclear fission of uranium-235 on a chalkboard.

Unfortunately, Uranium is not a renewable source. The amounts of this heavy metal element are limited on Earth, and sooner or later, there will be no more left to mine. There is still plenty of Uranium left for thousands of years, but is there an alternative source that we could use? One that would make nuclear energy completely renewable?

Using Seawater From The Oceans

The answer is yes. Nuclear energy is considered to be a clean type of energy when it comes to production. Well, at least despite the apparent hazard possibilities in the form of nuclear disasters. There is one source that contains a lot of Uranium, and it covers 71% of Earth. Oceans of our planet are a perfect choice because they are renewable by all means,  and on top of that, they contain Uranium that could be used. There are 3.3 micrograms of Uranium found per liter of seawater. That does not seem very much, but if we do the math, that means there are 4.5 billion tons of Uranium in 1 billion cubic kilometers of seawater. 

Seawater could serve as a source that naturally replenishes itself, making it a perfect choice for Uranium mining. However, these ideas have yet to see become a practice in nuclear energy production. 


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