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Nuclear Energy

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Energy consumption is a necessity in the current day and age. Without it we would not be able to develop and maintain new ways to prolong the average life span. However, there is a catch to modern methods of energy development. Pollution created by energy producing plants has become a major looked at factor that affects our health and minimizes prolonged life. Nuclear energy has been argued to be the cleanest and most efficient energy source currently known, and has also been argued to be the most volatile and economically unfit.

The idea for usage of Nuclear energy began in 1945 after the first nuclear bomb was tested. After events like Three Mile Island and Chernobyl in 1979 and 1986, respectively, the use of Nuclear Power Plants drastically declined. These Nuclear meltdowns created quite a scare and the media took hold of the topics, never letting them go when the topic of nuclear energy is brought up. Nobody was every killed in the event of Three Mile Island, but in Chernobyl, 31 were killed, 28 of which had to do with actual radiation. From the research that I have done, I have come to believe that the negative effects of nuclear energy has not been given the proper recognition by the media. Because of this, society in general seems to fear nuclear energy and wants nothing to do with it.

When thinking about nuclear power plants, a lot of people get an image similar to that of the power plant in the popular TV show, "The Simpson's". There is an image of massive amounts of radiation, nuclear waste, and other pollutants being poured out into the air. In reality, the more commonly used Coal power plants fit this profile better. For every pound of plutonium that it takes to create energy, it takes an equivalent of the Yankee's baseball stadium full of coal to create that same amount of energy. Now can you imagine how much ash must be produced from this coal compared to only a pound of plutonium? So when we look at how much energy is actually produced from these amounts, the amount of waste put out from coal is much greater.

Maybe another reason that many think of nuclear power plants as more wasteful is because it is easier to actually see the waste from nuclear power plants. If we look at the processes of energy production between the two types of plants, it helps to understand that it is nearly impossible to contain all the waste produced from coal power plants. In a coal power plant the coal is burned creating thermal energy that boils water. The steam from the boiling water turns a turbine that rotates to create electricity through kinetic energy.

The nuclear process is very similar, but rather nothing is burned to create harmful emissions. Nuclear energy is made through fission creating intense heat which then boils the water. Now with this in mind, think of all the pollutants created from burning this coal that is just released into the atmosphere. At least with the nuclear process all the waste is contained in the same place where the process actually occurred. What about the radiation from the whole nuclear fission process? Yet another misconception when given the comparison between nuclear and coal power plants.

Like I stated earlier in the Yankee baseball stadium example, for every unit of energy output from nuclear vs. coal, there is much more waste created. The amount of radiation put out by coal plants is a direct result of this. Of course, nuclear waste is much more radioactive, but, once again, the amount of waste produced from coal squelches that of nuclear waste by 100 million tons. If the U.S. was to use nothing but nuclear power plants it would take 10,000 years to create the amount of waste that a coal power plant does in two weeks. Because of this, coal plants actually put out more radiation than nuclear plants into our environment. And also once again, nuclear waste can be contained.

Think of all the radiation that is being put into the atmosphere at any given moment that is not being contained. Sure coal plants filter their emissions, but think of a cigarette. Is it really possible to completely filter all the harmful chemicals from a burning cigarette? And how many of these chemicals are radioactive? There are four main pollutants from coal plants: flue gas, arsenic, asbestos, lead, carbon dioxide, mercury, and nitrogen. Flue gas, arsenic, asbestos, lead, and carbon dioxide are all radioactive, and mercury in its natural state is borderline radioactive.

What about this nuclear radiation actually giving cancerous affects to people once it has been disposed of? Typically, most of the waste disposed of from nuclear plants is radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years. The waste from coal plants never stops being radioactive. So this means that not only can we not contain all the waste from coal plants, but the waste that is being produced never stops becoming radioactive. With this in mind, why aren't we more scared of our current methods of energy production?

Going back to the occurrences of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, let's question what really went wrong. The event of Three Mile Island was caused by a failure in a water pump that allowed water to flow and redirect heat from the actual nuclear reactor to prevent overheating. The nuclear reactor then shutdown creating an increase in pressure and a pressure valve was then opened. After the sufficient amount of pressure dropped, the valve was supposed to close. The flaw was what the operators actually saw. In the control room there was a light that told the operators that pressure valve had closed, but the light only indicated that a signal had been sent to close the valve. In another portion of the building there were malfunctions with other feeder pipes that were not delivering water. The operators saw that there was an increase in pressure in the reactor so they stopped feeding water to it unaware that what was happening was completely the opposite. This caused the whole reactor to overheat.

What happened with Chernobyl isn't quite known for sure, but there are two theories. The first is carelessness on part of the operators. The second is a design flaw in the reactor. No matter which one is correct, one thing is for sure, all the problems that did go wrong in both these events happened 20 years ago or more. Technology and knowledge have both come a long way since then. Not only do we have computers doing tasks that humans used to, but now we have computers checking these computers to make sure that they are operating properly.




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