Written by Alex Parker, ESLLC 2015-2106
With future energy needs in a growing human society many fossil fuels are a short term solution and harm the climate of Earth. Many new renewable resources are being used such as hydro, solar, and wind powered energy, although these resources are helpful they do not provide enough power alone to sustain our current comfortable society. I know, you may be thinking well that’s a very pessimistic view of the future. In fact, there is a very simple solution to the problem at hand, nuclear fission. A radioactive decay process in which the nucleus of an atom splits into smaller parts creating heat energy, thus taking the form of power. There are many pros and cons to nuclear energy, but with enhancements in technology radioactive elements are safer to use and dispose of.
Currently in the United States there are 99 commercial nuclear power plants producing around 798 billion kWh in 2014, which was about 20% of United States total electricity used per year. Adding more nuclear power plants will allow for power to be created with very low greenhouse gas emissions. Nuclear energy has also relatively low costs after the construction of the plant itself, a lot cheaper than other renewable resources as well as fossil fuel mining. Low pollution is another big pro for nuclear power, with the small and manageable amount of waste is very small relative to the waste that come from fossil fuel burning. Nuclear energy production with Uranium is running short already but new elements such as Thorium, which burns greener than Uranium is being put into use.
By definition nuclear energy is a non-renewable energy source because there is a limited supply on Earth. Nuclear fission is the first step to harnessing the power of fusion, a limitless source of energy, which is used to fuel the sun. Scientists are working to learn how to control atomic fusion, until fusion can be used on a larger scale, nuclear fission will have to be the green substitute to insure the future of humanity on this planet. With climate change causing more intense weather and droughts across the world. Fossil fuel burning is no longer a viable source of power, but instead places humanity in purgatory. The growth of our population places the planet on the brink of disaster as well with the use of fusion power, space travel would be faster and could carry humans to the edges of the galaxy.
Now, as with all sources of power there are cons to using radioactive elements in the generation of massive amounts of power per atom. Accidents are the main problem with nuclear power right now, no plant can be 100% protected. A nuclear meltdown is the term used to describe the melting of the nuclear fuel in the core of the reactor. The loss of the cooling systems is the reason why meltdowns occur, although meltdowns are very bad when they occur they happen so rarely that nuclear energy is still a better alternative to fossil fuels. The main environmental wastes from nuclear power comes from the mining, enrichment and waste management, the impacts are felt less than fossil fuel power wastes in the environment.
With potential for breakthroughs into nuclear fission nuclear power looks to be the promising alternative in the energy spectrum. If man power and resources are committed to nuclear energy the safety of plants could be increased, and the environmental impact of the wastes will be better disposed of. As the United States government and many other nations look to deal with climate change an easy solution is staring them in the face. Renewable energy and nuclear power are the future of humanity.