Imagine being told nuclear energy is the answer to many of the problems we face, as you walk into an Environmental Science class one day? I do not have to because this happened to me, and I was prepared to walk to the counselor to ask to be removed from the course. I was shocked! How could those large concrete monuments creating toxic green sludge be our solution? To be honest, all I could envision for our future was that of The Simpsons with talking flowers, three-eyed fish, and yellow skin. But the explanation given by the instructor cleared my concern shortly after they finished.
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Natural gas and oil are resources wehave only to a certainextent,and,at the rate we use these assets,we willeventually be outand left with only the consequences. These effects can be summed up with the phrase ecological footprint which is the impression left on the earth due the consumption of land and resources over the course of a lifetime. But like most problems, thisresolution can be found in what we current possess. Nuclear energy provides the solution to the prospective problem. To ensure the end of this dependenceon nonrenewable resources, we shouldagree to allownuclear energy to take theplace of our currentreliance on nonrenewable resources. Thismodificationwill have positive effects onthe environment and the economy andwill allowmore individuals to dedicate time tocontinueexpanding our understanding ofnuclear energy.
Nuclear power plants themselves and the processes used are simpler in operation than most expect. In figure 18-14 in The Nucleus: A Chemist’s View, we are able to see the basic concept of how the power plants work (732). In layman terms, a nuclear power plant is a large steam generator with the thermal energy source being radioactive atoms housed in a protective container called a reactor. The reactor is where the reactions take place. For the reactions to occur, scientists take atoms of Uranium-238 andhave its bond energy (the energy it takes to hold a neutron to a proton) transformed into thermal energy, a more usable chemical form for us. There are two ways as to how to obtain this kind of bond energy: fission and fusion. The more utilized version, fission, is the splitting of one heavy nucleus (example: Uranium-238) into two smaller lighter nuclei. With this partition of the nuclei, a release of energy occurs because it is an exothermic process. Fusion is considered the opposite of fission in that it is the combination of two smaller, lighter nuclei to create one heavy nucleus. Fusion creates the most energy of the two processes, but it is less stable along with less understood by our scientists. As a way to comprehend how unpredictable and stupendous the act of fusion is, here is an example: the sun is able to create all its energy from the process of fusion (Zumdahl 742-745). And it is because of these processes as well as power plant to transform the outcome, we are able to create energy in a more usable form for our daily lives.
The history of nuclear energy explains when and why public opinion of the source has transitioned and now tends to fall to the opposed side. As stated previous, nuclear energy comes from the energy housed in the bonds between two nucleic particles. The energy itself was first introduced along with radioactivity, excess energy radiating from the source, in the early 1900s.InNuclear Fear, theaccreditedauthor and science historian,Spencer R.Weartexplains how, for years, many scientists sought after a source of energy with an incredible amount of power.Weartunearths the scientists who were able to identify this great power source:PierreCurie and his wife, Marie Curie. These two brought forth this “radiating energy [that released]vastlymore energy, atom for atom, than any other process known” (Weart6). Approximately50 years afterthis discovery, majorscientificbreakthroughs were made to house the energy being released, delivering to the world the first nuclear reactor. Named the Experimental Breeder Reactor II, it was developed to confine this energy. With this, everyone desired the White Cities of the future, a place that ran on this form of clean and continuous energy (Weart 7). After this impressive innovation and twenty years later, the world saw an approximate 65% increase in atomic energy growth and utilization (Pravalie and Bandoc 82). As the years and wars came, studies of the atom and its new uses increased. The atomic bomb, which places a nucleus in a small container then forces the reaction to occur, releasing this energy into the surrounding area, was a deadly outcome of these studies. And to keep the distance between the large increase in information arising and the relationship between the atomic bomb and nuclear energy, Dwight D. Eisenhower dedicated an atomic power station in Pennsylvania to the cause of scientific progressto the cause of peace in the name of nuclear energy during 1958. Eisenhower believed in putting the atom to work for the good of mankind, not his destruction (Peters and Wooley). Over the course of a century, what was once infinitesimal and somewhat obscure is being driven to the forefront of our nation’s present-day concerns.
