Nuclear Energy

Is It Our Future?

Essential Question (EQ)

Is nuclear energy a viable solution to the energy crisis AND environmental/ecological problems linked to burning fossil fuels?

Background Information

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Nuclear Power

Nuclear energy it the most controversial form of alternative energy. Nuclear can produce more energy than fossil fuels can but some people consider it to be unsafe. Also nuclear energy is cleaner than fossil fuels but most people feel that nuclear waste (radioactive material) is more dangerous that the carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels.

How a Nuclear Reactor Works

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The uranium goes into the control rods which controls the amount of uranium released which goes to the reactor core. It doesn’t explode because of the pressurized water (the water is dense and cool enough to prevent a meltdown). The pressurized water around the reactor makes sure that the uranium can only heat the water near it. The reactor core is where the energy is generated. Hot liquid water goes into the reactor core and the heat form the fission turns the water into steam. The steam goes into a turbine and pushes it creating kinetic energy which is translated into electricity in the generator. The electricity is then transferred to power lines which distributes the power to the city. The condenser takes the steam after it has pushed the turbine and turns the it back into water by allowing it to cool. Cold water is pumped from the lake to cool the condenser and allow the water to go back through the reactor. The fact that water can be re-used and little to no carbon dioxide is emitted makes nuclear energy one of the most environmentally friendly way to produce energy.

Major Events in the History of Nuclear Energy

Three Mile Island (1979)

A cooling malfunction caused part of the core to melt in the #2 core. Some radiation was released but not a significant amount. The cooling was fixed, but the compressors leaked and radiation was let out into the environment. The radiation had a short half life so it was not really a health hazard. Nuclear energy events can be fixed which means that with a few adjustments it should be sustainable.

Chernobyl (1986)

The Chernobyl event in 1986 was a major setback for nuclear energy. This event proved to many people that nuclear energy was dangerous. The real reason the reactor failed was plant operators ran an unauthorized test of the plant and turned off all safety procedures making the cause of the explosion human error. After the explosion, some of the fission products and fuel escaped into the environment. This error was also human based. The Chernobyl plant was designed poorly with very few methods to contain the radioactive materials or backup safety procedures. The Chernobyl event nuclear energy can be a great way to create energy safely if the appropriate safety precautions are taken.

Fukushima (2011)

The Great East Japan Earthquake and a large tsunami on 3/11/11 both caused extensive damage to the Japan region. Eleven reactors in the region shut down immediately when the quake hit and luckily, the machines showed no significant damage. Even though Japan had MUCH better fail-safes then Chernobyl, the Japanese planned poorly when they built the plant on the coast of an island with a fault line right through it. There were not any fatalities from the nuclear accident, but the poor location planning resulted in 1000 deaths from maintaining the evacuation and the spreading of radiation to fish in the ocean. The incident was fixed as shown in the picture, which shows how Japanese took care of the problem.

Windscale (1957)

One of the reactors' graphite heating went wrong which caused the released uranium to oxidize. It released radioactivity and caused a fire. Iodine was also released into the air. The plant was sealed until the 1980s when cleanup began. There was a malfunction in the heat which again was the reactor's fault. The conversion to nuclear energy may be hard, but is necessary to maintain fuel and electricity for this generation.
Iconic Windscale chimney 'opened' for first time in 17 years as clean up work leaps forward
The video shows how long ago it was which makes the reactors not as advanced yet and how nuclear waste can be cleaned although it is a hassle.
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Although this comic is a joke it does show what nuclear energy is like. It is much more powerful than coal and can be dangerous. However, it was because the kid in the comic shook it up or it was in the wrong hands. The drink would have been fine if nothing had been wrong with the person holding it.

Pros of Changing to Nuclear Energy

Cleaner Environment

If we convert to nuclear energy then we will have a cleaner environment because there will be less smog in the sky and less waste and pollution to dump in places like landfills and oceans.

Fossil Fuels Nonrenweable

Fossil fuels are nonrenewable resources. This means that they will eventually run out. If we convert to nuclear energy now we will not have to change again for a very, very long time. Fossil fuels have only about 100 years left worth of supply not counting growing demand and that will run out very quickly. If we don't have a sufficient amount of nuclear energy plants when fossil fuels run out, civilization will fall.

