In the face of global warming and an impending energy crisis, nuclear energy has recently become a hotly debated topic. On one hand, advocates for nuclear energy laud its potential as an effective alternative to current energy sources, while on the other hand, critics retaliate by pointing out its potential risks. This constant back-and-forth between the opposing sides of nuclear energy has occurred for several decades, but a resolution must soon be found; time is running out for the Earth, the environment, and for humanity. Although some believe that nuclear energy is too risky to use, it is humanity’s only viable source of energy because it is more sustainable than fossil fuels, more reliable than other “green” energy sources, and more beneficial for the health of the environment.
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Nuclear energy has several misconceptions about its fundamental workings. The word “nuclear” often invokes images of neon green sludge or scorching mushroom clouds, but nuclear energy is not a sci-fi means of destruction. It is, simply put, energy that is produced by splitting the nuclei of atoms, which enables small amounts of matter to be turned into large amounts of energy (“Nuclear Energy” 1). This energy can be exploited for destructive purposes, but it is mostly used to generate electricity by harnessing the heat that is produced by the nuclear energy process (Alters 65). During this process, varying levels of radioactive waste is produced, which must then be isolated and carefully stored in facilities until the radioactivity decays to a safe level in order to prevent harm to the surrounding environment (Alters 73-74). As a result, nuclear energy produces copious amounts of energy relative to the size of its fuel, the equivalent of 120 gallons of oil per half-inch pellet, but at the cost of potential lasting damage (Alters 67). In the early 1970s, nuclear energy was still a relatively new concept that promised clean energy, therefore gathering the support of many Americans; however, after the turn of the century, opinions have shifted in response to the nuclear accidents in Chernobyl and Fukushima (Alters 65). Despite these events, this did not eliminate the polarized climate surrounding the topic of nuclear energy. In fact, in recent years, controversy around nuclear energy has only increased due to impending problems related to fossil fuels, such as global warming, acid rain, and pollution (Alters 65). Nuclear energy has the potential to offset these issues if it assumes the role as the world’s main energy source, and it has many other benefits that other alternatives lack.
Most nuclear reactors that produce nuclear energy mainly use uranium as its fuel source, which is more environmentally and financially sustainable than fossil fuels. While both uranium and fossil fuels are derived from the Earth, fossil fuels are extremely limited and finite in quantity while uranium is widely available on land in comparison to fossil fuels (“Nuclear Energy” 2). Humans have been steadily increasing their energy consumption in the past few centuries to sustain their growing numbers, and although fossil fuels have been able to satisfy their energy needs up until now, humans are beginning to deplete the finite amount of fossil fuels in the Earth, creating an impending energy crisis that can only be mitigated by becoming more reliant on nuclear energy instead of fossil fuels. Not only is nuclear energy more sustainable than fossil fuels environmentally, but also financially. According to researcher Robert Hargraves, next-generation nuclear energy will cost about 3 cents per kilowatt hour, making it cost competitive with other energy sources, even with coal, a fossil fuel (qtd. in Williams 3). This is most likely due to nuclear energy’s high energy density, meaning that its energy production is large relative to the amount of fuel used in the process. For every pellet of uranium fuel, which is less than half an inch in diameter, the amount of energy produced is equivalent to 120 gallons of oil, making it extremely efficient compared to traditional fossil fuels (Alters 67). Therefore, because of nuclear energy’s cost-effectiveness and availability, fossil fuels could potentially be phased out in the future and completely replaced by nuclear energy.
In response to increasing concerns over problems caused by fossil fuels, some have suggested renewable resources, such as wind and solar power, as alternatives as opposed to nuclear energy, but they are simply not as efficient or reliable compared to nuclear energy. For one, renewable energy sources do not produce much energy in comparison to the amount of effort that goes into harvesting that energy. According to condensed-matter theorist Arthur Williams, renewable energy requires substantial amounts of land to “reap even modest quantities of power” (Williams 2). This could create competition for land and take away opportunities for that land to be used for far more productive means, such as farming, residential areas, or nuclear power plants. Nuclear plants require little land yet produce immense amounts of energy that dwarf what renewable resources contribute to the world; in 2010, renewable resources only produced 2 percent of the world’s electricity while nuclear energy produced 13 percent, over six times that of its renewable counterparts (Kuo 37). In addition to renewable sources’ inefficiency, they are also often unreliable. Because most of these resources depend on external, uncontrollable factors to generate their power, such as climate and solar levels, renewable energy is inherently intermittent and thus not as reliable as nuclear energy (Williams 2). Nuclear energy is meticulously controlled throughout the entire process, making its energy production depend entirely on what we decide is enough. All in all, while renewable resources are undeniably good for the environment unlike fossil fuels, they are just not enough to support the human population’s energy consumption.
