The Feasibility of Nuclear Energy as a Major Power Source

written by Chris Dettmering



Abstract


Nuclear energy is a safe and plentiful energy source that should be used more in the United States. Other countries around the world are using nuclear energy at a much higher percent than the United States. By using nuclear energy, the amount of green-house gasses will be reduced, the cost of energy will go down, and the fear of fuel shortage will diminish.

With new technology, strict safety procedures, and disaster prevention, nuclear energy is economical and safe. Studies have shown that with more research and development, the cost of nuclear energy will continue to decrease, making electric bills more affordable for American citizens.

People around the United States are having a hard time paying their bills with fuel prices rising. However, the only way for research and development to take place, the politicians and citizens of the United States must push for greater measures to be taken to implement more nuclear energy plants across the country.

Introduction


Over the years, the price of electricity, gasoline, and heating fuel have been increasing at unaffordable rates due to a fear that we will run out of petroleum, coal, and natural gas. Also, atmospheric depletion is on the rise due to pollution from the burning of fossil fuels.

Many countries throughout the world are now using nuclear energy as a major source of energy, and the United States should as well. By using nuclear power, the United States can help reduce the ozone depletion, lower the cost of energy for the citizens, and have a limitless supply of energy for billions of years to come.

To understand nuclear energy, a person must first understand what a nuclear reaction is. There are two types; a fusion reaction and a fission reaction. A fusion reaction is when an atom of tritium smashes into a deuterium atom, and combine to form a helium atom and a neutron. This is the most powerful nuclear reaction. There is more research being conducted to make this reaction possible in nuclear power plants.

The other type of reaction is a fission reaction. In a fission reaction, a neutron collides into an enriched uranium atom, splitting it, and releasing another uranium atom and two neutrons. When this process continues with the collisions it is called a nuclear chain reaction. This is the current nuclear reaction that takes place within the nuclear power plants around the world.

This reaction is only one of the factors that is responsible for the creation of electricity within a nuclear power plant. Once the reaction takes place, a large amount of heat is given off. This all happens within the reactor core, as can be seen in figure one below. This heats the water around the core and then the water turns to steam. The steam then travels through pipes and causes the turbine to spin. This spinning of the turbine spins a large generator, creating electricity. However, the process that happens within a nuclear power plant does not stop here. The steam then is cooled by cold water coming from the cooling tower traveling into the condenser below the turbine. This drops the temperature causing it to turn back into water. This water is then pumped back to the reactor to be reheated and continue the process again.

This report covers three main topics of nuclear energy: the pros and cons of nuclear power, why there have been historic nuclear disasters, and how they are now prevented, and the new safety features that are installed in nuclear power plants.


Figure 1: Diagram of a Nuclear Power Plant


Pros and Cons of Nuclear Energy


Today, nuclear energy is America's second largest source of electric power after coal. More than 110 nuclear energy plants provide more electricity than oil natural gas or hydropower. Nuclear energy is a cheap effective source of energy, as can be seen in figure 2. However, this chart shows data only until 1996. Since this point in time, new technology and research have lowered the cost of nuclear energy even more, where as war and the scare of and oil shortage have driven the price of the other energy sources up significantly. Since 1973, nuclear energy has saved American consumers about $44 billion, compared to the other fuels that would have been used to make electricity.


Table 1: Nuclear Energy Vs Other Sources


Nuclear energy is a clean burning source of energy. As can be seen in figure 2, nuclear energy has helped in reducing the amount of carbon dioxide released into the ozone, helping to reduce the green-house effect. This shows that if the world continues to produce carbon dioxide at the current rate, the climates around the world will be affected and many problems arise due the idea of Global warming.


Figure 2: Carbon Dioxide Reduction


Even though nuclear energy could help solve many problems, the United States, as can be seen in figure 3, utilizes the least amount of nuclear energy compared to the other large economic super powers around the world.


