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Comparison Of Nuclear Power And Fossil Fuels Environmental Sciences Essay

In today’s world there are various ways of producing energy. In the past most of the energy came from fossil fuels; fossil fuels were always used to produce energy because they were cheap and available in vast amounts. Nowadays, because of the limited amount of fossil fuels around the world and the high prices people have started to utilize other ways of producing energy. Nuclear power is one of the many resources now being used in order to keep the use of fossil fuel’s down. In this paper I will discuss fossil fuels, nuclear power and the advantages and disadvantages of both.

What are fossil fuels? Coal, gas, and oil are the three main fossil fuels. They have been formed from the organic remains of prehistoric plants and animals more than 300 million years ago. According to Energy and the Environment, “fuel refers to anything that can be burned as a source of energy; therefore, fossil fuels are the remains of animals and plants that have formed into materials that can be burned.” The type of fossil fuel created depends on the kind of plants or animals and the amount of heat and pressure. The energy stored in fossil fuels originally came from the sun. When we burn fossil fuels, we release that stored energy. All the across world fossil fuel’s are the most widely used type of energy; fossil fuels have been used to generate power for almost everything that one uses. Among all of the fossil fuels, natural gas and oil are more commonly used because they are rather easy to transport, they have low emissions, and are easy to handle. It has been said that, except for coal, the supply of the other fossil fuels are sure to be depleted in a few decades.

As of right now, according to Wikipedia- “Fossil fuels supply close to 86% of the world’s energy”. This is a large percentage of energy to be supplied by just fossil fuels. As I have already stated, we are currently in an energy crisis and fossil fuels are the lifeblood of our society and for many others around the world. Our supply is slowly coming to an end, which is why we have become more than willing to go to war for it and make friends with those whom we really hate. Lately the former Soviet Union and many of the countries in the Middle East are in our good favor strictly because of the oil reserves that they have. Our foreign aid has a legitimate purpose. Even though we have befriended our enemies, fossil fuels will run out and the use of them will soon take the lives of many people. These are important reasons to find other means of getting the energy we need to continue our society as we know it.

So what options do we have? Alternative forms of energy are currently under development even though most of them are only in their initial stages. With more help from the government and public support, we may be able to speed up the development of these technologies and help free ourselves from the mast amount of usage of fossil fuels.

http://www.myclimatechange.net/UserImage/3/Definition/WorldEnergyConcemption19652005-1.jpg

This is definitely a serious problem, and as inhabitants of the world we must all come together and try to resolve the problem at hand. Even though some scientist put a time span on how much longer they think that fossil fuels are going to last, no one really knows. It will all depend on how well we manage our energy demands along with how well we can develop and use renewable energy sources.

Nuclear power is energy which is produced with the use of a controlled nuclear reaction. Many nations use nuclear power plants to generate electricity for both civilian and military use, and some nations also utilize nuclear power to run parts of their naval fleets, especially submarines. Some people favor an expansion of nuclear power plants because this form of energy is considered cleaner than fossil fuels such as coal. Nuclear power does indeed come with a number of proble.ms that must be addressed, most importantly being the safe disposal of radioactive waste products.

According to Energy and the Environment, “The entire physical world is made of atoms; the word atom is derived from the Greek word atomos which means invisible.” Atom’s, the smallest component of any element, contains enormous energy. When it is split a process called fission, this energy is released in the forms of tremendous heat and light. It is this energy that was released on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, by two separate atom bombs in 1945 that led to the conclusion of World War II. This horrific scene created by those two bombs led the international community to condemn any further use of atomic weapons.

Still, engineers, governments and scientists realized that if the atom's energy could be controlled and harnessed, it would revolutionize the world's energy markets and provide significant electricity reserves to help meet the world's energy demands. It was even envisioned that it could one day replace the need for fossil fuels. As a result, the first usable electricity from nuclear fission was produced at the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory in 1951.

Nuclear energy requires sources of radioactive elements found naturally in our environment and manmade with which to create the nuclear fission process that splits the atoms. Uranium is the most common and most used of these elements. The only other available sources that are used for nuclear energy is Plutonium and Thorium. Plutonium is not naturally occurring. Thus, the Plutonium used in nuclear reactors is man-made, coming from a nuclear reactor. According to the Ecology Global Network, “Thorium, though not yet a mainstream nuclear energy supply source, is being heavily studied and applied as a safer, cleaner alternative to Uranium. Still, Uranium is king as the premiere provider of nuclear energy.”

