Nuclear Power Essay
With the issues of climate change and renewable resources remaining to be present day issues in America’s society, the question remains, how will America continue to produce its energy for generations to come? It has been recognized that reliance on fossils fuels and other nonrenewable resources, such as a coal and oil will not last forever and renewable technologies such as wind and solar are not yet considered practical solutions to meet the needs of the entire US population. As the population continues to grow at an upward trend, the country’s energy needs will only increase. One energy source that has been deemed potentially viable to help meet energy needs is nuclear power production. Through the process of nuclear fission, nuclear power plants can create high amounts of sustainable energy without the need to be constantly refueled and replenished. Nuclear energy is also the cleanest energy source in terms of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere. Even with these positive attributes as well as many others not listed, there are still drawbacks. Drawbacks that make some people believe nuclear energy should not be used at all. Is nuclear power the answer to America’s increasing energy demands? Or is it simply just replacing a problem with another one?
Currently at the time of writing this paper, approximately 20% of the US energy consumptions is provided by nuclear power. 0.5% is provided by petroleum, 32.1% from natural gas, 29.9% from coal, and the remaining 17% is from renewables which can be broken down even further. 62.9% of that energy is classified as fossil fuels. The question is not is the world going to run out of fossil fuels but rather when will the world run out of fossil fuels? Approximately 11 billion tons of oil is consumed globally every year. At the current rate of consumption, it is estimated that the world will run out of oil by the year 2052. Closely followed behind will be gas in 2060 and coal in 2088. Keep in mind that these are global estimates which means these dates could be even sooner for just the United States alone. These dates do seem rather far away, but they are approaching faster than we think and there is a good chance that many of us will live to see the end of fossil fuels towards the end of our lifetimes. This could be looked at as a not my problem scenario, but that would be completely irresponsible and would be dooming the generations after us. The US will be faced with the decision to embrace some other form of energy.
According the US Census Bureau and as of 2018, the United States Population is approximately 329,102,148. This is up approximately 3 million people from 2017 and approximately 2 million from 2016. If you continue to look back further, the population is continuing to increase by more and more people each year. With this increase in population comes increase in resources needed to sustain it. More people in world means more food is needed to be produced each year. This means more oil needs to be produced to operate agricultural machinery. People in the US are using more and more electronics every day. And what’s the last thing most people with a cell phone do every night before they lay their head down to go to sleep? Plug in their phones to charge. Continued growth in electronics leads to more electricity needs. The US population will not be decreasing anytime soon. Therefore, energy needs will only increase. The US is currently seeking new energy sources to use as substitutes for fossil fuels. One of the main area the country is looking at is renewables.
The attraction to renewable energy sources is in the name. The fact that these energy means will never deplete makes them highly desirable. Though challenge that not only the US, but also the whole world has been facing with renewable energy sources is being able to practically design, produce, and maintain on such a large scale that is equal to the energy output obtained from fossil fuels. The main categories of renewables are biomass, hydropower, geothermal, wind, and solar. When looking at biomass energy, the burning of non-fossilized fuel sources such as wood is a great option. However, challenges arise with maintaining a balance for cutting down and re-growing due to such high energy demands. Hydropower provided by dams or flowing rivers are a continuous operation. But, not all areas of the country have access to these types of water ways. Geothermal is harvesting the heat naturally produced by the earth to spin turbines for electricity. The downfall is that these natural phenomena are only present in certain regions of the country. Moving on to wind energy, turbines with blades on the end of them harness the natural flow of air through the country to spin turbines to create electricity. Currently the downfall with wind turbines is that they are quite expensive to produce and maintain. Finally, solar energy uses radiation produced by the sun to produce electricity. The main downfall of solar power production is that solar panels roughly only convert 15-40% of the harvested sun’s energy into electricity which is not very efficient. Also, a big disadvantage is not producing any energy at night. A common theme with all the presented renewables above is that they are not available everywhere or they simply aren’t financially feasible to be practical replacements on their own. Technology advances every day and renewable energy tech is no exception. In the years and decades to come, all five of these energy options being used together will certainly be able to help in filling the gap that fossil fuels currently occupy. But the US needs an energy solution now. That solution is nuclear power generation.
Nuclear power plants operate in the same manor that coal power plants do. The main job of the fuel, nuclear fuel or coal, is to boil water that will then produce steam. This steam then turns a turbine which generates electricity to be distributed throughout the power grid. The process by which the water is heated is where the major difference lies. Coal is burned which then creates heat to boil the water to produce its steam. The problem with this method is that coal, when burned, produces large amounts of carbon dioxide that are released into the atmosphere and then get trapped via the greenhouse effect. Natural gas operates similarly and releases its emissions into the atmosphere as well. Nuclear power heats its water via the process of nuclear fission. The process of fission is the splitting of atoms to produce energy and heat within the nuclear reactor which contains uranium fuel for this process. With nuclear fission, clean energy is produced, and carbon dioxide is not a product from the reaction that gets released into the atmosphere. A common misconception with nuclear power plants is that their cooling towers are releasing pollutants into the air just as coal or natural gas does. In reality, it is simply just harmless water vapor from the steam. Nuclear power produces approximately 62% of all clean electricity within the US. Another pro to nuclear power is its ability to produce extremely high-power output to meet an area’s urban, industrial, and residential needs with one reactor. To get a scale of this, a 1000-Megawatt nuclear electric plant can power a small city of roughly 500,000 people with a low amount of uranium. Uranium fuel is also fairly cheap since relatively small quantities are needed for power production. Inexpensive electricity is another benefit of nuclear. Nuclear electricity is cheaper to produce than any current fossil fuel. Low operating cost being considered along with the average 50-year lifecycle of a plant, financially make nuclear a good investment.
Although nuclear energy seems like the answer to all energy needs, it does not come without its draw backs. Probably the biggest concern with it is the environmental impact that comes from the dangerous, highly radioactive, used fuel cells. This waste cannot simply be brought to a landfill to be dumped. It must be stored in special built areas, disposed of carefully, and protected. All of which adds up to large amounts of money. Nuclear power plants also require large investments to become operational. Billions of dollars can be tied up in years of construction which can be major decision factor. Terrorism is also cause for concern. 24-hour security is needed at nuclear plants due to the national security threat that could become present if nuclear fuel fell into the hands of extremist. Finally, it is no secret that nuclear power is inevitably dangerous and potentially prone to accidents. Just look at the Chernobyl accident that occurred in Ukraine in the 80s and the environmental and economic impact it had on Europe that still affect it today. Look at the 2011 Fukushima meltdown in Japan. Environmental impacts are still largely an issue in the area. Three Mile Island in the US was also a major concern in the late 70s. Clean up lasted for years and costed US tax payers a billion dollars for the meltdown.
Even after considering all the cons, the pros still out weight them. The high start up cost to open a nuclear plant can be made back in a reasonable time and from then forward, it is inexpensive energy being produced. Nuclear power plants have security second to none so terrorist threats are extremely low. The United States has also never had a nuclear accident of the same category of Chernobyl or Fukushima. Finally, the US has invested in nuclear waste storage facilities so that the waste is of no danger to the public. Nuclear energy is one of the best options today for increasing energy demands on the US power grid. As was stated earlier in the essay, when renewable technology advances far enough to be practical for large scale energy production, nuclear will have to be looked at again. But for long lasting, high output energy production, nuclear power simply is the best option.
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