America and Nuclear Energy

America+and+Nuclear+Energy

The use of petroleum and other fossil fuels as our society’s source of power is slowly draining us. Almost everyone has accepted this. The combination of its limited amount, immense damage to the environment as well as ourselves, and the things that people are willing to do for oil money have put a noticeable stain on the reputation of the fossil fuel industry as a whole. With this, many have been advocating for our society to shift away from our dependence on fossil fuels to something that is either more sustainable or cleaner for our environment, or both. A good transition into that cleaner and more sustainable energy is nuclear energy.

How does nuclear energy work?

Nuclear energy is generated when uranium atoms are split in cold water, creating a chain reaction that produces steam, which moves a turbine to create electricity. The process is clean for the air as nuclear power plants do not burn fuel or release greenhouse gasses. The current method of using steam is reliable when safely maintained. The most crucial requirement for nuclear energy is uranium ore. After the process of fission, another element is created known as thorium. A combination of thorium and plutonium makes a reliable substitute for uranium. Although this is not renewable, it is much more sustainable and cleaner than fossil fuels.

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Downsides and public approval

Although nuclear energy is cleaner and more reliable than fossil fuels, it does not mean that it doesn’t generate waste. From the process of generating energy comes nuclear waste. Nuclear waste forms when a fuel rod ends its cycle and the leftover rod is left with nuclear material and high levels of radiation. The waste is dangerous and must be stored in a secure facility isolated from the rest of society. After hundreds of years, the radioactivity of the waste will subside. 

Where it’s used

Nuclear power plants generate 14% of the world’s electricity, but it is used to certain degrees based on where it’s at. In the United States nuclear energy makes up 20% of electricity generated, while in France it’s 75%. Fastly growing nations like China and India employ just over 1% but the governments of said regions plan to rapidly increase their nuclear power sectors. China plans to have it increase by 1000% by 2020. 

Safety and regulations

Many of the concerns with nuclear energy come from the perceived threat of the power source. Public support for nuclear energy has waned over the years with the leak at Three Mile Island in Maryland, the disastrous meltdown at Chernobyl in Ukraine, and the destruction of Fukushima in Japan. These events scared the public away from nuclear energy. Many argue that these accidents were caused by human error and not by the process of nuclear energy itself. Another common fear stemming from nuclear energy comes from the weaponization of energy. Nations such as Iraq and Iran have been accused of using their nuclear programs for weapons of mass destruction.

Another concern with nuclear energy is the possibility of a meltdown and what we can do to prevent it. A meltdown occurs when the core loses cool pressure causing the core to collapse and explode, spreading radiation and nuclear material everywhere. To prevent this, plant operators can drain the core of water which stops nuclear fission from happening. Then the core is cooled with cooling fluid. A common concern regarding nuclear accidents is what happens during a blackout. During the event of a blackout, nuclear plants have backup generators and eight-hour batteries. With this, the core is cooled and the nuclear process stops. 

The future of nuclear power

The implementation of nuclear power in the US is a controversial one, with many saying that the process is an important step in phasing out fossil fuels. While many say that the costs and potential dangers are too much to bear. One thing is for certain, nuclear energy is and will be the main contender for the future of alternative energy.

Sources

Javascript Required! (n.d.). Retrieved November 24, 2019, from https://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/safety-and-security/safety-of-plants/chernobyl-accident.aspx.

Lamb, R. (2018, June 28). How a Nuclear Meltdown Works. Retrieved November 24, 2019, from https://science.howstuffworks.com/nuclear-meltdown3.htm.

Office of Nuclear Energy. (n.d.). Retrieved November 24, 2019, from https://www.energy.gov/ne/office-nuclear-energy.

What Is Nuclear Energy? (n.d.). Retrieved November 24, 2019, from https://www.nei.org/fundamentals/what-is-nuclear-energy.

Zyga, L. (2011, March 17). How does a nuclear meltdown work? (w/ Video). Retrieved November 24, 2019, from https://phys.org/news/2011-03-nuclear-meltdown-video.html.