A safe alternative to fossil fuels

By Amy Balagna Posted June 3, 2009

Most of today’s conventional power systems burn fossil fuels, a resource that is dwindling, but nuclear power creates energy by releasing the energy inside the nucleus of an atom. There are typically two products but the reaction can produce other smaller nuclei and a number of loose neutrons as well. The loose neutrons bump other atoms splitting them yet again; the reaction will continue until all the fuel is spent. Control rods that absorb excess fuel can limit the reaction. Simply, this energy heats water, creating steam, which turns a turbine, thereby creating power.

In the United States today, nearly 20 percent of the total energy we produce is created using nuclear reactors. This environmentally clean and relatively safe way of creating energy is the way of the future. But why haven’t we taken advantage of this seemingly obvious alternative fuel source? People are frightened by the accidents associated with nuclear power, and it can be dangerous but so can walking downstairs. Critics argue that nuclear reactors are unsafe, using Chernobyl and Three Mile Island as examples. However, Chernobyl, although a horrible disaster would be an impossible situation with today’s reactors. Three Mile Island was only a partial meltdown and the plant’s safety measures kept the danger contained. Plus, both disasters were caused by human error. With the proper safety precautions, nuclear power can be as safe as reading a book. France produces the majority of its electricity from nuclear reactors. The military has also taken advantage of nuclear technology by utilizing nuclear propulsion on its ships and subs. By switching to nuclear energy we would reduce our dependency on foreign oil as well as reduce our carbon emissions and with the recent wave of environmental concern, this seems like a step in the right direction.

The issue of storage was a topic of discussion for quite some time in the state of Nevada, as millions of dollars were invested in the Yucca Mountain storage facility. However, with reprocessing, that might become less of an issue. With today’s technology, we are able to recover 90-95 percent of the remaining Uranium in spent fuel rods. More is possible with breeder reactors that generate new reactive material as they consume it. The possibilities of nuclear energy are truly limitless.

There is a fear associated with nuclear power because of the potential for a disaster, but this possibility is slim as well as containable. This energy source should be utilized, however, a nuclear power plant hasn’t been built in the US since the late 1970s. Fossil fuels are dwindling and nuclear power could be an economically feasible alternative, and above all else, it is environmentally friendly. Nuclear Power is the way of the future.

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