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Nuclear Energy And The Future Power Debate

1485 words (6 pages) Essay in Environmental Sciences

02/05/17 Environmental Sciences Reference this

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Thesis statement: Regardless of the various definitions of ‘renewable’, nuclear meets every reasonable criterion for sustainability, which is the prime concern. The main reasons are first it produces the most energy than any non-renewable resource, second high reserves of uranium are found on earth which is the raw material for nuclear reactors; third there is no release of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, ozone, chlorofluorocarbon during a nuclear reaction, fourth plutonium, a by-product of commercial nuclear plant operation, can also be used as a fuel, fifth the amount of waste produced is the least of any major energy production process and finally the nuclear fuel is inexpensive and easier to transport. The rise of global warming concerns throughout the world over the last ten years have led to a renewed interest in what was once considered a dead market-nuclear energy. After the Cold War, nuclear energy development was largely forgotten for many years until this renewed desire among developed nations for alternative energy sources once again thrust the idea of nuclear power into mainstream consciousness. As the price of oil and global warming concerns both continue to rise steadily, a renewed interest in the clean-burning properties of nuclear power are becoming much more attractive. Although there are various risks involved when using nuclear energy, I will argue that nuclear energy is the best source of energy to replace oil and also I will argue that nuclear energy wastes are treatable, can be recycled and possess no threat to mankind.

Among the various advantages of nuclear energy, its efficiency is by far the most important. The efficient use of natural resources is a major criterion in determining the environmental friendliness of a source of energy. It is a basic energy fact that the fission of an atom of uranium produces 10 million times the energy from an atom of carbon than does coal. Nuclear energy extracts by far more energy from the natural resource Uranium than does the exploitation of oil or any other natural resource. In 1950’s Dr. M. Hubbard, Geologist at Shell, said that US Oil would peak in 10 to 15 years. He was laughed at and in the 1970’s we ran out of Oil. His statement was based on a “Discovery Bell Curve” which said oil production continues to go up even after the oil discovery’s drop off and that the rate that we run out of oil can be measured on the lack of new discoveries. Here’s a quote from NEI’s website: “Nuclear plants are the lowest-cost producer of baseload electricity. The average production cost of 1.87 cents per kilowatt-hour includes the costs of operating and maintaining the plant, purchasing fuel and paying for the management of used fuel.” These facts prove nuclear energy as the most efficient form of energy over its competitors, including oil, coal, wind, hydroelectric, and near-term solar power.

Some people may be under the impression that uranium is a rare metal but it’s about as common as copper or tin and 40 times more common than silver. Sources of nuclear energy mainly uranium, on Earth are abundant, which makes this resource similar to renewable resources. According to the NEA (Nuclear Energy Agency), uranium resources of total 5.5 million metric tons and an additional 10.5 million metric tons remain undiscovered-a roughly 230-year supply at today’s consumption rate in total. Bernard Cohen’s, Professor of Physics at Pittsburgh University, 5 billion year estimate is based on extracting uranium from seawater, which the Japanese have already shown to work. Cohen calculates that we could take 16,000 ton per year of uranium from seawater, which would supply 25 times the world’s present electricity usage and twice the world’s present total energy consumption. He argues that given the geological cycles of erosion, subduction and uplift, the supply would last for 5 billion years with a withdrawal rate of 6,500 ton per year. He comments that lasting 5 billion years, i.e. longer than the sun will support life on earth, should cause uranium to be considered a renewable resource.

Among the many benefits of nuclear power, the main advantage of nuclear power has over other methods is that it is a clean way to produce energy as it does not result in the emission of any of the poisonous gases like carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide or nitrogen dioxide. In today’s world when pollution of the atmosphere is one of our main worries, an option such as this is definitely preferable compared to burning of fossil fuels which causes so much of pollution (Dujardin 2007). Also, the creation of nuclear energy doesn’t contribute to environmental issues such as global warming as it doesn’t release carbon dioxide in the atmosphere like the fossil fuels do. More importantly, fossil fuels reserves across the world are bound to get exhausted at some or the other point of time. Going by the alarming rate at which we are using them, it is predicted that, the coal and oil deposits across the world are expected to finish by end of this century. On the other hand, the uranium deposits on the planet are to continue for a long time, and even if they end alternative sources in form of plutonium and thorium also exist.

Nuclear energy is also considered to be renewable depending on the type of reactor that is being used. The special type of reactor design called a breeder reactor can create or refine radioactive elements as a part of its functioning (Young, 1998). There are breeder designs that, once operating, can refine uranium, turning even natural uranium into fuel-grade uranium that can be used by other standard reactors. Some breeder designs create plutonium as a byproduct, which can be used for either power generation or in nuclear weapons. Currently, there are 442 reactors operating in the world, 130 of which are in the United States. Another 12 are being built in foreign countries. With the current technology, only 1% of the energy available in uranium is able to be captured by thermal reactors. This energy makes up between 11% and 18% of the total energy available in the world. Developing technologies that would allow us to capture more of this available energy is at least 15 years away, but with incentives, these advances could be a realistic part of our future. The potential is not the only part of the advantages of nuclear energy.

The uranium is reasonably cheap to mine, and easy to transport to reactors around the globe, making nuclear energy relatively inexpensive to produce when compared to conventional methods of energy production. The average finished cost of nuclear energy is between 3 and 5 cents per kilowatt, and the cost has dropped over the last 26 years, while the cost of other forms of energy has risen steadily over the same period of time (Makhijani & Saleska, 1999). The potential is not the only part of the advantages of nuclear energy. Regardless of the various definitions of ‘renewable’, nuclear power therefore meets every reasonable criterion for sustainability, which is the prime concern.

Concern about the proper disposal of nuclear wastes is one of the most controversial aspects of nuclear power. Nuclear wastes are radioactive and so long-lived that very special arrangements must be made for disposal. The focus and controversy are about high-level wastes, which are the minority of waste from a reactor but comprise the majority of the radioactivity. The waste is generated when utilities remove the spent fuel. The spent fuel rods are very

hot and contain both remaining radioactive fuel and other highly radioactive fission

products. The plant operator must shield the rods with water by placing them in tanks or

ponds at the reactor sites. Industry has to maintain control and is responsible for storage

until the final disposal site can be arranged. In the United States, utilities store all spent

fuel temporarily at reactor sites. No permanent depository for high-level wastes exists.

Industry argues that the management of wastes has been very successful. They report

that there have not been any releases that have had adverse impacts and the costs are

internalized. Despite their claims of success, their remains significant concerns of

long-term disposal.

Both, the disadvantages and advantages of nuclear power plants have to be taken into consideration when determining whether this source of energy is efficient for development of power or not. While the critics of nuclear energy have been citing the various nuclear power plant disasters that have occurred in the past as one of the main reason for refraining from use of nuclear energy, its proponents are confident that it has the ability to sustain the energy requirements of the entire world, in a safe manner. Overall, however, I believe that the use of nuclear energy greatly outweighs any other sources of energy.

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