[/SIZE][SIZE=3]Is nuclear power a viable energy source?
With the exponential increase in energy consumption comes a major issue that cannot be overlooked. An issue that has potential to put an end to a huge amount of pollution, and move man-kind in a giant leap forward to a world in which energy problems never rear their ugly head. Nuclear power is the most advantageous energy source because it is the safest, cleanest, and cheapest.
Nuclear war vs. nuclear power
The dangers of Nuclear Power have been highly exaggerated by both the media, and the public. Nuclear power is being classified in the same category as Hydrogen bombs just because they work on the same concept as nuclear fission. There seems to be an idea that if we rid the world of Nuclear Power, this will somehow result in a reduction of the Hydrogen bomb. A hydrogen bomb is the fusion of an isotope of Hydrogen called Tritium into Helium. This process requires extremely high temperatures to work. An atomic bomb has to detonate just to provide the necessary conditions for a hydrogen bomb to work. In an atomic bomb, an extremely large amount of a highly unstable element like Uranium or Plutonium is detonated by a chunk of TNT. This TNT causes the neutrons in the unstable element to shoot out, but becasue the element is so compressed by the TNT, the neutrons have no choice but to shoot through the remaining uranium or plutonium to escape. This causes the Uranium to start a chain reaction where the unstable Uranium or Plutonium becomes a more stable element. When this process occurs, the energy needed to hold the less stable element together is released… This would not be possible in a nuclear power plant because the amount of Uranium used simultaneously is millions of time less.
Nuclear power works in the same concept as an atomic bomb would, but can be controlled. In Nuclear power, a large amount of Uranium is put together. Then a special neutron-absorbing material called Boron is inserted between portions of the Uranium. With this, the rate at which the chain reaction proceeds can be controlled resulting in a slow burn instead of an explosion. The heat generated by the nuclear fission is used to heat water into steam that turns a generator.
Furthermore, the Isotope of Uranium “U-235” that is used in Nuclear power only makes up about 0.7% of Uranium. The more common isotope “U-238” actually slow the process down. You need a high concentration of U-235 to make a bomb. If the reactor gets too hot, the control rods are lowered in and it cools down. There is also sets of emergency control rods that automatically drop in and shut the reactor down completely in emergency situations.
The Chernobyl Disaster
The only major disaster involving nuclear power plants has been the Chernobyl disaster. A large amount of radiation escaped from a reactor. Hundreds of thousands of people in Russia were exposed to the radiation. 12 died within the first couple weeks, and in the coming years, thousands more may die. The Soviet scientists have since then admitted that the reactors at Chernobyl were mismanaged and lacked many important safety features. Since then, all power plants have been equipped with state-of-the-art safety measures and no other disasters have occurred. The power plants in existence today are extremely safe; much safer than other types of energy-producing plants.
Even the Chernobyl disaster that has potential of killing a few thousand people in the upcoming years cannot compare to the casualties caused by other industries. The automobile industry, with their ubiquitous and unhealthy smog, causes 50,000 deaths a year. In fact, the coal power industry, a competing source of power with nuclear power plants, produces evident damage from acid rain and kills about 30,000 people per year with air pollution. In fact, all the deaths that will eventually be caused by the Chernobyl disaster, the largest ever nuclear disaster, comprise less than the number of deaths caused by coal-burning pollution each year. (Nuclear Politics)
There is also much hype over the media about disposal problems. When an element is unstable, it is continually breaking down into a more stable element. This happens at a slow, constant rate without an external stimuli, and releases energy as it breaks down. This is radiation. Because it takes so long for nuclear waste to be broken down, it cannot be disposed of in the usual way. Currently, many nuclear wastes are stored in special pools at the reactors of power plants. The United States plans to move all of it’s nuclear waste to a state-of-the-art remote underground dump by 2010.
One of the biggest advantages of nuclear power is how clean it is. With nuclear power, there is no pollution. In a world plagued by what seems like an inevitable meltdown of the icecaps due to pollution, more unnecessary pollution from coal plants cannot be afforded.
In development is a new technology called breeder reactors. Breeder reactors are used today to create Plutonium-239. This is what is used for our atomic bombs. These types of reactors are some of the best kept secrets in the world today. On the other hand, fast breeder reactors used only with the intentions for energy production would produce a mixture of Plutonium-239, 240, 241, and 242 as well as U-238 and U-235. It is pretty much impossible to separate Plutonium-239 from the other isotopes to use for bomb making. The British, Russians, French, and USA have all tried it and came out unsuccessful. If one tries to make a bomb with a mixture of these Plutonium and Uranium isotopes, it would not work. Unless one has pure Plutonium-239, the bomb will do nothing. This type of nuclear power would be a great way to prevent terrorist and others with mal-intentions from using the nuclear waste in any harmful way. A fast breeder reactor is a capable of producing much more energy and only produces short lives radioactive waste.
Another advantage of nuclear power is supply. 24% of the Uranium supply in Australia, and 9% in Canada.
One ton of uranium produces more energy than is produced by several million tons of coal or several million barrels of oil.(Nuclear Politics)