Oil Reserves (Example)

Saudi Arabia has the most oil left in the world. Saudi Arabia is projected to only have 72.4 years of oil left. Once there is no oil left then energy will have to be produced with alternative or nuclear energy sources.

More Stable Ecosystems

If we convert to nuclear energy (which requires less space then conventional power plants), then less species will go extinct because of destruction of their habitats and the earth will have more biodiversity therefore making our ecosystems more stable.

Less Waste

Nuclear energy sources produce much less carbon dioxide emissions than fossil fuels. This will reduce the carbon being put into the air and may help lessen global warming.

Cons of Changing to Alternative Energy

Not Practicable (Cost)

Completely switching to nuclear energy is not practicable. Building nuclear plants cost much more money than fossil fuel plants do. Also most motor vehicles on the planet have petroleum based engines and would all have to be scraped and replaced with more expensive engines that accept electricity (generated from the nuclear power plant). Almost all the power plants in the world are coal or oil based so they would ALL have to switch and that would take a lot of time, money, and manpower.

More Dangerous Waste

Nuclear energy, can be unsafe and cause health problems for those living around the plant. Nuclear energy can causes cancer and mutations which can give the next generation deformities.

Can Destroy Environment

Nuclear Energy can harm ecosystems by causing a certain species to die out or change, which can make the food web less stable. This is bad because nothing can be build on irradiated areas and biodiversity decreases. (Nuclear energy can affect the ecosystem both positively and negatively.)

Power Plants Near Homes

The nuclear energy solution may need to put power plants near homes which could cause uncertainty. There have been accidents with the plants and for now it might not be safe.


Nuclear Energy Quotes

"One thing we've seen from nuclear energy is that under the right conditions it can de-carbonize power grids very rapidly, because it comes in large chunks. France de-carbonized it's power grid in less than two decades, or at least by 75%, which is roughly the number we're looking for globally," ~Armond Cohen. This quote shows that nuclear energy can remove a significant amount of carbon and is a very helpful quality of nuclear energy.

"There is an appetite for nuclear in this country, particularly when people have information. They cannot make good decisions without information,"~Christine Todd Whitman. This quote shows that nuclear energy is being wanted all over Earth because of the loss of fossil fuels. Nuclear energy is the strongest alternative, but does have downsides. The people need to be informed about it so they can make their choice.

“We have depended on nuclear power for many decades to meet much of our electricity needs, and I think we will continue to in the future,” said Bingaman, D-N.M. “And I do believe we can produce power safely. We’ve done that. We’ve done it for many decades.” The quote shows how nuclear energy is used to fuel electricity because of the loss of fossil fuels and how it has been done so it can be done.

"The energy density of nuclear can be seen by comparing fission fuel to other sources. In terms of volume of fuel necessary to do the same amount of work, a tiny pellet (1.86 grams) of uranium fuel equals 1,260 gallons of oil, or 6.15 tons of coal, or 23.5 tons of dry wood. This means that nuclear is 2.2 million times more energy dense than oil, and 3 million times more energy dense than coal. Thermonuclear fusion will be even orders of magnitude more energy dense." These calculations were based on the work of Dr. Robert J. Moon in 1985. Nuclear energy is not needed in mass quantities so it will last long. Coal is running out so nuclear energy could be needed to continue electricity.

“Clearly we need to be sure that the design that we are using in our power plants is the very best and the safest design. And whatever changes we need to make to those designs or to the regulations of those plants we need to make. But I’m not persuaded that nuclear power should be deleted from the list of options that we look at. ~Senator Jeff Bingaman. Although the energy may be dangerous to people it is the reactors that aren't containing it, so they need to be built a little better making nuclear energy a very useful source of electricity.

"The renaissance in new nuclear build creates an advantageous way of using these legacy materials as fuel for new nuclear power plants," ~David King. The quote reinforces the thought of how nuclear power is useful and it puts radioactive material to use which creates electricity for this generation to have.

Conclusion/Answer to Essential Question

Final Thoughts

Nuclear energy is a viable solution to the energy crisis (growing demand for energy) and it would solve most ecological problems. The pros outweigh the cons. If we focus more on developing our methods of containing radioactive waste, fail-safes and our planning on where we locate the plants, then we can adopt nuclear energy as our main source of energy for this generation.


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