Thousands of years ago human beings learned to make fire. By collecting and burning wood they were able to warm themselves, cook food, and manufacture primitive tools. Later, the Egyptians discovered the principal of the sail. Even more recent was the invention of the water wheel. All of these activities utilize various forms of energy-biological, chemical, solar, and hydraulic. Energy, the ability to do work, is essential for meeting basic human needs, extending the life expectancy, and providing a rising living standard.
This is where the need for nuclear power comes in. Uranium fission is bout a million times more efficient than the common practice of burning coal or oil. For comparison, coal combustion produces about 20-30 MJ/kg of heat energy while uranium, in a fast breeder reactor, produces more than 24,000,000 MJ/kg (Energy 27). Those numbers alone are astounding. Uranium is also abundant, thanks to recent discoveries of large reserves. At present, uranium is only being mined and separated from ore. However, a huge untapped source is our oceans. Sea water contains 3. x10^(-9) (3. 3 parts per billion) of uranium, so the 1. 4×10^18 tons of sea water contains 4. x10^9 tons of uranium.
All the world’s electricity usage, 650GWe could therefore be supplied by the uranium in sea water for 7 million years(Energy 25). This is a only a theoretical number because it is not possible to get all of the uranium out of our vast oceans. Also, it does not include the fact that in that many years, half of the uranium will no longer exist due to radioactive decay. So, at worst, we would get about 2 million years of power from it.
Thorium is another element than can be used in nuclear reactors. Thorium is approximately four times more abundant than uranium. It is obvious that we are in no danger of exhausting these sources of energy. We need to exploit these resources an d use them to our advantage. God has given us the knowledge to use uranium for power, so why shouldn’t use it? There are many benefits to using nuclear generated power over our other common sources. A big advantage of nuclear power plants is that they do not burn anything, they are non-polluting, and they are kind to the environment.
Unlike coal-, gas-, and oil-fired power plants, nuclear power plants do not emit carbon dioxide and other harmful greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. This is not to say that no waste is produced in a nuclear reaction. An average size nuclear reactor produces 1000 MWe and leaves behind about 25 tons of spent fuel. This product is highly radioactive and gives off a great deal of heat. However, it can be reprocessed so that 97% can be recycled. The remaining 3%, about 700kg, is high-level radioactive waste that needs to be isolated from the environment for many years (Gale 22).
This small quantity makes the task readily manageable. Even if the fuel is not reprocessed, the yearly amount of 25 tons is modest compared with the quantities of waste from imilar sized coal-fired power plants. And, the spent fuel could be stored and then reprocessed many years later if the need arose. For comparison, a 1000 MWe coal-fired power station produces about seven million tons of carbon dioxide each year, plus perhaps 200,000 tons of sulfur dioxide which remains a major source of atmospheric pollution.
There are approximately 200,000 tons of other wastes produced including toxic metals, arsenic, cadmium, mercury, organic carcinogens (which causes cancer and genetic mutations) and, surprisingly to most people, naturally occurring radioactive ubstances (Jones 13). The nuclear industry is unique in that it is the only energy producing industry that has taken full responsibility for the disposal of all its waste and pays the full cost of doing so. By the laws of supply and demand, the large supply of uranium keeps the price down, unlike the situation with crude oil.
From the outset the basic attraction of nuclear energy has been its low fuel costs compared with coal, oil, and gas fired plants. Uranium, however, has to be processed, enriched, and fabricated into fuel elements. About one third of the fuel cost is due to nrichment. Allowances must be then be made for the management of radioactive spent fuel and the ultimate disposal of this or the wastes arising from it. Nonetheless, with these costs included, the total fuel costs of a nuclear power plant are typically about one third of those of a coal-fired plant and about one fifth of those of a gas combined cycle plant (Economics 35).
Uranium has the advantage of being a highly concentrated source of energy which is therefore easily and cheaply transportable. On kilogram of natural uranium will yield about twenty thousand times as much energy as the ame amount of coal (Hawley 7). It has the intrinsic property of being a very portable and tradable commodity. In addition, because the fuel cost contribution to the overall cost of electricity produced is relatively small, even a large price increase will have relatively little effect (Hawley 8).
Nuclear energy also gives the nation a diversity of fuel sources for meeting its electricity needs. No country would want to be too dependent on a single source of energy. By not putting all of our energy eggs in one basket, America can keep a reliable supply of electricity flowing to our homes and usinesses despite interruptions in fuel supplies caused by weather conditions and natural disasters, or by international events and economic fluctuations. Since the Arab oil embargo of 1973, nuclear energy has displaced the need for more than 2. billion barrels of oil at an estimated cost of $66 billion, giving the United States greater energy security and economic strength (Keepin 12). Not only does nuclear energy keep American dollars at home, it keeps Americans at work, with an estimated 400,000 people employed in nuclear-related jobs. There should not be a question of coal or nuclear power. What we need is a balance between the two, with as much help as possible from hydro power and other ren ewable sources.
By mid 1996, there were 32 countries of varying size, political persuasion, and degree of industrial development, which included nuclear power in their energy mix and were operating nuclear reactors. About 17% of the world’s electricity is being produced by some 440 reactors, with 30 more under construction. Belgium, China, France, Hungary, India, Japan, Switzerland, UK, USA, and Russia are just some of the countries with major nuclear energy rograms (Blinkin 17).
We need to continue to expand our use of nuclear energy to its full potential. Through continuing research and innovation, America’s technological leadership in the nuclear industry is unmatched anywhere in the world today(Clarke 35). Maintaining that leadership position not only benefits our society today, but also will create opportunities for our children. By providing our society with a reliable, economical, and clean supply of electricity, nuclear enrgy offers America the opportunity for sustainable growth for future generations.