Difference Between Coal Energy and Nuclear Energy

Edited by Diffzy | Updated on: April 30, 2023


Difference Between Coal Energy and Nuclear Energy

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In today’s time, we need the energy to run our houses, factories, big industries, machinery, other equipment, etc. There are different forms of energy available, i.e., nuclear energy, hydropower energy, solar energy, coal energy, wind energy, and so on. Our nature has given us a tremendous amount of energy to utilize for our good. We need all of this energy to produce electricity and run many of the necessary equipment for our houses and factories efficiently. Our survival must be dependent on Nature for the requirement of energy.

Today, we’ll discuss the important points of differences between coal energy and nuclear energy.

Coal Energy vs. Nuclear Energy

Coal is the main source of energy for steam generation, which is used to generate electricity. Additionally, coal gasification and liquefaction produce gaseous and liquid fuels that are easy to transport (e.g., through the pipeline) and can be stored in tanks. Coal is a plentiful natural resource that can be utilized for electricity, as a chemical source for a variety of synthetic compounds (such as colors, oils, waxes, medicines, and insecticides), and in the creation of coke for metallurgical processes.

Electricity could be manufactured in a variety of ways. It could be made using solar panels, coal, or the heat captured by atoms splitting apart, for example. Nuclear energy is generated when atoms split apart to generate power.

Steam has been used in power plants to convert heat to energy. At nuclear power plants, heat is produced by atoms splitting apart, a process known as fission. Energy is generated when atoms split apart. A chain reaction occurs when a process happens over and over. The material chosen in the fission process inside a nuclear power plant is uranium.

Difference Between Coal Energy and Nuclear Energy in Tabular Form

Parameters of Comparison Coal Energy Nuclear Energy
Source Coal energy is originally derived from coal, as the name implies itself. Nuclear energy is originally produced by actually extracting radioactive atoms and ions from nuclear fuel.
Amount of Pollution Coal energy is in reality extremely polluting to the environment. In comparison to coal energy, nuclear energy produces far less pollution.
Generation of Nuclear waste Nuclear waste is not produced by coal energy production. Nuclear power generation does result in nuclear waste.
The amount of energy produced Coal can be burned to provide a tiny quantity of energy. Nuclear fission produces a tremendous amount of energy.
Renewable or non-renewable Coal is a non-renewable source of energy. Nuclear power is a renewable energy source.

What is Coal Energy?

Now, Coal is a non-renewable fossil fuel that is used to generate energy when burned. Coal provides for about half of the electrical generation in the United States, even though mining procedures and burning are both very hazardous to miners and the environment. The remnants of ancient species are used to create fossil fuels. Coal is a non-renewable resource since it costs millions of years to build and there is a finite amount of it.

Coal- Formation

Now, a flammable sedimentary rock having a high concentration of carbon and hydrocarbons, coal is often black or brownish-black in color. Because it takes millions of years for coal to form, it is categorized as a non-renewable source of energy. Moreover, coal is composed of the energy that was once locked up in plants that inhabited marshy forests hundreds of millions of years ago. Over millions of years, the plants were covered by layers of rock and mud. The heat and pressure that followed transformed the plants into what we now refer to as coal.

Furthermore, during the Carboniferous epoch, the circumstances that would eventually lead to coal formation began to emerge around 300 million years ago. The Earth was originally covered in vast, shallow waters and lush forests during this time. Plants and algae were trapped at the bottom of a swampy wetland when the seas swamped the woody areas. Under the weight of overlying muck and vegetation, the plants (mainly mosses) and algae were buried and compacted throughout time.

As the plant waste sifted down beneath the surface of the Earth, it experienced higher temperatures and pressure. The plant matter was unable to come into contact with oxygen due to mud and acidic water. As a result, the plant matter then degraded slowly and preserved the majority of its carbon (source of energy).

Peat bogs are locations where plant matter has been buried. Many meters underneath, peat bogs store large amounts of carbon. Peat is a key source of thermal energy in nations like Scotland, Ireland, and Russia, and can be burned for fuel.

Carbonization is the process by which peat converts into coal under the correct conditions. Carbonization occurs under extreme heat and pressure.

"Coal seams" or "coal beds" are subsurface formations that contain coal. A coal seam might be 30 meters thick (90 feet) and span 1,500 kilometers (920 miles). Every continent has coal seams.

Types of Coal

Moreover, Mineral rocks, which are formed of inorganic stuff, are not the same as coal. Coal is made up of fragile plant stuff that goes through several transformations before becoming the famous black and gleaming fuel.

The amount of change in coal over time is used to rank it. According to Hilt's Law, the deeper the coal seam, the higher the rank. At increasing depths, the material is exposed to higher heat and pressure, resulting in more plant detritus being converted to carbon.

The top grade of coal is anthracite. It is black, lustrous, strong, brittle coal that is repeatedly referred to as hard coal. This has a high amount of fixed carbon and a smaller percentage of volatile matter.

Now, Brown coal, also known as lignite, is the lowest class of coal and contains the least amount of carbon. Lignite is primarily used in the production of electricity and has a low heating value and a high moisture content.

Peat is the predecessor to coal. A soft organic substance called peat is made up of partially decomposed plant and mineral materials. Peat goes through physical and chemical changes (coalification) to create coal when subjected to high pressure and heat.

