Nuclear power for future energy supplies
Should Nuclear Power Be Developed For Future Energy Supplies?
I am writing this essay to debate the idea of having nuclear power developed for future use by us. This takes on a major issue and covers many aspects of our nations energy use both in present and for the future.
When we think about nuclear power we do not automatically think of it as a non renewable energy source. This is because it is not part of the fossils fuels; coal, oil and gas, which we all know will not last us as reliable energy sources for much longer. However, nuclear power is a non renewable energy source and has many dedicated power stations located around the UK. Nuclear energy is considered an important fuel to produce energy as it currently provides 28% of this country’s needs, compared to the feeble 1% of renewable energy used.
How Is Nuclear Energy Made?
Nuclear energy is obtained by processes of nuclear fission and fusion. In nuclear fission the energy is released by splitting the atom sending a neutron blasting through the nucleus, this makes other neutrons fly off at high speeds setting up a chain reaction. Nuclear fusion is the opposite by which the nuclei of two or more atoms fuse together, in the process mass is lost and this is then converted into energy.
Production of energy takes place inside a nuclear reactor which consists of a core surrounded by a thick concrete shield, steam pipes, turbines and a final (electricity) generator. After the mining of the ore (this is mainly uranium or plutonium ore) has been done the pure uranium is turned into uranium dioxide which is made into pellets. Several of these pellets are placed inside fuel rods. Usually there are about 90,000 fuel rods placed in the core of a reactor. Nuclear fission takes place inside the core by which the isotope splits using the atoms in the uranium dioxide from the pellets. The immense heat produced by this is carried away by fluid circulating through the reactor core. Once the fluid becomes heated it is used to produce steam, this steam drives the turbines which in turn rotate the main electricity generators to produce clean, reliable electricity.
During this process there is a massive amount of radiation and so this is why the core is surrounded by a thick concrete shield to absorb this radiation.
Arguments For Using And Developing Nuclear Power
To satisfy our general needs of heating our water, heating our homes, cooking our food, powering our appliances and lighting our rooms, we need to retrieve energy from the many many methods available to us. One of these choices is nuclear energy. There are very good reasons why it should be considered and developed further, to be used in the future. Firstly, by comparing it to the other non renewable energy sources (coal, oil and natural gas), nuclear power is a very clean energy as it does not produce any of the greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, which lead to the greenhouse effect or global warming. This problem is significant for the disintegration of the ozone layer when fossil fuels are burnt to release energy. Plus using this form of energy can save the reserves we have left of some of the precious fossils fuels like oil, which is said to run out within the next 50 years.
Because nuclear power already supplies 28% of the UK’s energy, it is also much more reliable at present than many of the renewable options we have available such as wind, solar and wave. A very important point and something that must be considered is that there can be huge amount of energy produced from just a small amount of nuclear element. Just one kilogram of uranium can produce as much energy as 3,000,000 kilograms of coal.
Many people also feel that the ‘dumping’ of waste is a major issue. It is a concerning factor, but when looking at the real statistics, the nuclear power industry produces 2,000 tonnes of nuclear waste every year in the United States, whereas the coal fired power plants are producing a staggering 100,000,000 tonnes of ash and sludge which is blown into the atmosphere being breathed in by us plus contributing to global warming.
Finally, with the nuclear energy economy being one of the safest in the world, producing the cheapest energy, development in the future can provide thousands of jobs and other opportunities of stable employment for many people.
Arguments Against Using And Developing Nuclear Power
As well as the very well argued points agreeing with the future use of nuclear energy, there is opposition to this expansion. There are many people and often groups that raise concerns about the safety of nuclear power. Nuclear waste that is produced from the nuclear power stations emits a very high amount of dangerous radiation that can stay radioactive for up to 25,000 years so it must be disposed of very carefully. Any accident is extremely dangerous and can kill any life in the surrounding area immediately.
A case study that shows the extreme risk of development of nuclear power and what can happen if an accident occurs is the 1986 incident in Chernobyl, Russia. Here a nuclear reactor exploded killing 31 people, and around 140,000 people were evacuated as quickly as possible. This area around the explosion was contaminated by radiation and this will remain for a long period of time. The clouds of radioactive material that were also released by the explosion spread, reaching even as far as Sweden. The wind that blew from Chernobyl also came across to Britain and caused acid and other toxic rain that ruined farmland, making the soil radioactive. Farmers are still having problems in parts of Wales because of the radiation that has spread as a result of an accident at a nuclear power plant.
Rather than looking at nuclear energy’s dangers, it also has a few faults. One of these are that a big part of the energy that is created must be blown away because it cannot be used. Nuclear power is also unable to adjust to a lower power production for night. These are faults which not only can cause problems but also inconvenience.
Back to the issue of the nuclear waste, focusing away from its safety concerns, and more about where it can be disposed of without causing major problems. As it does stay radioactive for a very long time it must be discarded carefully. The pollution of this waste can cause serious effects on both people and the environment. An example of pollution has been in the Irish sea which was dreadfully polluted by the nuclear waste from the power plant at Sellafield in Cumbria. This fuel should ideally be stored in a safe environment either underground or in special concrete surrounded stainless steel liquid tanks.
Another concern that is brought up with nuclear power is the potential for nuclear weapons to be developed. In these weapons would be uncontrolled nuclear fission where even if just a small amount of unstable uranium or plutonium is used, a bomb would explode. If more countries turned to the development of nuclear energy we could be at risk of production of these weapons by countries such those in the Middle East and terrorist groups, some believe it may even lead to a possible nuclear war in the future.
Looking at all of the arguments for and against the issue of whether nuclear power should be developed for future energy supplies, they are all valid reason that should be taken into account. As for my personal response, I feel that nuclear energy should not be developed as the building of more power plants could cause harmful effects, especially if accidents occur. I feel that the chance of accidents taking place are far more likely if this source of energy is developed. This can lead to the deaths of many lives due to the sheer amount of radiation. Plus looking at the locations of nuclear power plants in the UK, they are mainly in remote areas, for obvious reasons, and also near the sea. More of these can lead to their expansion in more populated areas putting many lives in danger.
I also feel that instead of turning to another non renewable energy from fossil fuels, it is far better to invest and research into the development of renewable sources which will give us clean, cheap energy in the future. By looking at changing the technology for these alternatives now, we can help plan for the future. However, if the nuclear industry was developed then when reserves of uranium and plutonium ran out we would once again be searching for other ways.
So overall I feel that nuclear energy, although cheap and reliable, is not the best option to be developed for future use, not just in this country but around the world.