As stated previously, nuclear energy and their power plants are relatively new to the world, so we have not completely mastered or attained all the knowledge that can be gained from our studies on nuclear energy and the atom. Considering this, we have had several accidents in this field. Although not the first documentation of a nuclear related incident, Chernobyl, located in the USSR, was by far the worst nuclear accident of our time. Based on Table 1 in Pravalie and Bandoc’s article, Chernobyl ranked a seven on the INES (International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale), same as Fukushima, the second worst incident of nuclear energy (87). Events such as these caused the public opinion on nuclear energy to shift greatly away from being pro-nuclear. Most of the public no longer saw the White City, but the three-piece symbol stating: radioactive hazard (Weart 7). In their manuscript, Nguyen and Yim provide the public opinion towards this energy source. These two explain how nuclear accidents.have significantly damaged the public acceptance of nuclear power, but with the acceptance of the dangers in all forms of energy extracting and the recognition of the benefits, public opinion of the events return to the pre-tragedy state of mind (Nguyen and Yim 3-4). Kok and Benli, authors in the journal Renewable Energy, advocate for nuclear energy and as far to explain how the Fukushima death toll was not an outcome of a problem with the power plant, it was the tsunami [that] caused 16,000 people to die (Kok and Benli 876). Even years after the accident, people still associate the mass incident with that of the power plants fault without the proper understanding. Because of this lack, public opinion still stands in their beliefs against nuclear energy. Ann Stouffer Bisconti, director of the Nuclear Energy Institute, addresses the need for a change in public opinion towards nuclear energy in her article presented in the Progress in Nuclear Energy journal. She explains how in the media; nuclear energy only gets acknowledged when there are negative events occurring. “The impact of accidents on public attitudes can be surprising”, she states. It “varies depending on several factors, including the perception of need, proximity, perception of control, and the communications surrounding the ‘teachable moment'”(104). With this, we can see how if the media, government, etc. were to address the accidents with a different attitude, it would allow for better communication given to and understanding from the public. Nuclear energy and the aura surrounding has the potential to be seen in a better light. The phrasing of the words teachable moment also appeases those who oppose and favor nuclear energy. This short phrase does not take away from the seriousness or magnitude of the incidents, but simply means we need to learn from mistakes made in the past to have a better response and have a more positive outcome for our future.
Keeping the planet in an ideally clean state is very important to our livelihood and the promise to keep nuclear energy. Our lifestyles are affected daily by the amount of carbon dioxide rejected by factories across the plant; all the while, nuclear energy is an eye-opening source that emits, in a sense, no carbon dioxide into our already weakening environment from its facilities. Because, as stated previously, nuclear energy is the equivalent of a large steam engine, it is not radioactive waste in the form of smoke, but steam, coming out of the commonly envisioned smokestacks. In their article addressing the economics of nuclear energy, Pravalie and Bandoc quotes the International Atomic Energy Agency by stating between 1970 and 2016 the use of nuclear power plants has been able to [prevent] the release of over 60 billion tons of CO2, that we would have gotten from burning our other energy sources (83). The halt of carbon dioxide from being consistently ejected into our air will better the surrounding areas. In big name cities of the southern part of the United States, such as Houston, where oil and natural gas plants are the main draw to the city, the air quality will improve drastically. Because it has been able to cut the CO2 emissions by having a low rate itself, nuclear energy needs to be the major power source we rely on.
To supplement the great environmental aspect further as well as the steam emission and ameliorate nuclear waste, nuclear energy’s by-products have the capability of being recycled for additional use. The water vapor that is not expelled into our atmosphere is stored in a cooling tank to be reused in the production cycle, so there is no need to consistently replenish the water supply. The waste product of the nuclear fission of Uranium-238 is Plutonium-239; this synthesized element has a half-life of 24,110 years. A half-life is the time it takes for the mass of the atom to deteriorate to half from its most recent state. There was once cause for concern in this because this deterioration is the decay, the breakdown of particles like any other used item like a banana peel. But where a banana takes a day or two and is reabsorbed readily, Plutonium is taking a sizable amount of time and effort. But, with current evaluations of this element, science has found a way to turn what was once waste into usable fuel pellets for continued use. Chmielewski and Szolucha identifies how the future of nuclear power engineering is oriented on a closed nuclear fuel cycle, our capability to use and reuse everything (237). By providing the steps of how this can be done through a series of in-depth chemical reactions and explanation of the necessary processes, the two demonstrate how thought and progress has already started in this aspect of nuclear energy. The closed-system that Chmielewski and Szolucha offers is necessary for the safeguard of the environment due to its all but complete cease in the reliance on our planet’s limited resources. These two possible recycling opportunities add up to create a smaller ecological footprint left on our earth, a better environment for our future.
The reclaiming ability previously stated adds to promote the economy as well as the switch from the over-dependence on fossil fuels to nuclear energy. The boom in the economy will come from two major focal point of the economy: jobs and energy. As a quick overview, increasing available jobs brings increases the workforce as in those who are making money. This money will be put in to the economy due the reliance on consumer goods, bills, etc.. The jobs that will open range from the laborers brought in by big-name companies who will build the plants to those who continuously run and maintain the plant in the years after development, along with the scientist necessary for day to day necessities and studies. Bisconti points out how job messages [are] powerful in promoting government actions to boost the enterprise. She explains how all forms of power plants present the promise of jobs, economic boom, but how an incentive is needed to fully insure the guarantee (111). The most effective incentive for the workers is the promise of a job in their future which is exactly what nuclear energy is capable of doing.
