The second most used energy source in US is nuclear power, of course after fossil fuels. What is nuclear power? Nuclear power is the use of nuclear reactions that release nuclear energy to generate heat which is used mostly in steam turbines to give us energy in a nuclear power plant. About 10% of US’s electricity comes from nuclear power, but in some countries, like Germany, closed down all their nuclear power plants because people didn’t like it. There is less radiation coming from nuclear power plant than from coal plant. It is because when you burn coal, the radioactive atoms, they get released into the air. We know that a lot of people have died because of radiation from nuclear power plant, but the number much smaller than coal, and it mostly happens when something goes wrong. From this point of view, nuclear power is way more environmentally friendly, than fossil fuels. Even, back in time people thought that nuclear power was going to eliminate fossil fuels, but it didn’t happen because nuclear power plant are expensive. When they were building them in 1950s, half of them were abandoned before they were even finished, because it was super expensive.
More than half of all the nuclear reactors in the world were built in 1970 and 1985. There were different types of them, but the best one was the light water reactor. It had some advantages: it was there, it worked and it wasn’t so expensive. So the question is what does it do? It heats up water using chain reaction. Nuclear fission releases million times more energy than any chemical reaction could. Uranium-235, gets bombarded with neutrons. The neutron is absorbed, but the result is unstable. Most of the time it splits into fast-moving lighter elements and the radiation heats the surrounding water, while the neutrons repeat the process with other atoms.
There are some advantages and disadvantages of nuclear power. Let’s start from advantages of nuclear power. The first one is that nuclear energy saves lives. In 2013, NASA found out that nuclear energy has prevented over 1.8 million deaths. While nuclear waste is toxic, it is stored somewhere. But the fossil fuels toxic byproducts are released into the air, we breathe every day. And that affects on human healths, like cancer or lung disease. Nuclear energy is dangerous, it’s because catastrophic events that has happened stays in our memory, while coal and oil kill silently. It is like death rate of flying vs driving.
The second advantage is nuclear energy reduces Co2. Since 1976, about 64 giga tons of greenhouse gases have not been pumped out because of nuclear energy. China already burns 4 billion tons of coal every year because it’s cheap and easy to get to. And I am pretty sure that people won’t stop using it any time soon. So nuclear energy might be the only way of preventing a catastrophic man-made global warming.
The third advantage is new technologies. The nuclear reactors that scientists have used are outdated technology, because nuclear innovation stopped in 1970s. There are models, like thorium reactor, they think that it could solve the problem. The good things about thorium is that it is really hard to turn into nuclear weapons and it’s less wasteful than current reactors. And if we look that 1 ton of thorium providing the same amount of energy as 200 tons of uranium or 3.5 million tons of coal.
The first disadvantage of nuclear power is nuclear weapons. In 1944 two large cities were destroyed by just two single bombs. The example could be in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The US dropped the atomic bombs, the two bombs killed at least 129,000 people. In forty years, five countries have created their own weapons with the help of reactor technology. In the 1970s the big nuclear powers were selling peaceful technology to smaller countries, which then created weapons of their own. Right now terrorists use nuclear weapon, because of that President Obama hosted the first Nuclear Security Summit in 2010. It is the world’s summit and it is aimed at preventing nuclear terrorism around the world.
The second disadvantage is nuclear waste and pollution. We know that nuclear fuel is not only radioactive, but also has poisonous chemical elements like plutonium. It loses its harmfulness over thousands of years and there is also a process called reprocessing. It can be used for two purposes:
To build nuclear weapons.
To use it as new fuel
But it has never been used as a fuel because they didn’t have the right reactors for that. After having all those wastes from nuclear, at first they were throwing it into the ocean, but when it was forbidden, they’ve tried to bury it, but didn’t find the right place where it will be secured for a long time. Right now, over 30 countries have nearly 400 reactors that gives us a lot of nuclear waste and there is one country that is serious about opening waste storage: It’s tiny Finland.
The third disadvantage is accidents and disasters. Over sixty years of nuclear power usage, there have been 7 major accidents. The two catastrophic accidents were the Chernobyl and Fakushima. The Chernobyl disaster happened in 1986 in Soviet Union, when the Chernobyl reactor exploded spreading a cloud of radiation all over the USSR and in Europe. 31 people died in this accident and others died later from cancer because of radiation. After this disaster people thought that it won’t happen again because it was cheap, poor technologies. But then it happened in 2011 in Japan, 9.0 magnitude earthquake cause a tsunami that hit the Fakushima nuclear plant, that caused an explosion and that spread radiation all over the place. People had to evacuate the city and most of them is still remained empty.
Nuclear power might be safe for humans if you will look at the advantages, it actually save lives from fossil fuel. If I had to choose between fossil fuels or nuclear power. I would choose nuclear power because it gives less radiation and if you use it correctly, it won’t hurt you.
Researches have shown us that nuclear power has advantages and disadvantages, but people mostly look at the disadvantages of it rather than advantages. Other energy sources are very expensive to use like solar power, wind turbines. That’s why we use nuclear power and fossil fuels. But fossil fuels way more dangerous than nuclear power and it protects us from coal. And for the last, in spite of the fact that nuclear power had shown us it’s catastrophic accidents, it won’t outweigh the benefits.