With the today’s case in Japan, the old discussion of the debate concerning the application of nuclear energy has surfaced again with a vengeance. The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster took place on March 11, 2011 being one of the several nuclear disasters. These ones have affected the nuclear energy sector. They include the Chernobyl disaster of 1986, the Nagasaki bombing, and the Hiroshima atomic bombing of 1945. Nuclear power has a long history that dates back to 1895 when the science of atomic radiation, nuclear fission, and microscopic change was first developed. During the Second World War, there was a significant development in a nuclear bomb that resulted in the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombing in 1945. During the post-world War II era, the developments in the nuclear energy sector focused more on harnessing of nuclear power for electricity generation and nuclear propulsion. After the end of the cold war, more nuclear power plants were put up purposely for electricity generation. In spite of significant environmental benefits of nuclear power, the nuclear reactors pose a lot of health and safety risks in case of exposure to radioactive materials. The purpose of this paper is to assess the current debate on the importance of nuclear energy, the nuclear material used, the process of nuclear energy generation, its benefits, and drawbacks.
The Case for Nuclear Energy
The World Nuclear Association has recorded an increase in reliance on nuclear power in most developing world economies. The increased reliance on nuclear power stems from the availability of safe and efficient nuclear reactors that have a capability of producing cheaper and green energy. A number of international organizations such as the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the World Nuclear Association exercise some oversight over the operations in the nuclear energy sector. The regulatory oversight ensures that safety standards are adhered in the production of nuclear power and management of nuclear waste materials. According to the World Nuclear Association, nuclear power contributes positively to the Gross Domestic Product of a given country. Iran is one of the world largest producers of Uranium mineral being a crucial gradient in the manufacture of nuclear weapons. Iran exports the excess nuclear power to the countries such as Armenia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Turkmenistan, and Turkey.
Nuclear power accounts for 16% of the global energy consumption. The fossil fuels that are commonly used in developing economies have adverse environmental consequences. They include such as climate change and global warming. Nuclear power does not emit any greenhouse gasses; therefore, it presents a useful alternative to fossil fuels whose reserves are becoming depleted. Nuclear power requires a minimal amount of resources to generate huge amounts of energy output compared to fossil fuels. Thus, it is preferred as a cheaper alternative. According to the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, nuclear power plants in the US contribute at least 20% of the country’s energy needs. Thus, nuclear power is essential for some countries with high energy requirements and limited fossil fuel supplies. It, hence, enables a country to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels such as oil and gas that are usually expensive, and whose supply is limited and unstable.
The Case against Nuclear Energy
The nuclear energy program faces a significant opposition mostly due to the safety concerns with particular regard to the establishment, operation, and maintenance of nuclear power reactors. The security concerns relate to the radiation leaks from the nuclear power plants that are considered fatal and irreversible. According to the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, nuclear power stations must adhere to the highest possible safety standards. The personnel employed in the nuclear power stations must be highly trained and qualified so as to prevent the frequency and severity of accidents. Radiation leaks from flawed nuclear reactors poses severe consequences to surrounding communities. The Chernobyl nuclear disaster also resulted in a long radioactive steam that had severe health consequences such as deaths, cancer, premature births, and deformity. In addition to this, the Chernobyl-contaminated zones became inhabitable thus resulting in evictions and displacement of people.
The nuclear energy program has faced an increased opposition also given the side effects of the used nuclear fuel on the environment. The spent fuel in the nuclear power reactors remains highly radioactive if it is not disposed properly. The chemicals, reprocessing by-products, and fuels used in reprocessing the spent nuclear fuel are dangerous. Thus, they pose severe health issues to those who are exposed to the poisonous emissions. The nuclear waste disposals also significantly affect the geology of unsettled and remote areas where the disposals are buried. In addition to this, handling nuclear material requires a high level of training. Tokyo’s nuclear disaster in 1999 in Japan resulted from an inadequate training of workers in the nuclear power plants. The accident led to two deaths; One hundred and sixteen workers were exposed to radioactive emissions. The severity of nuclear disasters has increased dissent towards the construction of additional nuclear power stations.