The incentive that effectively promises jobs for years to come is the estimation of 5.7 million tonnes of .uranium resources.sufficient for at least 100 years of nuclear electricity production (Pravalie and Bandoc 86). And, this estimation of one century is based on the idea of a one-use system and does not include the advances made daily in nuclear recycling studies or in nuclear fusion and fission of the trans plutonium elements; these features expand this time period further past 100 years. Also, based on the locations we have currently functioning, nuclear energy and the power plant is relatively inexpensive. Hejazi breaks this down in his article Nuclear Energy: Sense or Nonsense for Environmental Challenges. This comparison has to be done by measuring the differences in capital, operation and maintenance, taxes, and external costs. Based on his research, the capital costs are all amounted on the size and type of plant it is. The average nuclear unit itself is capable of a return approximately half of the initial investment which can then increase based on the power plant’s lifetime and the possibility of extension to that lifetime (Hejazi 697). In recent years, science has been able to expand the life of 30 years to 60. The main allocation of money for this type of power plant goes to maintaining the plant, insurance, and taxes based on the fluctuation government laws and regulation. And with the constant increase in our knowledge of nuclear energy, a steady stabilization to these amounts has been brought about. Specifically, for Europe, Hejazi states for each megawatt hour of energy a plant produces, only 0.05 of a Euro is paid to cover insurance costs; this is very low, especially since a plant annually averages 12 billion kilowatt hours (conversion factor: 1 kWh=0.001 MWh). As for the fuel that makes the entire plant functional, only 20% of the financial estimate must be budgeted for this. And over the course of time and the discoveries of large reserves, the prices as of 2017 were averaging 0.44 U.S. dollar per kWh capable of being generated (697). Bundled in these finances is the cost to house the by-product of the continuous reactions, and although nuclear recycling is a possibility with uranium and plutonium, only 4% of the by-product is deemed waste because we have yet to create a way to further use the product. Some countries designate tax payer dollars in addition to requiring the company to pay the cost to place the waste in places like Yucca Mountain in Nevada (Hejazi 697). With nuclear energy being relatively cheap along with the promise of long future economically, it is capable of replacing our current reliance, nonrenewable.
Though they may not be opposed to nuclear energy, some individuals of the public may say that renewable resources like solar would be the better alternative, not nuclear. Solar energy possesses the same benefits nuclear does today in a safer way. In the magazine Solar Today, writer Graham Shorr explains how by buying individual solar panels for one’s home, there is a definite promise of a financial return (13). By investing in their own energy producers, the owner is not only capable of gaining money, but being electrical the independent from the electricity network. They could go off-grid. Another benefit of going solar is the incentive of the energy credits some companies offer. Shorr states how certain electrical companies will take the extra energy created for credits, basically sending the investor a check (13). This incentive also allows the owner to take in more money. Even with all these benefits, solar energy, alone, will not solve our problems because it is not for everyone. Solar energy requires high up-front cash.and wait several years for the return, not everyone will be able to put an amount of at least five figures to wait that such a time for a profit (Shorr 13). Most people want the benefits at least within a year of any change on their part. Along with this, solar energy possesses costs that are not broadcasted out right. This form of energy requires installation one has pay for; also, the monetary incentives could be removed with drastic decrease in rarity (Shorr 13). Although many individuals would lean more toward the energy that is solar, there are many concerns hidden from view or forgotten. But there are ways to appease these people who want the solar aspect in their energy production.
Not only has science created better systems to maintain and track the essential information, but it has envisioned hybrid-reforms that could be made to nuclear and solar energy plants. These forms represent the best of both worlds: clean and economically efficient. Siddharth Suman, an independent researcher for India, presents his article Hybrid Nuclear-Renewable Energy Systems: A Review to provide the idea of power plants run on a combination of both nuclear and some kind(s) of renewable energy sources; his main focus being solar. Our public forgets that we have not created the perfect energy system, and how the renewable energy we utilize is not solving all our problems in a single monumental leap towards a completely green process. Our perfect energy solution that we arrogantly demand not only features no carbon dioxide emissions but requires significantly smaller ecological footprint than anything we have currently designed. And as Todd explains how these forms of energy are better for the planet but are a good way of producing for places with little to no resource needed for the specific energy. For example, a mandatory switch to solar would be pointless for places along the northwestern coast of North America where they have long periods of sunless day. But with the construction of the latest ideas of hybrid systems that can improve our energy production, we will reach our goal. In his introduction, Suman identifies this:
Future of nuclear energy is also uncertain because of public apprehensions and subsequent government policies. To overcome the issues derailing these two virtually carbon-free energy sources, a new hybrid or integrated nuclear-renewable energy systems is being proposed and seen as an attraction option (166).
