How Important Is Energy Sustainability Environmental Sciences Essay
Thesis statement: With non renewable resources of energy being consumed at a very rapid rate, sustainability of energy has become the need of the hour. In the current context of meeting the global energy demands nuclear energy meets every reasonable criterion for sustainability.
The increase in the concerns about the harmful side-effects of global warming, coupled with a faster dwindling of the conventional sources of energy, have led to a renewed interest in nuclear energy. After the Cold War, nuclear energy development was largely forgotten for many years until this renewed desire among developed nations for the availability of alternative energy sources to meet their ever increasing energy demands. With the prices of oil and global warming concerns rising steadily, the clean-burning properties of nuclear power are becoming much more attractive. Nuclear energy is viewed as an ideal replacement for the non renewable sources of energy for the four following main reasons. Firstly Nuclear energy produces the most energy than any non-renewable resource. Secondly high reserves of uranium are found on earth which is the raw material for nuclear reactors. Thirdly there is no release of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, ozone, chlorofluorocarbons during a nuclear reaction. Finally the amount of waste produced is the least of any major energy production process. Although there are various risks involved when using nuclear energy, I will argue that nuclear energy is the best source of energy to replace oil and also I will argue that nuclear energy wastes are treatable, can be recycled and possess no threat to mankind.
Of the various advantages of nuclear energy, its efficiency is by far the most important. One of the major criterions that determine an efficient source of energy is the amount of energy it produces and how it impacts the environment. It is a basic energy fact that the fission of an atom of uranium produces 10 million times the energy from an atom of carbon than does coal. Nuclear energy extracts by far more energy from the natural resource Uranium than does the exploitation of oil or any other natural resource. In 1950’s Dr. M. Hubbard, Geologist at Shell, said that US Oil would peak in 10 to 15 years. He was laughed at and in the 1970’s we ran out of Oil. His statement was based on a “Discovery Bell Curve” which said oil production continues to go up even after the oil discovery’s drop off and that the rate that we run out of oil can be measured on the lack of new discoveries. Here’s a quote from NEI’s website: “Nuclear plants are the lowest-cost producer of baseload electricity. The average production cost of 1.87 cents per kilowatt-hour includes the costs of operating and maintaining the plant, purchasing fuel and paying for the management of used fuel.” These facts prove nuclear energy as the most efficient form of energy over its competitors, including oil, coal, wind, hydroelectric, and near-term solar power.
Many people are of the opinion that uranium is a rare metal, but it’s about as common as copper or tin and 40 times more common than silver. Uranium, the chief source of nuclear fuel, is vastly abundant, which makes this resource similar to other renewable resources. As per the NEA’s (Nuclear Energy Agency) findings, uranium resources of total 5.5 million metric tons and an additional 10.5 million metric tons remain undiscovered-a roughly 230-year supply at today’s consumption rate in total. Bernard Cohen’s, Professor of Physics at Pittsburgh University, 5 billion year estimate is based on extracting uranium from seawater, which the Japanese have already shown to work. Cohen calculated that we could take 16,000 tons per year of uranium from seawater, which would supply 25 times the world’s present electricity usage and twice the world’s present total energy consumption. He argued that given the geological cycles of erosion, subduction and uplift, the supply would last for 5 billion years with a withdrawal rate of 6,500 ton per year. His comments support the fact that uranium is a renewable resource of energy.
Among the many benefits of nuclear power, the main advantage of nuclear power over other methods is that it is a clean way to produce energy as it does not result in the emission of any of the poisonous gases like carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide or nitrogen dioxide. With the pollution levels in the atmosphere greatly affecting the general climatic conditions, nuclear energy is definitely a preferable option when compared to burning of fossil fuels (Dujardin 2007). Production of nuclear energy doesn’t contribute to emission of green house gases as it does in the case of fossil fuels. Also, going by the alarming rate at which the fossil fuels are burned, it is predicted that, the coal and oil deposits across the world are expected to deplete by end of this century. Uranium deposits, on the other hand are here to remain for a long time, and even if they get depleted, alternative sources in form of plutonium and thorium also exist.
Nuclear energy is also considered to be renewable depending on the type of reactor that is being used. A special type of reactor design called a breeder reactor can create or refine radioactive elements as a part of its functioning (Young, 1998). There are breeder designs that, once operating, can refine uranium, turning even natural uranium into fuel-grade uranium that can be used by other standard reactors. Some breeder designs create plutonium as a byproduct, which can be used for either power generation or in nuclear weapons. Currently, there are 442 reactors operating in the world, 130 of which are in the United States. Another 12 are being built in foreign countries. With the current technology, only 1% of the energy available in uranium is able to be captured by thermal reactors. This energy makes up between 11% and 18% of the total energy available in the world. Developing technologies that would allow us to capture more of this available energy is at least 15 years away, but with incentives, these advances could be a realistic part of our future. The potential is not the only part of the advantages of nuclear energy.
Nuclear energy has another advantage in that it is relatively inexpensive to produce when compared to conventional methods of energy production. Uranium is reasonably cheap to mine, and easy to transport to reactors around the globe, making nuclear energy. While the cost of producing other forms of energy has risen steadily over the last 26 years, the cost of producing nuclear energy has dropped, over the same period of time, with an average finished cost between 3 and 5 cents per kilowatt (Makhijani & Saleska, 1999). The potential is not the only part of the advantages of nuclear energy. Regardless of the various definitions of ‘renewable’, nuclear power therefore meets every reasonable criterion for sustainability, which is the prime concern.
Both, the disadvantages and advantages of nuclear power plants have to be taken into consideration when determining whether this source of energy is efficient for development of power or not. While the critics of nuclear energy have been citing the various nuclear power plant disasters that have occurred in the past as one of the main reason for refraining from use of nuclear energy, its proponents are confident that it has the ability to sustain the energy requirements of the entire world, in a safe manner. Overall, however, I believe that the use of nuclear energy greatly outweighs any other sources of energy.