It is undeniable that the environment is drastically changing as a result of human actions. Unless change is brought upon the world, this issue will only get worse. Nuclear energy is a possible, and maybe the only viable, solution to this because of its cleanliness and friendliness to the environment. A major problem affecting the environment is global warming, and this could be solved over time with nuclear energy. For one, nuclear energy does not emit greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide, or air pollution, making it unable to contribute to global warming, unlike fossil fuels (Kuo 37 and “Nuclear Energy” 2). Power plants that use fossil fuels as their source of energy emit a whopping 40 percent of the carbon dioxide that is produced by the United States (“Nuclear Energy” 2). Therefore, fossil fuels only contribute to the world’s drastically changing climate, but with nuclear energy, the effects of years of fossil fuel use can be completely halted, preventing further damage to the Earth and the environment. Integrating nuclear energy as a main source of power can help save the Earth for future generations, but without it, it is only a matter of time before a global energy crisis strikes.
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Some may argue that nuclear energy would bring tremendous destruction anyway due to its infamous reputation for meltdowns, but recent studies have shined a light on viable solutions to greatly reduce that risk. In the past decade, innovative techniques and technologies have been developed to prevent nuclear meltdowns, such as a PBR reactor (Kuo 36). Essentially, a PBR reactor is a new-generation nuclear reactor that addresses the vulnerabilities of outmoded nuclear reactors by being specifically designed to withstand external disasters, such as earthquakes and plane crashes, and uses helium instead of water in its cooling system, which prevents meltdowns during accidents (Kuo 36). These factors make it “so safe that no human error or equipment failure can cause an accident that would harm human beings” (Kuo 36). Another type of new-generation reactor is the molten salt reactor, which uses a technique that prevents overheating and meltdowns, making it an “inherently safe reactor design” (Williams 3). These innovative techniques address the safety risk of nuclear power, and, as years pass and technology grows faster than ever, the issue of nuclear safety may even be reduced to zero. But, although nuclear energy still has its risks today, the risks that other sources of energy pose to humans cannot be ignored. In 2012, over two thousand miners were killed in coal mining accidents in China alone, and countless more have been harmed by the air pollution emitted by fossil fuel power plants around the world (Kuo 37). This, combined with its impact on the environment, makes fossil fuels no less dangerous than nuclear energy. Another issue that opponents of nuclear energy often point out is its inclination to produce nuclear waste, which could destroy the environment around it if one is not careful enough. However, recent techniques have already begun to address this. One way found to address nuclear waste is through molten salt reactors, which can reduce the amount of waste from tons to mere kilograms, making it much easier to manage and safely dispose of (Williams 4). Another way is through reprocessing existing nuclear waste to create new fuel for nuclear reactors (“Nuclear Energy” 4). In some countries, this technique is already being used to reduce high-level waste by 85 percent and to increase the energy gained by 25 to 30 percent (“Nuclear Energy” 4). This not only helps solve the problem created by present-generation reactors, but also increases the overall amount of energy produced by the same amount of fuel, thereby further boosting nuclear energy’s efficiency and safety as an energy source.
Overall, nuclear energy should be used as a main energy source because of its sustainability compared to fossil fuels, its superior efficiency and dependability compared to renewable resources, and its friendliness to the environment. Many raise safety concerns against nuclear energy because of the risk of meltdowns and the waste it produces, but innovative technologies and techniques are quickly being developed to address those concerns. Although nuclear energy may be risky and could bring disaster if handled incorrectly, disaster is already well on its way because of the imminent environmental calamity caused by years of fossil fuel use.
- Alters, Sandra M. “Nuclear Energy.” Energy: Supplies, Sustainability, and Costs, 2007th ed., Gale, 2007, pp. 65–79. Gale Virtual Reference Library, dcccd.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com.dcccd.idm.oclc.org/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&sw=w&u=txshracd2500&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE|CX2840000011&asid=b8427a65797f72693158791020a14f20.
- Kuo, Gioietta. “Nuclear Energy After Fukushima.” World Future Review (World Future Society), vol. 3, no. 4, 2011, pp. 35–37. OmniFile Full Text Mega (H.W. Wilson), EBSCOhost, dcccd.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com.dcccd.idm.oclc.org/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ofm&AN=74411367&site=ehost-live.
- “Nuclear Energy.” Opposing Viewpoints Online Collection, Gale, 2017. Opposing Viewpoints in Context, dcccd.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/PC3010999227/OVIC?u=txshracd2500&xid=1afa0d35.
- Williams, Arthur R. “Nuclear Power Is the Best Way to Address Climate Change.” Physics Today, edited by Lynn M. Zott, Apr. 2013. Opposing Viewpoints in Context, dcccd.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/EJ3010132401/OVIC?u=txshracd2500&xid=96c49fc5.
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