Currently, nuclear power is the leading source of emission-free energy in the world (Kleiner 131). Nuclear energy has been in existence for over two decades. The first recorded instance of nuclear energy was in 1985 after the accidental discovery of X-rays. After this initial discovery of x-rays, scientists across Europe started developing a keen interest on nuclear energy. Among the scientists who were studying nuclear energy, was Becquerel. Becquerel is the scientist who discovered Uranium. Nuclear energy has managed to infiltrate the world of science. Its production has also been the subject of political debates and standoffs. Since the last century, nuclear energy has had far-reaching impacts on the modern world. The thesis of this paper is to explore the effects nuclear power has on today’s scientific, political, and economical landscapes.
History of the Development of Nuclear Energy
There is a long history regarding the development of nuclear energy. The two veteran scientists Pierre and Marie Currie were the first to use the term radiation in reference to Uranium’s effects. During that time, radiation was being used to treat cancer, a use that has remained intact to date. Later on, nuclear energy became a prominent source of energy. The use of nuclear energy was first realized in Europe after intensive research on the subject. The United States and the United Kingdom conducted further research on the subject and managed to harness nuclear energy for technological development. After a series of global mishaps in the production of nuclear energy, its production was halted for some time. When production of nuclear energy resumed, countries in East Asia took full advantage of this fresh start. Today, nuclear energy is produced in almost all continents in the world.
Nuclear Power Generation Process
The process through which nuclear energy is produced has had several impacts on scientific research. The process through which nuclear energy is produced is referred to as fusion or fission. Nuclear energy is also called atomic energy in reference to the process involved in production of the energy. Though fission, Uranium atoms are split in order to produce massive amounts of energy. According to nuclear scientist Kurt Kleiner, the amount of “energy emitted when a single Uranium particle is split is 2.5 millions more than the energy produced when an equal amount of carbon is combusted” (131). This efficiency makes nuclear energy one of the most effective energy sources in the planet. For example, nuclear energy is responsible for more than twenty-percent of the total amount of electrical energy created in the United States.
Nuclear power has had a great impact on the world’s climate. The advent of global warming has prompted the need for clean energy sources. This is because environmentalists are seeking to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere all around the world. The process of producing nuclear energy emits negligible amounts of carbon dioxide. This makes nuclear energy one of the cleanest sources of energy. In addition, nuclear energy has the capacity to meet all the requirements of today’s industrial world. This means that when production of nuclear energy is harnessed, the world will benefit from a better environment and a virtually unlimited source of energy. There are many sectors of the economy that can benefit from increased nuclear energy production including the transport sector. The viability of this climate-friendly source of energy is likely to have a significant impact on future industrial ventures.
There are several rules that govern energy production processes. Nuclear energy production helps harmonize these regulatory standards. In the United States the use of nuclear and fossil fuel is regulated according to each state’s unique requirements. However, all states have to abide to the Clean Air Act of 1970. Other regulations are more specific to energy production stipulations, like the “Nitrogen Dioxide Call Rule”. Under the nitrogen-dioxide rule, a state’s emission of Nitrogen is limited to 565,000 tons. Most of the states that are governed by this rule achieve this limit by complimenting their existing energy sources with nuclear energy. If these states did not have the option of switching to nuclear energy, they would have difficulties in meeting their energy requirements. Nuclear energy is very useful in ensuring countries and states are able to implement their legislations and still manage to meet their energy requirements.
Nuclear energy has affected the energy production industry. Nuclear energy is statistically the most predictable source of power. In addition to its predictability, nuclear energy is also reliable and cheap to produce. There are many energy users who rely on nuclear energy as a source of electricity (Totty 17). The main advantage of using nuclear energy as a source of power is that its costs rarely fluctuate. Other energy sources are regularly affected by changes in cost due to internal or external factors. For example, changes in weather and crude oil supply can affect electricity costs. Nuclear energy costs are also less likely to be affected by national or international politics. Over reliance on oil as a primary source of energy is also subject to foreign influences. Matthes notes that nuclear power plants are only costly to set up; once they are operational, they can offer power at low costs (49). In addition, nuclear power plants are built with the capacity to withstand most calamities. Other power sources are often interrupted by events such as hurricanes, floods, and droughts. Since nuclear energy began being used as source of power, energy industry stakeholders have become less worried about power interruptions.
Disposal of nuclear waste has had a huge impact on global industrial waste standards. Nuclear power reactors generate huge amounts of power from fairly small quantities of fuel. This means the amount of waste derived from the production of nuclear energy is also very small. However, radioactive waste is very dangerous and harms humans and animals. Therefore, maximum precaution is taken when handling radioactive waste. In the past, radiation leaks have occurred and the results have been devastating (Cooper 68). Whenever radioactive waste is exposed to the atmosphere, it has the capacity to emit radiation for over one hundred years. This means that radioactive waste has to be stored for a very long time before it can be safely dumped to open atmosphere. This is one of the factors that hinder the expansion of nuclear programs in most countries. The radioactive isotopes contained in nuclear waste possess long half-lives and this gives them the ability to remain in the atmosphere for long periods. These isotopes are also very reactive and this gives them the ability to contaminate water, sand, or soil. The harmful nature of radioactive waste makes production of nuclear energy a very complicated undertaking. The task of ensuring radioactive waste is dumped in the correct manner is mostly bestowed upon the government. There are also several regulatory bodies around the world that act as “watchmen” against improper disposal of radioactive waste. These regulators ensure that humankind is kept safe from the effects of radioactive exposure.
