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Nuclear Power as a Way to Produce Energy

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Nuclear energy is the energy that is released through the splitting of atoms.1Atom is derived from the Greek word atomos, which means invisible. During the 1900s, scientists had discovered that the atom held great quantities of energy. In 1934, Nobel Prize winner Enrico Fermi demonstrated that nuclear transformation occurs in almost every element subjected to neutron bombardment; which led to the discovery of nuclear fission.2 Chicago-Pile 1, the world’s first nuclear reactor, was built in 1942, and lead by Enrico Fermi.3The completion of the reactor allowed mankind to control the release of nuclear energy. Having developed nuclear weapons, the use and proliferation of nuclear power in World War II devastated the entire world. From 1945 to 1980, Russia and America took part in the Cold War as both competed over who could build the deadlier weapon. Faced with the possible scenario of a world nuclear war, the United Nations helped to set up the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 1957 to help nations develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.4 Nuclear power plants provided 12.3 percent of the world’s electricity production in 2012.5 80 percent of the world’s energy comes from fossil fuels.6 However, fossil fuels have unleashed many destructive elements on the world’s atmosphere. With this knowledge in hand, the use of nuclear reactors should be steadily implemented into the general use of energy consumption, as it can mediate the many problems that other methods of producing energy (fossil fuels) may have caused. These problems include the amount of money invested in acquiring fossil fuels, environmental pollution, as well as limitations in the amount of nonrenewable resources.

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The production of nuclear power is essentially a lot cheaper than the production of fossil fuels, which could then save a vast amount of money. According to Environment America, between the years 2010 and 2030, the United States will spend as much as $30 trillion on oil, coal, and other fossil fuels – nearly four times the total earnings of all American workers in 2007.In 2008 alone, America’s national bill for fossil fuels exceeded $1 trillion, more than the amount spent on education and the military.7 The United States requires vast amounts of electricity in order to function. This is why the United States relies on heavy quantities of fossil fuels, as fossil fuels have been in use for over a century. But there are smarter ways through which the US can produce energy, as well as save money. Nuclear energy addresses this problem because it takes so little money, compared to fossil fuels, to produce an adequate amount of energy. The amount of money that it takes to turn 1 kg of uranium into useable fuel is around $2360.8This in turn, produces around 500,000 mega joules of energy, which is also 500 gigajoules, and one person uses 150-350 gigajoules each year. On the other hand, coal, natural gas, and oil produce from 30-45 mega joules of energy. With the amount of energy fossil fuels produce, it would be a lot easier to switch to nuclear power. Nuclear power costs less than fossil fuels, and produces more energy. If the United States were to invest in something other than fossil fuels, the amount of money that would be saved could be invested on other areas of the economy.

Research conducted on the earth’s atmosphere has been compiled over the years, evidence that fossil fuels conduct destructive damage to the ozone layer. According to NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Columbia Earth Institute, 1.84 million deaths were prevented by nuclear power production from 1971 to 2009. 9 Also, according to the American Chemical Society, replacing all forecasted nuclear power use until 2050 would increase the number of deaths: Natural gas by 420,000 deaths and coal by 7 million deaths. 10Coal contributes towards many of the leading ailments in human beings. It has been researched that coal affects lung development, increases the risk of heart attacks, and compromises intellectual capacity.11 Nuclear energy on the other hand does not emit any form of noxious gases or greenhouse gases. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, a single coal plant can produce up to 22,000 tons of noxious fumes and greenhouse gas emissions. After having been dispersed into the atmosphere, these gases can wreak devastation on the Earth. Although the United States has attempted to promote natural gas as a way of emitting less carbon emissions, gas still creates methane. Methane is just as deadly as the carbon emissions of coal because it traps heat more easily, compared to fossil fuels.12 Fossil fuels have been proven to emit ghastly fumes which are deadly to the economy, the environment, and the overall health of society. Nuclear energy is ultimately the safest way to produce energy, as there are virtually no emissions at all, and poses no health issues.

There are many mixed thoughts about the use of nuclear power. According to the article Exploring Students’ Ideas about Risks and Benefits of Nuclear Power Using Risk Perception Theories, in a study done at three school locations in Turkey, three quarters of the student population thought that nuclear power would make global warming worse.13There also have been episodes in the past, where nuclear accidents have occurred. One event includes the accident at Three Mile Island 2 in 1979, near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. As a result of this accident, 700,000 gallons of radioactive water ended up in the basement of the reactor building. A small amount of radioactive material was released into the environment.14Another event includes the Chernobyl accident on April 26, 1986. In Chernobyl, Ukraine, Reactor Four failed and a chemical explosion followed its failure. The Chernobyl plant did not have an effective containment structure, and without that protection, radioactive material escaped into the wider environment.15It is estimated that about 5 million people were exposed to radiation. Another incident that occurred almost 25 years later was the Fukushima disaster in Japan. On March 11, 2011, 4 nuclear reactors were damaged due to the effects of an earthquake, and a tsunami. Over 100,000 people had to be evacuated from their homes. Although these past events reflect the results of human error and natural disasters, future measures can be taken to ensure that these events do not occur again. After the Three Mile Island incident, the government established the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations in order to promote excellence in operator training, and plant management and operation. The World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO) was created in response to the Chernobyl accident to foster international cooperation and dialogue among the nuclear industry. From this tragedy emerged a culture of collaboration and a commitment to continuous safety among the global nuclear community.16 Also, after the Fukushima accident, the International Atomic Energy Agency proposed a Nuclear Safety Action Plan regarding the defense against natural hazards, regulatory oversight, accident management and emergency response.17 Through these policies, the world can come together and work on an international agreement on the use and safety of nuclear power.

All in all, nuclear power is a resourceful way to produce energy. The benefits of nuclear energy will be able to solve a majority of the problems faced through the investment in fossil fuels. Although there have been complications in the past with nuclear energy, certain steps taken in the right direction could fix and prevent these problems from occurring again. Overall, nuclear power would be beneficial towards human energy consumption and the benefits could be seen through a healthier environment. Precautionary acts concerning safety and health must be taken before global use of nuclear power is implemented internationally.

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