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In 1932, James Chadwick discovered the neutron, which was immediately recognized as a potential tool for nuclear experimentation because of its lack of an electric charge.
After World War II, the prospects of using "atomic energy" for good, rather than simply for war, were greatly advocated as a reason not to keep all nuclear research controlled by military organizations. However, most scientists agreed that civilian nuclear power would take at least a decade to master.
How it works
Nuclear power stations work in pretty much the same way as fossil fuel-burning stations, except that a "chain reaction" inside a nuclear reactor makes the heat instead.
The reactor uses Uranium rods as fuel, and the heat is generated by nuclear fission: neutrons smash into the nucleus of the uranium atoms, which split roughly in half and release energy in the form of heat.
Carbon dioxide gas or water is pumped through the reactor to take the heat away, this then heats water to make steam. The steam drives turbines which drive generators Modern nuclear power stations use the same type of turbines and generators as conventional power stations.
In 2005, Nuclear power produced 6.3% of the World's energy and 15% of the World's electricity.
Annual generation of nuclear power has been on a slight downward trend since 2007, decreasing 1.8% in 2009 to 2558 TWh with nuclear power meeting 13-14% of the world's electricity demand.
Nuclear fusion reactions have the potential to be safer and generate less radioactive waste than fission.
Both fission and fusion appear promising for space propulsion applications, generating higher mission velocities with less reaction mass. This is due to the much higher energy density of nuclear reactions: some 7 orders of magnitude (10,000,000 times) more energetic than the chemical reactions which power the current generation of rockets.
Nuclear Power Technology
There are many different reactor designs, utilizing different fuels and coolants and incorporating different control schemes. Some of these designs have been engineered to meet a specific need. Reactors for nuclear submarines and large naval ships, for example, commonly use highly enriched uranium as a fuel. This fuel choice increases the reactor's power density and extends the usable life of the nuclear fuel load, but is more expensive and a greater risk to nuclear proliferation than some of the other nuclear fuels.
Nuclear Power and Hiroshima
At the time of its bombing, Hiroshima was a city of some industrial and military significance. A number of military camps were located nearby, including the headquarters of the Fifth Division and Field Marshal Shunroku Hata's 2nd General Army Headquarters, which commanded the defense of all of southern Japan. Hiroshima was a minor supply and logistics base for the Japanese military. The city was a communications center, a storage point, and an assembly area for troops. It was one of several Japanese cities left deliberately untouched by American bombing, allowing a pristine environment to measure the damage caused by the atomic bomb..
One of the biggest problems in Nuclear Power is the construction cost .
It is important to distinguish between the economics of nuclear plants already in operation and those at the planning stage. Once capital investment costs re effectively "sunk", existing plants operate at very low costs and are effectively "cash machines".
Their operations and maintenance (O&M) and fuel costs (including used fuel management) are, along with hydropower plants, at the low end of the spectrum and make them very suitable as base-load power suppliers. This is irrespective of whether the investment costs are amortized or depreciated in corporate financial accounts - assuming the forward or marginal costs of operation are below the power price, the plant will operate.
For many years after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster nuclear power was off the policy agenda in most countries, and the anti-nuclear power movement seemed to have won its case. Some anti-nuclear groups disbanded.
More recently, however, following public relations activities by the nuclear industry, advances in nuclear power technology, and concerns about climate change, nuclear power issues have come back into energy policy discussions in some countries. There have been reports of a revival of the anti-nuclear movement in Germany and protests in France during 2004 and 2007. In the United States, there have been protests about, and criticism of, several new nuclear reactor proposals and some objections to license renewals for existing nuclear plants.
At the same time some environmentalists have adopted a more pro-nuclear stance. Public attitudes towards nuclear power remain ambiguous in many developed countries, with significant opposition even when majority opinion is in favour.
A few injuries have occurred during anti-nuclear protests:
* On 10 July 1985, the flagship of Greenpeace, Rainbow Warrior, was sunk by French agents in New Zealand waters, and a Greenpeace photographer was killed. The ship was involved in protests against nuclear weapons testing at Mururoa Atoll. The French Government initially denied any involvement with the sinking but eventually admitted its guilt in October 1985. Two French agents pleaded guilty to charges of manslaughter and the French Government paid $7 million in damages.
