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Science Nuclear Essay - The Benefits And Limitations Of Nuclear Technology

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Nuclear technology has been developing rapidly over the years since 1954, when the world’s first entirely functional nuclear power plant was built in Obninsk, Moscow. It has since, become an integral part of human life, existing in everyday applications like smoke detectors, deadly weaponry and an alternative source of renewable energy. The development of nuclear technology is considered as one of the most important, and significant scientific progresses made to date. However, many people around the globe insist that any further use of this technology should be stopped. These people believe that there are hidden dangers scientists may have overlooked, and that they may cause serious damage to human livelihood, wildlife and ultimately the world.

So is nuclear energy an actual endangerment to us, or are we overreacting to the side effect of this technology? In this essay, the benefits and limitations of developing and using nuclear power will be analyzed, we shall find out if the benefits or limitations of nuclear technology outweigh the other.

Nuclear reactors use a very commonly found material as their main source for producing electricity, uranium. There are a few different uranium isotopes that exist on earth, with uranium-235 as the most powerful and uranium-238 as the most abundant. Uranium-235 is a very fissile material, which means that its atoms can be easily split apart by a neutron, releasing two lighter nuclei, three neutrons and some gamma radiation. Nuclear technology takes advantage of this effect (see diagram below). Rods of uranium act as fuel, and are placed in a reactor. A slow neutron is then sent towards a uranium nucleus, with results in an unstable nucleus of uranium-236. This splits up, and the three extra neutrons split other nearby uranium nuclei up, causing a chain reaction. This reaction, if uncontrolled will cause a nuclear explosion, releasing massive amounts of heat and radiation. Therefore, control rods made of cadmium or boron (used to slow down the fission process) are partially inserted into the core of the reactor, to absorb small amounts of neutrons. At the same time, water which acts as a coolant is pumped into the reactor, creating steam which turns a turbine connected to a power dynamo.

On the economical side of it all, using nuclear power alone is an advantage. Due to the high economic competitiveness of nuclear power, costs of “construction, financing and plant operations”, along with “waste management and decommissioning” have been reducing significantly . Nowadays, nuclear power has beaten fossil fuels as being a less expensive energy source, owing to relatively lower construction and operational costs. This is a very desirable trait, as countries like France’s rely heavily nuclear power. About three quarters of the country live on electricity produced by the 59 reactors, and an industry of exporting nuclear electricity to other countries has been developing. Nuclear power is one of the last hopes for saving the environment, and capital of ELDCs (economically less developed countries) with a rapidly growing population, like India.

This is a very environmental friendly source of energy, for it does not produce any sort of pollution. Unlike coal, oil and gas which produce greenhouse gases, causing acid rain, damaging the ozone layer, and contributing to global warming. Nuclear energy also a very efficient power source, as one pound of uranium can produce the same amount of power as burning 1,500 tons of coal. However, some people may disagree on this, for although we have cut down on air pollution, we have started to produce radioactive pollution.

Nuclear energy is stable and reliable, and is not influenced by any external conditions. Take solar and wind energy for example, if the sun was covered up by clouds and the wind was not strong enough, there would be no electricity produced.

As all things good, producing nuclear power comes with several drawbacks.

One of these limitations is the contaminated by-products, or nuclear waste produced after the fission process . Nuclear waste is extremely dangerous matter which is highly radioactive, and if the waste is not treated properly, stored in sealed containers underground, we may be exposed to such material. Exposure to such radiation can cause serious damage to or even kill living cells, tissues and organisms. In other cases, cell mutation may occur, which means that they start to behave in alien ways due to damage. Among these health hazards, cancer is one of the most common diseases. Studies have been carried out on 100,000 survivors of the Nagasaki and Hiroshima atomic bomb attacks, and results show that compared to normal conditions; there were 400 more cancer deaths.

The management of nuclear waste is another issue. Even if we were able to store uranium wastes effectively and safely in special concrete or steel crates, sooner or later, problems concerning the shortage of storage facilities will appear. Nuclear waste has to be stored in dry areas deep underground, free from the danger of earthquakes, floods, and further natural hazards. Uranium possesses an extremely long half life of up to 4.5 billion years, and we are using it faster than most underground sites can hold, filling them up within months. Transporting these materials is also a risky act. If the containers meet any accidents,

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