The hybrid system proposed is a way to reach a compromise between the two energy sources. It has the amazing capability to be clean and produce energy efficiently, all the while helping the economy. With energy sources like these, we have the chance to further our studies in the various aspects of what nuclear energy is and what it can be.
In reaction to urge to use nuclear energy, some individuals would be against this. Fear has always been an important standing point in many arguments, and nuclear energy has been seen from the viewpoint of many negative attitudes in the 100 years it has been around. As always, the fear stems from the unknown, but that unknowingness was once what drove the progression of nuclear energy forward in the beginning. The scientist as well as the general public all yearned for the white city that ran on the clean low-cost energy that is nuclear (Weart 7-8). So, what turned the world away from such a brilliant power source? Mass explosions; those that were planned and those that were not. The derivative of the atomic bomb was an issue that knocked nuclear energy into the area of fear. Weart explains how the nuclear industry urgently wanted to dissociate civilian products from bombs.speak not of ‘atomic’ but of ‘nuclear’ (Weart 177). The nuclear businesses tried diligently to keep the two bodies separate but even today one of the first ideas that pops up in the nuclear-generation’s mind when thinking of it is that of all the negative aspects. Nguyen and Yim explain how over the course of the years, the younger generation tends to be more accepting of nuclear; this is because they have not grown in those years of fear of being under nuclear control (2). And while this fear cannot be completely eradicated, the regulation of nuclear weapons over the years have helped ease the mind of the public. As for the explosions scientists had not planned for, opposes claim nuclear accidents are a damaging outcome of our lack of complete knowledge of nuclear, which is true. As stated previously, Chernobyl was the most devastating nuclear incident as a result of human error (Pravalie and Bandoc 87). The result of accident are increases in birth defects related to the enormous amounts of radioactivity released into the surrounding area and the reiterated fear in such a powerful source we cannot hope to understand as believed by those who oppose.
This fear is not one to be simply wiped with a simple explanation; easing the mind, removing the stigma placed on the nuclear energy is a way to begin. The fact that we can and have kept track of all the nuclear incidents and what went wrong shows how meticulous proposers are about this study. We want to make it better. Also, the fact that some of the accidents were not the cause of human miscalculation, but Mother Nature herself. The Fukushima accident happened because of an earthquake (7.4 on the Richter scale) caused a tsunami. In response to these devastating events relate to nuclear, science has taken and used them to further our studies just as Busconti wanted. Using scientists and engineers is the safest way to bettering nuclear energy. Kosai and Unesaki describe the new System Interruption Nuclear Vulnerability Index (SINVI) which can be used to predict the risk of electricity supply disruption arising from the sudden stoppage of nuclear power operation (1198). This a new and improved computer system that can be installed into the mainframe of the power plant’s mainframe and begin running without any necessary prior data that is required by the current vulnerability indexes. The main reason for the need and use of a new one is the fact that the current system will shut down in a state of urgency and not collect the data formulated by the power plant itself (Kosai and Unesaki 1206). With this in mind, the main goals of this new and improved system are to analyze the relationship of three major attributes for evaluating stable electrical supply systems; diversification redundancy and nuclear vulnerability with the outcome of utilizing the nuclear fuel to its best ability to prevent wastefulness. (Kosai and Unesaki 1199). With the continuous support from the computer running the functions of the plant, we can be more prepared and notified sooner in the event of a complication. This system also goes to improve the energy aspect of nuclear; the use of nuclear fuel in our best ability is important because, like anything on our planet, we want to get the most out of as little as possible. We want to make sure we are not wasting anything as serious as fuel reserves especially if we are placing such a large reliance in the them. Over the course of the seven years since the Fukushima accident, advances such as these have been made. The pursuit of this knowledge for ways to better our understanding of nuclear energy and the collection of new data from such a system shows the fear has been taken into consideration and has been used as an influence to urge our studies further.
Altogether, we need to implement a change toward giving our dependence on fossil fuels over to nuclear energy. This will ensure improvement not only to the environment but will produce a thriving economy. With the increase in nuclear energy sites, our studying of all things related to nuclear energy will receive a more informed input. And with time and consistent modifications, nuclear energy can be where we not want, but need it to be for our future consumption. Ultimately, we will reap the benefits on our active journey towards a better and cleaner future and far from the of the style of life of The Simpsons I had once believed we would live.
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