Implementing Nuclear Power
By: Nischay Hegde Edited: Laiba Lakhani
One of the most important accomplishments of humanity was the splitting of the atom. This capability can be used for destructive purposes but it also is one of the best ways to generate electricity. A recent study from the National Academy of Sciences found that "the world could potentially replace all of its current coal, natural gas, and oil power plants with nuclear power by 2050, at a cost of $1 trillion to $4 trillion”(NAS). The report, written by a team of nuclear experts, concluded that "the cost of new nuclear plants can be significantly reduced through a number of technological advances, including the use of existing manufacturing processes and the development of innovative reactor designs”. The report stated, the world could save $2.4 trillion and eliminate 1,000 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually by 2050. This is expected to continuously get cheaper. So how does this help the planet and the global climate? At a time when the world is suffering from a series of extreme weather events, including droughts and heat waves , nuclear energy is a viable alternative. Carbon dioxide emissions could be reduced by nearly 60% if we replaced coal and natural gas electricity with nuclear power. As you can see, this energy source has many benefits.
First of all, nuclear reactors produce much more energy for a lesser cost than other sources. For example, a nuclear reactor that generates 5 megawatts of electricity for a dollar produces more energy for the same dollar than a natural gas-fired power plant that produces the same amount of electricity for $4,000. The nuclear industry has been successfully operating at the scale where nuclear energy can replace fossil fuels in the electricity generation sector (and in some cases, even more so). In addition, nuclear energy is inherently clean. Nuclear power plants do not produce air or water pollution, and they do not produce greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. Furthermore, nuclear energy is relatively inexpensive, requiring only a fraction of the energy content for the same amount of power. Nuclear energy is also abundant because it does not take up land. In fact, nuclear energy can be produced at the same location without disturbing the local environment. Nuclear energy has been operating at the scale where it can replace fossil fuels in the energy generation sector for more than half a century. In fact, nuclear power has been operating at this scale since the 1950s but we still have not realized that it is much more effective and reliable than other sources of energy. On a positive side, a new advance in the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) own Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) has concluded that the U.S. will continue to produce nuclear energy at an ever increasing rate well into the future.
Secondly nuclear reactors do not emit greenhouse gases which harm the environment. Nuclear is a clean source of energy which is also energy efficient. Also, nuclear energy can be used to generate electricity at times of peak demand (i.e. during the day) and also without breaks. You can not say that about solar, wind, and even hydroelectricity. It is also important to note that the energy savings from nuclear reactors tend to be higher than the energy savings from wind turbines, solar panels and other renewable energy. Nuclear is environmentally friendly and is the safest form of energy. The radiation emitted from nuclear reactors is contained well so it will not affect organisms and the ecosystem. In the last 60 years, there have only been 2 meltdowns out of the hundreds of reactors running.
Lastly, nuclear fusion can potentially provide limitless free energy to the world. Is fusion energy the answer to all our energy problems? Yes, and here's why. Nuclear fusion is a process in which two or more atoms of molecules fuse into one and that releases tremendous amounts of energy. It's actually the same thing that fuels the sun. It is a process that can be used to generate massive amounts of energy far exceeding the fission reactions we use today, and unlike fusion, there is no risk of a meltdown. A fusion reaction releases no waste products, no radioactive material, and no pollution. Nuclear fusion can also be very stable, it can continuously provide energy without stopping or overheating. The most promising applications of nuclear fusion power are being developed in the United States and in Europe. These experimental reactors include ITER, Tomahawk, Stellarator, and JET. Almost all of these reactors are built like a torus and use hydrogen isotopes for fuel. Hydrogen is extremely common which makes this energy source even more promising.
To sum up, nuclear power is the best energy source from the reasons previously listed. There are very little downsides to nuclear power, and it can be used frequently. Even underwater. However, only 10% of the world’s energy currently comes from this source. This number needs to improve because it is a very efficient and an environmentally sound energy source.
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