Figure 3: Use of Nuclear Energy Around the World


Also, if the United States could produce more nuclear energy, we could become more self reliant. At this point in time, the United States relies heavily on foreign powers for crude oil. This oil is processed into gasoline and other types of fuel that the United States needs to maintain the high economical status. This burdens Americans when war breaks out and fuel costs skyrocket. Nuclear energy is not only the solution to the United States energy shortage problem, but it is the solution to the world-wide energy shortage problem. With today’s technology, there is enough fissionable material in the world to maintain a steady source of energy for at least a billion years to come.

The only major con of nuclear energy is the radioactive waste that is produced. However, this waste can be stored in tanks at the plants, or when too much has accumulated, it is possible to store the radio active waste far underground in concrete containers that would hold the waste until it is no longer radio active and can not harm humans. This is a very political topic. There have been plans made to build an enormous underground storage facility in Nevada, but this has been in congress for some time and a conclusion still has not been reached.

The plan for the storage facility in the United States is to construct a large cavern deep within the Yucca Mountain. This cavern would be coated with a thick layer of concrete. A thick steel floor would then be put in place. Protruding from the steel floor, would be steel platforms that have a “V” shaped top. The ceramic and steel nuclear waste containers would then be placed on top of these platforms. If by some freak accident the steel containers would be breached, the chance of nuclear waste penetration the barriers would be virtually zero.

Reasons of Historic Disasters


The number one cause of nuclear disasters in the past is not with the technology within nuclear power plants, more rather with the people who construct and operate the plants. Their have only been two nuclear disasters in the history of the world, and less people have died in these disasters than those who have died in coal mining accidents (Nuclear Disasters). The two most notable disasters in the past are Chernobyl in Russia, and Three Mile Island in the United States.

The Chernobyl reactor melted down because the Soviets tried cutting corners in construction to save money. Another factor in the nuclear disaster was that the Soviets also tried saving money by not placing the reactor within the large containment structure of concrete and steal that is used in western plants. The final factor in the Chernobyl disaster was that the plant had a second purpose as a nuclear bomb factory. This caused even more safety factors to be left out and raised the possibility of nuclear melt down.

The Three Mile Island disaster did not kill a single person, but it was still called a disasters. The entire situation was a result of operator error. The reactor began to overheat and the operator did not think there was a problem, so he over-rode the safety system. This caused the reactor temperature to raise even more. The operator again over-rode the safety systems which caused a loss of control of the reactor. It took two weeks to gain control of the reactor, but there was no immediate harm that came from this situation.

Safety Features in Nuclear Power Plants


The two disasters have made people fear and reject nuclear energy as a primary source of energy. However, there are many safety factors within a nuclear power plant. The reactor itself is contained by numerous layers of concrete and steal that make the chance of radiation exposure next to nothing. These concrete and steel walls can withstand multiple 747 jets crashing into them, with no damage done to the reactor.

There are also numerous safe guards that are computer operated that counter act problems within the nuclear power plant. Yet another safety feature is the high level background checks that each employee must have. These factors help in the prevention of a terrorist attack and sabotage.

With the safety features counter acting the fears of nuclear power plants by Americans, many plants have been constructed across the country, as can be seen in figure 4. There are also plans for more plants to be constructed in the up coming years.


Figure 4: Nuclear Plants Around the United States


Summary of Findings


Nuclear energy is a safe and plentiful energy source that should be used more in the United States. Other countries around the world are using nuclear energy at a much higher percent than the United States. By using nuclear energy, the amount of green-house gasses will be reduced, the cost of energy will go down, and the fear of fuel shortage will diminish.

Interpretation of Findings


With new technology, strict safety procedures, and disaster prevention, nuclear energy is economical and safe. Studies have shown that with more research and development, the cost of nuclear energy will continue to decrease, making electric bills more affordable for American citizens.

Recommendations


People around the United States are having a hard time paying their bills with fuel prices rising. However, the only way for research and development to take place, the politicians and citizens of the Untied states must push for greater measures to be taken to implement more nuclear energy plants across the country.

Return to the General Science Articles Section

Other Articles That You May Be Interested In:

Douglas MacArthur Biography
This military leader led the fight against Japan in World War 2
George Patton Biography
Patton was and remains one of the most interesting military leaders of all time.