Nuclear Power – The Future of Energy
The Future of Energy
A famous physicist once said, “A man should look for what is, and not for what he thinks should be.” This physicist was Albert Einstein, the father of nuclear fission. Though it may have been contextually related to physics, this virtue can be applied towards our current energy crisis, and the means in which we contest it. That is, rather then looking for an energy source that appeals to what we want, we should use what we have established i.e. nuclear fission.
When we analyze the viability of an energy source, several factors are taken into account such as emissions, cost, safety, etc. Since the industrial revolution we have been able to evaluate the facets of many sources. In the 1970’s every country emphatically dabbled in nuclear energy. In the beginning, the praise was overwhelming, and people couldn’t get enough. That was until “The hopes of a burgeoning nuclear industry imploded” “after the partial meltdown at one of the Three Mile Island reactors in Pennsylvania, followed by the horror of Chernobyl” (Petit 2006). Since, these catastrophes nuclear energy has yet to reestablish itself. However, in the 23 years since its fallout, the existing power plants have functioned flawlessly, in fact the reactors established in the late 70’s and early 80’s are running better now than when they were built. The ever-efficient generators are currently generating approximately 19% of the United States electricity, even though the countries demand has increased by over 15% since they were built. This statistic, lends plenty of insight into the potential of our current nuclear technology. Today’s technology allows fuel to burn at higher temperatures, produce less waste, and use less water. Breeder reactors can even reuse the generated waste of our current reactors. Other modern countries such France have invested over 87% of there electricity in nuclear. While America remains stagnant, burning fossil fuels and filling up the atmosphere with greenhouse gases faster and faster each day.
With our current technology, a nuclear reactor can take soda bottle cap’s worth of uranium and produce the energy equivalent to that of two tons of coal. This ratio of needed materials, translates into a less intensive mining process and less damaged acreage. Furthermore, this energy will emit not even an ounce of emission, while the same energy produced by coal will generate, literal, tons of gaseous carbon and sodium dioxide. With the majority of our atmospheric pollution coming from our consumption of electricity, it seems as though nuclear is the most sensible solution to global warming. However, even with all of its benefits there is still a strong out lash against nuclear.
The perception of nuclear being an instable futuristic technology hinders its proliferation in the general public. While those opposed on the governmental level have a vast array of reasons to argue against. The most common complaint is nuclear waste, due to its long half-life, environmental implications, and threat to nation security. In today’s nuclear infrastructure there is, in fact, no convenient foolproof way in disposing of the waste. That does not go with out saying that there couldn’t be. For the last 23 years, a nuclear waste repository in southern Nevada called Yucca Mountain has been proposed. This isolated, seismically inactive, mountain range is a more than substantial area to store nuclear waste for a long period. If the proper precautions are taken, there is no reason to say that Yucca Mountain could be detrimental to the environment and our security. The other complaint stems from the still recent repercussions of 9/11. Since 9/11 the role of nation security has been intertwined into every aspect of our lives. The idea of a nuclear power plant being compromised by a terror is a very serious one; nonetheless engineers have already taken this into account in their designs. Plants have been designed to where not only can humans not come in direct contact with the radioactive materials, the operation of the plant cannot be compromised unless there is some catastrophic failure not due to human influence. The giant cooling towers, that seem to generate the most concern, are even designed to withstand the impact of an airplane.
Adversaries will also suggest that the thermal heat produced by the water exchange alters eco-system within the body of water aiding the plaint. This is also a serious environmental concern; nevertheless if the proper vindication is put in place to combat this, thermal pollution can be avoided. The means in which this happens is simple. By analyzing the composition of the body of water you can predict the effects of the thermal pollution. Which in most cases are very minimal, ranging from a minor lose in biodiversity to at worst the preliminary stages of eutrophication. All of which shouldn’t really matter because if a nuclear power plant is going to be built it is not going to incorporate a body of water that has a fragile ecosystem or is vital to surrounding wildlife.
The final component of criticism comes from the fact that the engineers are indeed covering all the bases, which does come at a price. This is a very understandable concern; nuclear is indeed one of the more expensive forms of energy. But as are all alternative technologies, it all goes back to the in place infrastructure. Of course it would be cheaper to just build more coal, or natural gas plants but if we continue on our current path there will be harsh consequences. But if there is enough public pressure in favor of nuclear energy the government can be forced to reevaluate. By putting subsidies in place, the cost for building a nuclear power plant can be cut in half. A massive revamp of our electrical grid could stimulate the economy by creating jobs and develop a nuclear infrastructure that would convince private investors nuclear is the way of the future. This would also help re-privatize the utility companies, which would raises wages from top to bottom, further stimulating the Economy.
With this all said it is important to take the negative implications into account, as it is for all energy debates. Nuclear is undeniably a very dangerous, radical form of technology, and it is also very costly. But who’s to say that nuclear energy’s risks are any higher than our current practices. We’ve seen the effects of global warming; there have been droughts that have led to famines, towns swallowed by melting glaciers in the arctic, and an array of natural disasters that have displaced millions. Not to mention that the dangers of nuclear have been further minimized with recent developments. Nuclear is no longer the radioactive mega-hub it used to be; the fish three eyed and green super-humans are no more. In reality the only green still related to nuclear energy, is the electricity that it generates. In my opinion nuclear should be the future of electricity. Society must realize that nuclear energy’s benefit substantially outweigh its potential drawbacks. However it is important to realize that if we do implement a nuclear centered energy system, this will not be a cure-all. Society as a whole must come to terms with our wasteful ways and renovate nearly all aspects of our lives, if not by simply respecting the proverb; “reduce, reuse, and recycle”.
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