The Potential of Nuclear Energy

Author: Jiahao Wu

Editors: Tharindi Jayatilake and Galiba Anjum

Artist: Selena Zheng

Why Nuclear Power Makes Sense

Why Nuclear Power Still Doesn’t Make Sense

Have you ever thought about where our electricity comes from? There is no single answer, our electricity comes from a variety of sources, from coal-fired plants to sustainable sources and even nuclear! The majority of our power comes from coal-burning plants, with less than twelve percent coming from sustainable energy. While innovations for cleaner energy, like solar or wind power, are becoming more common, the energy industry still relies heavily on three fossil fuels: gas, coal, and oil. These three combined are responsible for 85.5% of the world’s energy supply. The main reason we depend on fossil fuels is that they are abundant, cheap, and easily accessible.

In contrast, only 10.1% of the energy we use is sustainable. One of the reasons for this low figure is the convenience of fossil fuels. Many of us are used to utilizing non-renewable resources at home, for example, we use oil to fuel our cars. Transitioning to different sources of power is foreign and in some cases, deemed unacceptable. However, in recent years, efforts have been made to integrate other sources of power more into global electricity consumption. But what about nuclear energy? It is in its category because it is not renewable and does not rely on carbon for its use. Although nuclear energy seems like a logical and preferred source of power, the waste and fear of its use are major deterrents to why we do not depend on it. But, we should revisit how useful and effective nuclear energy could be for a better future.

Let’s look at the history of nuclear energy. In 1934, physicist Enrico Fermi first attempted to bombard Uranium with neutrons. He found out that the leftover elements were much lighter than Uranium. In 1939, scientists all over the world discovered the possibility of a self-sustaining chain reaction. It only required enough uranium at critical mass. In early 1942, a group of scientists led by Fermi started developing theories, and in the same year, the construction of the first nuclear reactor. On December 2, 1942, the world entered the nuclear age. However, the earliest development was used for effective weapons in World War II (WII). Some scientists also tried to make breeder reactors to obtain more fission material. The main research done in the mid-1950s was to show that nuclear energy could produce electricity commercially. After decades of research and experiments, including unfortunate accidents such as the Fukushima disaster, nuclear energy had risen to become a controversial topic as to whether or not it deserves to be more emphasized in the energy industry.

With the rise of other cheaper and cleaner, even more so than nuclear energy, nuclear power plants are forgotten. However, nuclear energy does produce carbon-free electricity and has the benefit of being run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This is a big advantage over other sources, such as solar energy which requires the sun and wind energy needing the wind to operate. Economically, it created millions of jobs that support countless families. A leading example in terms of nuclear energy is that of France. France derives about 75% of its energy from a nuclear source. Due to the surplus, it even earns about 3 billion euro per year exporting electricity.

However, it also has many drawbacks. According to an MIT study done in 2003, the prospects of nuclear energy are bleak. Nuclear reactors become expensive to maintain and hard to choose over other generation technologies. These other renewable energy sources are much cheaper to use. Another disadvantage of nuclear energy is the waste that it produces. While there are temporary measures in place to hold this waste, the problem persists. Although a tiny percentage of the waste is at a very high level (with over 90% at a low level) the buildup over time can contribute to a larger problem. One such plan to deal with long term effects is to find a long-term repository to hold all the waste. As a result of these measures, nuclear power is relatively balanced in terms of advantages and disadvantages.

As a result of many influencing factors, nuclear energy is seen as the short-term solution towards cleaner energy. It is a big step in the right direction for humans to keep environmental standards as well as progress in terms of technology. However, in the coming years, the energy and funds in nuclear energy should be converted towards other non-renewable resources.

Citation

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