Preparing for the Future Or Focusing on the Present of Nuclear Energy

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Technology isn’t free. Whether it be maintaining power for an entire building or just simply charging a cell phone, some type of energy is being used to keep these both functioning. This energy that we use is not going to last forever, and even though there are various types we have unlocked such as solar, chemical, light, and even electrical energy, the world must always have other outlets to turn to in the event there is no longer accessibility to one or more of these options. One source of energy scientists are still attempting to fully understand is nuclear energy. Nuclear energy has gathered a very mixed feedback, with some accepting it as a way to power the future because of its respectable amount of positives, and some completely rejecting the idea because of the potential danger revolving nuclear plants; calling for the plants to be decommissioned and permanently shut down. Both arguments have been made very clear in recent years and will expand on the discussion whether preparing for the future or focusing on the present of the nuclear energy is better.

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To begin with, nuclear energy is a very complex subject. In order to create the energy, nuclear physicists must use either the fission process, or the fusion process. Fission is when large atoms located in the nucleus are broken down into smaller atoms, while the fusion technique binds smaller atoms into larger atoms. Up to date, fission is the only current way to generate electricity, making it much more common than fusion. Once done, the atoms create steam, which then generates electricity via a turbine generator (Nuclear Energy 1). Nuclear energy has grown tremendously since its birth, with more and more beginning to see its productivity and usefulness. As of this year, over 30 countries around the world have a functioning nuclear energy plant. Over 50 more plants have been approved to begin construction in different areas, including Plant Vogtle, which is currently under construction in Waynesboro, Georgia. Nuclear energy’s popularity has grown each year since it first began to be introduced.

Nuclear energy is already used for various different reasons in today’s society, even on some items people use everyday. One common item that uses nuclear energy is smoke detectors. Through the use of americium-241, a decay product that comes from nuclear reactors and is used in smoke detectors, particles are emitted into a current between two electrodes, which if is smoke is present around, will set off the alarm in the detector. Nuclear energy is additionally found all throughout the transportation industry. Nuclear energy is present in several forms of transportation such as automobiles, ships, and even space vehicles as well. By using the heat produced at nuclear power plants to create hydrogen, more fuel cells to power cars can be produced to help lower the usage of gas. Some submarines are powered by smaller nuclear reactors to operate for long durations at sea and to refuel less often (World Nuclear Association, 1). In addition to aquatic vessels, space rovers also require nuclear energy, using radioisotope thermal generators to power the rover, since solar energy would not provide enough electricity for it to function properly. Finally, and arguably one of the most important uses of nuclear energy is its presence in the medical industry. The radiation and radioisotopes produced in nuclear energy are used in diagnostics and treatments for several diseases and cancers. Nuclear methods can be more beneficial than an x-ray in certain cases, as it shows a better depiction of soft tissue and bone. Radioactive iodine is one example of nuclear energy used to treat problems such as cancer located in the thyroid gland. Gamma radiation produced from nuclear energy is also used to clean equipment used in hospitals, since other forms of energy, such as heat, would damage the equipment(The Many Uses 1). In the end, there is an abundant amount of uses for nuclear energy, these being some of the more common, and more important uses of nuclear energy.

All sources of energy have benefits, with some benefits pertaining specifically to that source, and some benefits that other sources share as well. There are several positive aspects regarding the use of nuclear energy, and only a few negative aspects, which differentiates nuclear energy from all the other sources. The ratio of positive to negative effects is reassuring, and helps nuclear energy branch out from the other sources. One major benefit when using nuclear energy is the effect it has on the environment around it. When nuclear energy is produced, there is a lesser amount of radiation let off into the atmosphere compared to any other major source of energy (Rhodes 1). This means nuclear energy poses a small threat of increasing global warming, a huge issue facing the world today. Another profit when producing nuclear energy is its capacity factor. A plant’s capacity factor shows how much the plant operates in a specific amount of time. Since nuclear power plants do not rely on the sun, the wind, or the rain to function, they have the highest capacity factor. On average, nuclear plants have a 92.3 percent capacity factor, demonstrating that most plants are producing energy just about 336 of the 365 days in a year. Nuclear plants also typically require less maintenance compared to a few other types of power plants. When created, nuclear plants were expected to function 24 hours a day, all seven days of the week. This is exactly what the plants have done, only needing time off for events like refueling, which is only necessary every one and a half to two years, or small repairs. As stated earlier, another benefit nuclear energy has is that it doesn’t depend on the sun, wind, or rain. What nuclear energy is currently mostly composed of is uranium, an element found in the ground of earth. Although studies show that currently there is about 80 years left of useable uranium, (Zyga 1) scientists discovered another element called thorium, which can also be used to produce energy, like uranium. Thorium is also three times more present throughout the earth compared to uranium, meaning there is enough to keep nuclear plants running for the next century or two (Thorium 1). In the end, all types of energy have positive outcomes when producing, these being some of nuclear energy’s positives.

If there are so many uses and benefits to nuclear energy, then why is it not the main source of energy throughout the world today? Like all other energy sources, nuclear energy is not perfect, and does have its own drawbacks. The most popular one deals with the safety of the communities and environment of those who live around the plants. Throughout the years, there have been over 30 serious nuclear plant explosions. Two of the most popular disasters are the catastrophes at the Chernobyl plant, and the plant located in Fukushima. At Chernobyl, a flawed reactor along with poor operation from the crew, caused the reactor to explode, releasing nuclear waste and radiation all throughout nearby areas. Over thirty died on impact of the explosion and over 25 more died later due to radiation or other effects of the explosion. In the explosion of Fukushima, a tsunami and earthquake caused the cooling of three 3 reactors to suddenly stop, eventually causing several explosions to occur throughout the reactors. Like Chernobyl, locals had to be quickly evacuated, due to waste and radiation. Although there were no deaths caused only by the meltdown, over 160,000 people were eventually forced to evacuate their homes. To this day, cooling of the plant still continues and it isn’t safe to return directly to the sight of the explosions that occurred at the plant (Chernobyl Accident 1). These disasters in the past now cause present day plants to get more expensive examinations, repairs, and maintenance, causing two plants to close this year alone Although the potential disasters receives most of the backlash surrounding nuclear plants, disposing of nuclear waste is also of high concern to an abundance of people with an opinion on the matter. Traditionally, waste is kept in sealed containers in an underground area away from anyone it can expose radiation to. Although this seems safe, accidents have happened and many have concerns with keeping high amounts of waste that will remain active for thousands of years all in the same place. Another method to get rid of waste is to dig very deep into the ground, and eventually dump the waste in a spot with no population around it, such as under a mountain, or the deep depths of the ocean. The problem with this is that if the waste were to somehow reach any part of an area with living creatures, the effect on the creatures in it can be drastic. Waste reaching living creatures can cause numerous cancer spots, and even genetic mutations (Rinkesh 1). Many have called for plants to be shut down and no longer built due to the struggle to get rid of the waste. These are the negative aspects of nuclear energy, and they are major, forcing several plants to be decommissioned in recent years, and will maybe even force more to come to a close in the near future as well, if no safe solutions are found.

To sum up, the majority of the world today relies heavily on technology in order to function everyday. Many do not realize that there is no completely unlimited amount of a single source of energy that can power the world itself. This means we must rely on more than one source to keep the world powered. One source that can be relied on is nuclear energy. Although nuclear energy has many positive effects, it also has its downsides as well, causing a few plants to close down recently. Nobody can be certain that nuclear energy will continue to be used in the future, or if it will be completely negated as a source of energy entirely but one thing is certain, it is an option now, and will be in the days to come.   

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