Sub-Bituminous Coal

Sub-bituminous coal has been around for around 100 million years. It has roughly 35-45 percent more carbon than lignite. Sub-bituminous coal, like lignite, is referred to as "brown coal" in many regions of the world. Sub-bituminous coal, like lignite, is mostly utilized to generate electricity.

Bituminous Coal

Bituminous coal is 100 million to 300 million years old and created under higher heat and pressure. It takes its name from the sticky, tar-like material bitumen, also found in petroleum. It has a carbon content of 45-86 percent.

What is Nuclear Energy?

So, Nuclear energy is the energy stored in an atom's nucleus or core. All matter in the cosmos is composed of atoms, and energy is what binds the nucleus together. The compact nucleus of an atom contains a tremendous amount of energy. To generate electricity, nuclear energy must be liberated from the atom. Atoms are divided to release energy in the nuclear fission process.

A nuclear reactor, often known as a power plant, is a collection of equipment that use nuclear fission to generate energy. Pellets of the element uranium are used as fuel in nuclear reactors to produce nuclear fission. Uranium atoms are then forced to split apart in nuclear reactors. The atoms split then, releasing particles known as fission products. Other uranium atoms then actually break as a result of fission products, resulting in a chain reaction. Heat is then produced by the energy released by this chain reaction.

The heat generated by nuclear fission warms the cooling agent in the reactor. Water is commonly used as a cooling agent, however other nuclear reactors use liquid metal or molten salt. Steam is produced when the cooling agent is heated by nuclear fission. Turbines, or wheels rotated by a flowing current, are powered by steam. The turbines power generators, which produce electricity.

Nuclear poison rods can be used to control the amount of energy produced. Nuclear poisons are materials that absorb some of the fission products produced by nuclear fission, such as a kind of xenon. The reaction will be slower and more controlled if there are more nuclear poison rods present during the chain reaction. By removing the rods, the chain reaction will be stronger and more power will be produced.

Uranium Is the Nuclear Food

Now, Uranium is the most often utilized fuel in nuclear power plants. This is due to the ease with which uranium atoms split apart. Uranium is a widely distributed element that can be found in rocks all around the planet. However, the form of uranium required to make nuclear energy, known as U-235, is extremely scarce. U-235 makes up less than 1% of all uranium on the planet. Uranium must be removed from other minerals after it is mined. Before it can be used, it must also be treated.

Only countries that have signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) are allowed to import uranium or plutonium, another nuclear fuel because it can be used to make nuclear bombs as well as nuclear reactors. The treaty motivates the peaceful use of nuclear energy while curbing nuclear proliferation.

Nuclear energy generates electricity for use in homes, schools, companies, and hospitals. Near Arco, Idaho was the first nuclear reactor to generate electricity. In 1951, the Experimental Breeder Reactor began self-powering. In 1954, Obninsk, Russia, built the first nuclear power plant to supply energy to a town.

Nuclear reactors require advanced technology, and the uranium or plutonium required can only be obtained by countries that have signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. For these reasons, the majority of nuclear power plants are found in wealthy countries.

Nuclear power facilities generate clean, renewable energy. Nuclear power doesn’t contaminate the environment or emit greenhouse gases. It can be developed in either urban or rural regions and does not have a significant environmental impact.

Steam used to power turbines and generators are eventually recycled. A cooling tower separates it from the rest of the building. The steam is converted back to water and can be used to generate more energy. Excess steam is easily recycled into the atmosphere as pure water vapor, which causes minimal harm.

Main Differences Between Coal Energy and Nuclear Energy In Points

  • The primary distinction between coal and nuclear energy is the type of fuel used. Nuclear energy produces heat through the fission of enriched radioactive materials such as uranium. This process must be closely controlled to avoid excessive heat production and subsequent plant meltdown.
  • Coal energy, on the other hand, is a fossil fuel that is burned to generate heat.
  • Another significant distinction between coal and nuclear energy is the energy density. A little uranium pellet the size of a pencil eraser might hold the same amount of energy as a ton of coal.
  • In comparison to nuclear energy, a coal power station requires daily coal deliveries, but a nuclear power plant's fuel may be changed every two years.
  • Nuclear energy is also more environmentally friendly because it does not pollute the air while in operation. The smoke that comes out of a nuclear power plant's tower is simply water vapor
  • Coal combustion produces massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the environment.
  • Nuclear power is more costly than coal power.


To conclude, it would be appropriate to say that both coal energy and nuclear energy have their respective advantages and disadvantages. Now, coal has long been one of the most dependable and essential fuel sources in the world. Even after the many advantages coal has to offer, its usage as a major energy source has recently been the point of national and international discussion. Coal also has several drawbacks. It is one of the most harmful sources of energy and a contributor to carbon emissions, according to studies by experts. It depends on us, the human beings, how we utilize them as per our requirements, without any overexploitation of the resources available.


  • Coal. (n.d.). Retrieved from SOCIETY: https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/coal/
  • Kopp, O. C. (n.d.). coal. Retrieved from Britannica: https://www.britannica.com/science/coal-fossil-fuel
  • Nuclear energy. (n.d.). Retrieved from SOCIETY: https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/nuclear-energy/
  • What Is Nuclear Energy? (2020, November 25). Retrieved from U.S.NRC: https://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/basic-ref/students/what-is-nuclear-energy.html


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"Difference Between Coal Energy and Nuclear Energy." Diffzy.com, 2023. Tue. 06 Jun. 2023. <https://www.diffzy.com/article/difference-between-coal-energy-and-nuclear-energy-620>.

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