Nuclear Energy: Overview

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Introduction

Nuclear energy refers to power generated from exothermic nuclear processes such as nuclear fission, nuclear fusion, and nuclear decay (Cravens, 2007). Among the three processes, nuclear fission is the most effective method of nuclear energy production. It is responsible for more than 30% of the nuclear energy produced in the world today. Nuclear fission energy is sustainable because it produces low amounts of carbon, uses modern technology that reduces environmental pollution, and promotes safety (Herbst & Hopley, 2007). Current designs used in nuclear plants include Light Water Reactors (LWR), which are capable of producing energy at 90% efficiency levels. In addition, nuclear fission reactors are cost effective compared to other types of nuclear energy processes.

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Technological arguments

Nuclear fission power plants utilize technologies that are also used for other purposes besides generation of energy (McLeish, 2007). For example, they are used for development of nuclear weapons. Arguments have been presented against development of nuclear weapons. The Megatons to Megawatts program has contributed significantly towards reducing the proliferation of nuclear weapons (Herbst & Hopley, 2007). The program includes advanced technologies that convert uranium into fuel that is consumed by nuclear reactors. Nuclear fission plants use technologies that reduce pollution and promote human safety. Current designs of nuclear plants include Light Water Reactors (LWR) that have an estimated efficiency level of 90%, which means that they emit few toxic gases (Cravens, 2007). Moreover, the technologies used produce waste products that have low economic and environmental impacts.

Economics

The construction of nuclear power plants is very expensive because it requires high amounts of capital. However, once constructed, the plants have low fuel requirements (Herbst & Hopley, 2007). They consume little fuel. As fossil fuels undergo depletion, their future cost is projected to rise. On the other hand, the situation is worsened by the increasing need for energy around the world. Nuclear fission energy is economical based on two main reasons. First, it caters for the rising demand for energy in future. Second, it offers a cheap source of energy that is sustainable and safer than other energy sources (Lillington, 2004). Construction of power plants requires smaller pieces of land and fewer inputs that have lower financial implications compared to construction of plants for solar and wind energy generation.

Environmental arguments

Nuclear fission power emits little amounts of chemical and radioactive wastes. The radioactive waste is low-radiation and therefore, it has modest environmental implications (Lillington, 2004). Fuel spent in power plants contains varying quantities of fission products such as actinides and fissile materials. These materials have severe environmental implications if improperly disposed. However, nuclear power plants release little amounts of spent fuel that reduce pollution of the environment (Lillington, 2004). In addition, ways of safe disposal have been put in place. Research has shown that the amount of waste fuel released by operating a 1-GWel plant for six years can fit into a 4 cubic meters container (Herbst & Hopley, 2007). This is due to the advanced technologies used. In addition, a large portion of waste materials produced is recyclable.

Health and safety

Nuclear energy power plants have caused several accidents. For example, the Chernobyl accident led to the demise of 60 people. However, the total number of deaths that have resulted from nuclear power is less than the number of deaths that have resulted from other sources of energy (Lillington, 2004). This makes nuclear energy safer. Improvements such as development of new methods of recycling nuclear waste will ultimately improve the safety of nuclear energy in future.

Political arguments

Nuclear power is sustainable because the largest portion of natural uranium resources is located in countries that enjoy political stability (Lillington, 2004). Therefore, its future as an energy source is hinged on the continued stability of countries such as China. Even though some countries have used nuclear power plants to develop nuclear weapons, their efforts have been thwarted because of the need for security in the world (McLeish, 2007). Measures have been put in place to ensure that countries do not use their nuclear power capabilities to advance political agendas.

Social and ethical arguments

Nuclear power has positive social and ethical implications because it promotes economic growth, provides energy to power the world, promotes national defense systems, and promotes environmental conservation (Morris, 2007). Nuclear power generation has few health and environmental implications because advanced technologies that release low-radiation wastes have been developed (McLeish, 2007). Through further research, technologies will be developed that will ensure that wastes have little effects and their disposal is safe. On the other hand, nuclear power has caused fewer deaths compared to other sources of energy.

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Conclusion

Nuclear fission is among the three processes used to generate nuclear power. With the rising cost of fossil fuels and subsequent depletion of oil reserves, nuclear energy is an important source of energy for the future. It is sustainable because it is cost effective, uses advanced technologies that reduce pollution and improve safety, produces high amounts of power, and emits small amounts of chemical and radioactive wastes. Waste generation and safety are two of the main ethical arguments against nuclear power. However, research is underway to develop technologies that reduce environmental and health implications of nuclear power. Therefore, nuclear fission energy is sustainable.

References

Cravens, G. (2007). Power to Save the World: the Truth about Nuclear Energy. New York: Knopf.

Herbst, A., & Hopley, G. (2007). Nuclear Energy Now: Why the Time has Come for the World’s Most Misunderstood Energy Source. New York: Wiley.

Lillington, J. (2004). The Future of Nuclear Power. New York: Elsevier.

McLeish, E. (2007). The Pros and Cons of Nuclear Power. New York: The Rosen Publishing Group.

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Morris, N. (2007). Nuclear Power. New York: Black Rabbit.

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