There is a lot of complexity involved in disposing nuclear waste. This is why radioactive waste is classified into two categories. There is the low level and the high-level categories of radioactive waste. High-level radioactive waste refers to waste that is still highly radioactive. The logistics involved in disposing high-level radioactive wastes are complex because this type of waste stays radioactive for long periods of time. Some examples of high-level radioactive waste are Technetium and Iodine-129. These by-products are very difficult to dump owing to their long half-life. For instance, Iodine-129 possesses a half life of fifteen million years. The low-level radioactive waste refers to the materials that are contaminated in the process of producing nuclear energy. This type of waste includes the equipment that remains after a reactor is shut down. The waste may include clothes, hand tools, water purifiers, and the materials used to build a reactor. While high-level radioactive waste requires a complex waste-disposal process, low-level waste does not. In fact, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission believes low-level nuclear waste should be treated like normal waste.
Nuclear energy affects the considerations of human safety in a big way. According to the Engineering Journal, radioactive waste management is aimed at protecting the integrity of all living organisms (Javidkia, Hashemi, and Zabihi 814). The stakeholders of nuclear energy production want to achieve zero nuclear waste mismanagement cases. For instance, low-level waste can be disposed in a landfill (Macfarlane 1). The best way to dispose high-level waste is by making sure that the nuclear fuel is exhausted before being wasted. This process might involve recycling of fuel. Modern reactors are built in a manner that makes it possible for them to recycle nuclear fuel. High-level waste has to be stored for a long time before being released to the biosphere. This makes an underground waste disposal mechanism the best method of accomplishing this task. Disposing nuclear waste in over-the-ground reactors comes with a lot of risks and uncertainties. However, in all these processes human safety is usually the main priority. For instance, numerous experiments have been conducted when trying to come up with an effective way of handling radioactive waste.
Since nuclear power began being used, there have been a number of radiation related accidents. This trend has affected the disaster preparedness mechanisms of the stakeholders in the nuclear power industry. There are two accidents that have had a big impact on the nuclear power industry. There is the Chernobyl disaster of 1986 and the Fukushima disaster of 2011. Although these two disasters happened over a quarter century apart, they both caught the world’s attention in a similar manner. In the Chernobyl disaster, a nuclear reactor exploded letting tons of radioactive elements into the atmosphere. The effects of this explosion were felt in an area that stretched across several countries. While this explosion happened in Russia, several other nations including Sweden, Ukraine, and Belarus suffered from the consequent pollution (Petryna 30). Both Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters caused immense losses in both human and financial capital. However, nuclear power disasters cause fewer losses in terms of human capital as compared to other energy sources. Current statistics show that productions of coal and natural gases cause more deaths than productions of nuclear power. Nevertheless, nuclear disasters have caused more losses in terms of economic capital. For instance, out of all the energy related accidents, nuclear accidents account for more than forty percent of property damages. There is ongoing international research that aims to reduce nuclear plant accidents. This research is looking into new improvements like the possibility of having safer nuclear plants. This research is often tasking and expensive and this fact outlines yet another impact of nuclear power.
Even slight exposure to radioactive elements can have overwhelming effects on the human health. Whenever a person is exposed to radioactive elements, he/she might exhibit symptoms such as vomiting, nausea, fatigue, and diarrhea. People who work in nuclear power plants bear the highest risk of exposure. However, most people who work in nuclear power plants take maximum precautions in readiness of such an eventuality. People who live near power plants are also at risk of coming into contact with radioactive elements. The government often prevents people from living near power reactors. However, in case of a leak or an explosion, the effects of radiation can be felt several miles away. In case of an exposure to radiation, first aid should be administered to the affected person and then the patient should be taken to a doctor for further examinations. Radiation leaks could be deadly to humans but they can be prevented by taking the necessary measures and precautions.
The effects of setting up a nuclear power plant are very far reaching. Even after a nuclear power plant stops functioning, it still continues to incur costs. The process of making a nuclear power plant inactive is often referred to as decommissioning. This process is supposed to ensure that a nuclear energy facility and its surrounding environment are safe enough for other uses. This cooling process may take over a hundred years. After this period is over, the power plant has to be dismantled and then cut into disposable pieces. Decommissioning a nuclear reactor is a long, expensive, and hazardous process. The costs involved in decommissioning a nuclear power plant can be fifty percent more than the costs of building a new one. In the United States, decommissioning a single power plant costs between three hundred million and six billion dollars. The cost of decommissioning a nuclear accident site is even higher. There are thirteen reactors that are in the process of shutting down in the United States. None of these thirteen decommissioning processes has been completed. The effect of decommissioning on nuclear power production is huge. The process is also the most tasking in the entire production cycle of nuclear energy.
Impacts of Nuclear Energy
The impacts of nuclear energy on the scientific, economic, and political landscapes are vast. Nuclear energy has made several positive contributions to technological developments. Some of these impacts concern everyday activities like electricity generation. Nuclear energy is also helping reverse the effects of global warming by providing a clean source of energy. However, nuclear energy has also caused irreparable damages to the atmosphere. The Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters are proof of what mishandling nuclear energy could cause. Although nuclear energy is cheap to produce, the cost of decommissioning nuclear power plants is prohibitive. The reliability of nuclear energy makes it a good source of power. However, further improvements are needed to make sure that instances of radiation accidents are reduced. The research should also focus on reducing the economic capital that is associated with nuclear energy.
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