* In 1990, two pylons holding high voltage power lines connecting the French and Italian grid were blown up by Italian eco-terrorists, and the attack is believed to have been directly in opposition against the Superphénix.
* In 2004, a 23 year old activist who had tied himself to train tracks in front of a shipment of reprocessed nuclear waste was run over by the wheels of the train. The event happened in Avricourt, France and the fuel (totaling 12 containers) was from a German plant, on its way to be reprocessed.
* On July 21, 2007, a Russian antinuclear activist was killed in a protest outside a future Uranium enrichment site. The victim was sleeping in a peace camp, which was part of the protest when it was attacked by unidentified raiders who beat activists who were sleeping, injuring eight and killing one. The protest group was self identified as anarchist and the assailants were suspected to be right wing.
Nuclear Power and Politics
The politics of nuclear energy is unlikely to change rapidly. When the cost of petroleum goes up a lot, the countries that have had nuclear programs will have a competitive advantage that will put pressure on the backward countries. The danger that anti-nuclear politics would succeed in suppressing nuclear energy everywhere seems to have passed.
1999: The politics of nuclear energy has improved slightly in the U.S. Congress has mandated that the Government take the nuclear waste that it has been charging the companies for taking. There is still stalling on the repository. The repository for Government low level waste has finally opened in New Mexico. There is a one stop law on licensing plants. The undamaged Three Mile Island power plant has been sold to an energy supply company. With all that, a company proposing to build a new nuclear power plant might still face expensive delays from lawsuits.
Most of the new power plants in the US have used natural gas. The CEO of Entergy, an operator of nuclear plants bought from utilities, said that a natural gas price of $5.00 per million BTU should trigger the construction of new nuclear plants. It's above that in late 2003.
2003: Congress passed a bill, and President Bush signed it specifying that a waste site in Nevada will be used. With the expected lawsuits 2010 is the earliest that waste will be stored. The energy bill that almost passed in Fall 2003 provided for a Government subsidy to construct a nuclear plant to produce hydrogen. The delays in passing the bill have involved conflicts over subsidies for ethanol, MTBE, etc. and have not involved the nuclear part. So far as I know, the opponents of the bill have not raised anti-nuclear issues.
As of 2007, Watts Bar 1, which came on-line in February 7, 1996, was the last U.S. commercial nuclear reactor to go on-line. This is often quoted as evidence of a successful worldwide campaign for nuclear power phase-out. However, even in the U.S. and throughout Europe, investment in research and in the nuclear fuel cycle has continued, and some nuclear industry experts predict electricity shortages, fossil fuel price increases, global warming and heavy metal emissions
from fossil fuel use, new technology such as passively safe plants, and national energy security will renew the demand for nuclear power plants.
According to the World Nuclear Association, globally during the 1980s one new nuclear reactor started up every 17 days on average, and by the year 2015 this rate could increase to one every 5 days.
Proponents of nuclear energy contend that nuclear power is a sustainable energy source that reduces carbon emissions and increases energy security by decreasing dependence on foreign oil. Proponents claim that nuclear power produces virtually no conventional air pollution, such as greenhouse gases and smog, in contrast to the chief viable alternative of fossil fuel. Proponents also believe that nuclear power is the only viable course to achieve energy independence for most Western countries. Proponents claim that the risks of storing waste are small and can be further reduced by using the latest technology in newer reactors, and the operational safety record in the Western world is excellent when compared to the other major kinds of power plants.
Opponents believe that nuclear power poses many threats to people and the environment. These threats include the problems of processing, transport and storage of radioactive nuclear waste, the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation and terrorism, as well as health risks and environmental damage from uranium mining. They also contend that reactors themselves are enormously complex machines where many things can and do go wrong, and there have been serious nuclear accidents. Critics do not believe that the risks of using nuclear fission as a power source can be offset through the development of new technology. They also argue that when all the energy-intensive stages of the nuclear fuel chain are considered, from uranium mining to nuclear decommissioning, nuclear power is not a low-carbon electricity source.
Arguments of economics and safety are used by both sides of the debate