By Chloe Smith
When people hear the word nuclear, they probably imagine a rising mushroom-shaped cloud, followed by ﬁre, fury and death. Or they think of Chernobyl, one of the most well-known nuclear meltdowns in history.
But what many people donʼt know is that energy can be harvested from nuclear power and is an alternate source for fossil fuels.
Are the dangers as pressing as many assume? Or should nuclear be used more often for our energy needs?
Atoms make up everything in our universe. In the center of the atom is the nucleus, which is where nuclear energy comes from. Nuclei are very dense, and the power that makes up the nucleus is called the “strong force.” When an atom is split, a process called nuclear ﬁssion, it produces energy.
A nuclear reactor, or power plant, uses pellets of uranium to split the atom. The splitting of the atom creates heat, which is then used to produce steam. The steam then moves a turbine, which produces electricity that is stored in a generator.
Rods of material called nuclear poison are used to control how much electricity is produced. Nuclear poison is often made of the element xenon, which absorbs some of the ﬁssion and can dampen the amount of energy. The less nuclear poison there is, the more energy is produced.
About 50 countries use nuclear power to create some of their electricity. Between 10-15% of the worldʼs power comes from nuclear energy. The United States has around 100 reactors in use. Lithuania, France, and Slovakia create almost all their energy from nuclear power plants.
A nuclear plant requires around 200 tons of uranium to run. Uranium is a common element, but the type of uranium, U-235, used for nuclear energy is rare. Many countries must import it. Plutonium is another element that can be used for nuclear ﬁssion.
Because uranium and plutonium can be used for nuclear weapons instead of power, countries that are part of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty are allowed to import these elements.
Unfortunately, nuclear costs are rising, and it can cost between $6 to $9 billion to build one nuclear power plant.
While risk is involved in every industry, especially one that involves splitting atoms, safety procedures are extremely important for a stable environment. The nuclear ﬁssion rods must be contained in concrete walls at least 30 cm thick and constantly monitored. The key to having a safe nuclear plant is vigilance for safety and monitoring the fuel.
So what happened at Chernobyl? Three Mile Island? Fukushima? In 1986 in Chernobyl, Ukraine, a steam explosion happened at one of the four nuclear power plants. The people running the plant did not follow safety procedures and kept the plant running at seven percent power while trying to remove the nuclear rods from the core. This caused the explosion.
The explosion created a plume of radioactive particles that fell to the ground, causing what is called fallout. The environment was polluted, and many animals and plants died. Thirty-one people were immediately killed, but the long-lasting radiation eﬀects will never be truly known.
Three Mile Island was another nuclear disaster that happened in 1979 in Pennsylvania. The power plant operators did not address the loss of coolant, which then caused a partial meltdown and leaked radioactive materials into the environment. It is the worst nuclear accident in U.S. history.
Fukushima was the result of a tsunami in 2011 in Japan. This broke down the power plants that caused several meltdowns. While the accident was contained, it took several months, and thousands of people had to evacuate for safety measures. No radiation sickness cases were documented, which showed that the meltdown was contained.
So is nuclear power a good, clean, energy source?
Nuclear power plants do not create greenhouse gases that can cause harm to the atmosphere. The steam used to power the generators can be recycled back into water, or released into the air where it doesnʼt harm the environment because it is water vapor.
However, radioactive waste is a valid concern regarding nuclear power. Radioactive waste can cause high risk for cancers, blood diseases, bone decay and burns. Items that are near radioactive waste become radioactive themselves, for hundreds of years. The government has strict regulations in disposing radioactive material, and it is controversial because of the risks.
Scientists are still researching nuclear power and how it can be harnessed to create energy for humanity. It is considered a valid alternative to clean energy, since it is more reliable than wind or the sun. However, radioactive waste poses a deadly threat if not dealt with safely, and so the battle for clean energy will continue for the near future.
ʻNew Ways and Needs for Exploiting Nuclear Energyʼ by Didier Sornette
https://world-nuclear.org/information-library/current-and-future-generation/nuc lear-power-in-the-world-today.aspx#:~:text=The%20ﬁrst%20commercial%20nucl ear%20power,of%20the%20total%20in%202020).
No Replies to "Don't overreact: Be informed about nuclear energy"