Study Material | Test Series
Drishti IAS
call1800-121-6260 / 011-47532596
Drishti The Vision Foundation
(A unit of VDK Eduventures Pvt. Ltd.)
Cleaner Fuel Uranium, but Not Freely Traded
Jul 23, 2015

At present, fossil fuels account for about 67% of the total electricity generated in the world. According to World Bank estimates, 41.2% of the world's electricity comes from coal, 21.9% from natural gas and 3.9% from oil. Hydropower constitutes 15.6%, nuclear power 11.7% and other renewable resources a little over 4% of the world's total electricity generation. 

  • Importance of Nuclear Energy: There is a huge disparity in per capita electricity consumption between the industrialized and developing world. Nearly 15% of the world's population has no access to electricity. With growing population and the developing world's increasing income, global electricity demand is bound to increase. Experts believe that in the near future renewable energy sources like solar, wind, geothermal, biomass and so on will not be able to produce enough electricity to meet the global demand. Nuclear power seems like a relatively easy alternative to meet global energy demands. Also it's cleaner than fossil fuels as there is no emission of carbon dioxide. 

  • Generation of Nuclear Energy:  Instead of coal, a nuclear reactor uses uranium as fuel. Naturally mined uranium has three forms –99.3% of U-238, 0.7% of U-235 and less than 0.01% of U-234. U-235 is in an unstable form and decays to gain stability in which energy is released. In a nuclear reactor, this process of releasing energy is initiated by firing free neutrons on the nucleus. The more abundant U-238 can also be used as a fuel in breeder reactors. But the process is far more advanced and so U-235 is used as the main source of nuclear energy. 

  • Uranium Enrichment: Unlike coal, which is ready to use immediately after mining, uranium has to undergo a further step so that it can become a suitable fuel. To start a nuclear reaction, the proportion of U-235 should be higher than its natural level of 0.7%. The process of increasing the proportion of fissionable uranium in the sample is called enrichment. A typical reactor fuel has about 3.5 to 5% of U-235. 

  • Countries Using Nuclear Energy:  According to World Nuclear Association (WNA), an international organization that promotes nuclear power, as of June 2015 there are 437 operational reactors in 30 countries. Together these reactors generate 2,411 billion kWh of electricity. There are 18 other countries other than India where reactors are under construction, planned or approved. Over three-fourths (76.9%) of the total electricity generated in France comes from nuclear reactors. Nuclear power constitutes nearly half of the electricity generated in Slovakia, Hungary and Ukraine. 

  • Mining of Uranium: According to the WNA's uranium production figures, in 2014 over 40% of the world's total production came from Kazakhstan. Over 16% was from Canada while Australia accounted for 9%. These countries along with Niger, Namibia and Russia account for 85% of the global production of uranium. 

  • Not Freely Traded: Unlike other minerals, uranium is not freely traded. There is a voluntary association of 46 countries called the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), which follows certain guidelines for supplying uranium as well as the technology to make nuclear reactors. These guidelines require importing countries to agree to certain safeguard conditions that allows inspection of nuclear facilities by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Incidentally, the NSG was formed after India's 1974 nuclear weapon test.

Helpline Number : 87501 87501
To Subscribe Newsletter and Get Updates.