Perhaps the greatest challenge facing nuclear energy production after any potential for nuclear disasters similar to the 1986 Chernobyl event is the disposal of the highly radioactive wastes. Because it can take up to 10,000 years for these materials to fully break down into harmless elements the challenge is to store them safely for at least that length of time. Even though it is possible, where and how are still major issues.

Exploitable Uranium supplies still pose some short-term challenges. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the world's economically exploitable Uranium reserves are likely to last between 35 and 63 years, depending on whether demand is such as to justify the higher cost of mining less easily exploitable reserves.

Still, in consideration of the power that can be generated by Uranium and the burgeoning global energy demands, many governments are placing more emphasis on nuclear energy. The largest user of nuclear energy is the United States, followed by France, Japan, Germany and the Russian Federation. In the US alone, the nation's 103 nuclear power plants each generate an average of around 20 tons of radioactive spent fuel a year. Spent fuel now sits in cooling pools and temporary storage areas waiting for somebody to figure out what to do with it.

When you begin to compare fossil fuels to nuclear energy you are able to see that there are many advantages and disadvantages of both. Just because we have used fossil fuels for most of the world’s energy doesn’t mean that we should continue to use what supply of it we have left. Even though nuclear energy is not yet as popular as the use of fossil fuels there definitely has been and will continue to be, a rise in its use.

Advantage of Fossil Fuels

Disadvantages of Fossil Fuels

Easily distributed

Probable contributor to global warming

Inexpensive production

Cause of acid rain

Capacity to generate huge amounts of electricity in just a single location

Questionable availability of some fuels

Simple combustion process can directly heat or generate electricity

Major increase in prices

Compared to:

Advantages of Nuclear power

Disadvantages of Nuclear Power

No Greenhouse Gases

High initial cost because plant requires containment safeguards

No Criteria Pollutants

Waste products can be used to manufacture weapons

Lowest impacts on the environment

Possibility of nuclear meltdown from uncontrolled reaction

Lowest cost producer of base load electricity

Nuclear reactors only last for about forty to fifty years.

After we look at and analyze both fossil fuels, and nuclear energy we notice that both types of energies have their pros and cons. There is no way that anyone could say that there is a major difference in the two that would lead one to believe that one is better than the other. As I have already stated, fossil fuels are definitely a great energy producer. When large amounts of fossil fuels such as coal, gas, and oil are available production can be easily done at a low cost with little or no problems. But as we know, because the availability of fossil fuels is now lessening, we have no other choice than to find alternative energy sources, thus being the case nuclear energy is a very good choice. According to the Nuclear Energy Institute – Clean Air Energy, “Nuclear energy is America’s largest source of clean-air, carbon-free electricity, producing no greenhouse gases or air pollutants, nuclear power plants aid compliance with the Clean Air Act of 1970, which set standards to improve the nation's air quality.” This statement says a lot about Nuclear Energy and is really able to show readers just how effective using nuclear energy can be.

In conclusion, even though I believe that fossil fuels have served us greatly while they have been around in a plentiful supply; I think we now need to come out from the state we are in, one that relies fully on fossil fuels alone. We need to venture out and try new means of energy production; new means such as nuclear power. I believe that even though nuclear power may have some high initial costs it is well worth it. As Ross Garnaut said, “A revolution in humanity’s use of fossil fuel-based energy would be necessary sooner or later to sustain and to extend modern standards of living. It will be required sooner if we are to hold the risks of climate change to acceptable levels. The costs that we bear in making an early adjustment will bring forward, and reduce for future times, the costs of the inevitable eventual adjustment away from fossil fuels.”

Reference Page

Cohen, Bernard L. The Nuclear Energy Option. Plenum, 1990.

The Ecology Global Network | Ecology News and Information for Residents of Planet Earth. Web. 16 Nov. 2009. <http://www.ecology.com>.

Nuclear Energy Institute - Clean-Air Energy. Web. 16 Nov. 2009. <http://www.nei.org>.

Toossi, Reza. Energy and the Environment-Sources, technologies, and impacts. 2nd ed. Los Angeles, CA: VerVe Inc., 2008

Wikipedia. Web. 16 Nov. 2009. <http://www.wikipedia.org>.

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