positive effects of nuclear power







The use of nuclear power in the mid-1980s was not a popular idea on account of all the fears that it had presented. The public seemed to have rejected it because of the fear of radiation. The Chernobyl accident in the Soviet Union in April of 1986 reinforced the fears, and gave them an international dimension (Cohen 1). Nevertheless, the public has to come to terms that one of the major requirements for sustaining human progress is an adequate source of energy. The current largest sources of energy are the combustion of coal, oil, and natural gas. Fear of radiation may push nuclear power under the carpet but another fear of the unknown is how costly is this going to be? If we as the public have to overcome the fear of radiation and costly project, we first have to understand the details of nuclear energy. The known is a lot less scary then the unknown. If we could put away all the presumptions we have about this new energy source, then maybe we can understand that this would be a good decision for use in the near future.

The use of nuclear energy has increased in the United States since 1973. Nuclear energy\'s share of U.S. electricity generation has grown from 4 percent in 1973 to 19 percent in 1998. This is excellent news for the environment. Nuclear energy and hydropower are the cleanest large-scale means of electricity production. Since nuclear power plants do not burn fuel, they emit no combustion byproducts—like carbon dioxide—into the atmosphere (www.nei.org). Nuclear power can come from the fission of Uranium, plutonium or thorium or the fusion of hydrogen into helium. Today uranium (U-235 and U-238) is most commonly used in the production of nuclear energy. The expansion of nuclear power depends considerably on politics, and the politics have come out differently in different countries. Presumably, after sometime, the countries whose policies turn out badly will imitate the countries whose polices turn out well. One of the polices should be the utilization of nuclear energy. For how long will nuclear power be available? Present reactors that use only the U-235 in natural uranium are very likely good for hundreds of years. Bernard Cohen has shown that with breeder reactors, we can have plenty of energy for some billions of years. Cohen’s argument is based on using uranium from seawater. Other people have pointed out that there is more energy in the uranium impurity in coal then it could come from burning the coal. There is also an abundance of uranium in granite. None of these sources are likely to be used in the next thousand years, because there is plenty of much more economically extracted in customary uranium combinations. A power reactor contains a center with a large number of fuel rods. The power level that can be used is limited to avoid letting the fuel rods get too hot. The heat from the fuel rods is absorbed by water, which is used to generate steam to drive the turbines that generate the electricity. After a couple of years, enough of the U-235 has been converted to fission products and the fission products have built up enough so that the fuel rods must be removed and replaced by new ones. What to do with the spent fuel rods is what, I feel, causes the most fuss concerning nuclear power. Now that we have the greater understanding of how nuclear energy is produced and how important it is in one aspect, we must now (more educated) listen to the fears and recognize that they are purely unenlightened assumptions.

Are nuclear power plants perfectly safe? No. Nothing is perfectly safe, but they are safe enough to be relied upon as a source of energy. The most dominant misconception concerns the hazards of radiation. The public views radiation as something quite new, highly mysterious, and extremely dangerous. Actually, there is nothing new about radiation; humans have been, and always will be, exposed to radiation from natural resources, which are hundreds of times higher levels than they will ever experience from the nuclear industry. Some examples of everyday radiation are the TV, microwaves, and cellular telephones. Far from being mysterious, radiation is much simpler and