The nuclear power plants are also susceptible to terrorist activities especially in countries where there exist significant terrorism threats. The United States has opposed Iran’s nuclear power program due to the potential direct security threat that will pose to America. Both the United States and Israel view nuclear-armed Iran as a threat to the safety and security of the Middle East. Nuclear energy has an ability of enabling the particular state develop nuclear weapons that are means of mass destruction. They create mistrust and fear amongst different nations thus posing a global and national security. Such weapons if used in war will result in long-term environmental consequences and the violation of humanitarian laws even if they are legitimately used. In addition to this, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons notes that nuclear weapons fail to address the prevailing security threats.
Critics of nuclear power programs cite the severe environmental affects an essential reason for the closure of nuclear energy reactors. In the case of accidents, the nuclear weapons can eliminate all forms of complex human life. The adverse climatic effects include a significant drop in rainfall, a fall in global temperatures, widespread famine, and a devastating agricultural collapse. Climate change activists have been against the nuclear energy programs being advanced by several countries due to the immediate potential impacts. The proliferation of nuclear programs across the world creates a diversion of government resources towards funding the costly nuclear programs. Resources are diverted from more significant sectors of the economy such as education, healthcare, agriculture, and disaster relief. Operating and maintaining nuclear arsenals as well as nuclear power plants requires a significant amount of resources. It thus diverts government resources from more pressing humanitarian needs.
The Reason Nuclear Power Is Feared
Nuclear energy has created a great concern in the world given the past security record of nuclear disasters. The increased fears stem from the high number of deaths, long-term environmental effects, and health issues. It concerns those that are exposed to radioactive materials. According to the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, safety is considered as the greatest concern for establishing new nuclear power plants by the relevant stakeholders. The Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings were propagated by the United States during the World War II. The adverse effects of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic explosions are still evident to date in Japan. In addition to this, the release of radioactive materials to the environment has increased global warming and accelerated the climate change. Additionally, nuclear accidents result in severe health concerns in children such as thyroid cancer. This sickness results from the exposure to dangerous radioactive materials; and it is usually fatal.
In addition to severe health complications that nuclear power pose, the nature and scope of nuclear accidents represent a significant fear to many people. The 1986 Chernobyl catastrophe in Ukraine affected a number of people across Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus. The Chernobyl incident resulted in thirty-one deaths. Hundreds of people around the region were exposed to the radioactive materials. The high levels of unhealthy radiation emissions contaminated the surrounding land making it inhabitable. Additionally, a big number of Japanese people were exposed to dangerous nuclear radiation in the Fukushima disaster. The accident increased a risk of increased birth defects and cancer rates. Another nuclear disaster is the Kyshtym disaster that took place in Mayat, the Soviet Union in 1957. The accident resulted in two hundred cancer-related deaths due to the radioactive leaks. The Kyshtym disaster also led to over eight thousand deaths thus indicating the severity of flaws in nuclear power reactors. The nuclear accidents are hence the biggest causes of the existing fear towards the development of nuclear energy.
Nuclear Materials in the Production of Nuclear Energy
The nuclear materials that are used in nuclear power reactors are highly radioactive and hazardous. The radioactive materials pose the significant health and safety risks to the public and the environment. The materials applied involve special nuclear materials, byproduct material, and source material. The special nuclear material is comprised of Uranium-235, Uranium-233, Plutonium, and enriched Uranium. Uranium-233 and plutonium are formulated in the nuclear reactors via a process of chemical separation given that they do not exist naturally. Uranium-233 is extracted from thorium fuel. On the other hand, Plutonium is obtained in the nuclear reactors using U-235 and U-238 fuel. Enriched uranium is extracted from used fuel using as the enrichment facility. It is utilized in the manufacture of the atomic bomb. The special nuclear materials are the primary ingredients that are used in the production of nuclear explosives.
The other nuclear material used in the production of nuclear energy is a source material such as thorium, natural uranium, and depleted uranium. The source material results from the concentration and milling of the Uranium ore. The material also results from reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel, from the Uranium enrichment process, and the refining of mined ores. These materials are highly regulated so as to prevent misuse of the highly radioactive nuclear materials. These ones are intended for the peaceful purposes. In addition to the health and safety threats that the source materials pose to the public and the environment, natural uranium has high levels of fissile material, uranium-235. The fissile materials are in the form of Uranium-235 that can be enriched to come up with enriched Uranium. It is the principal ingredient of the atomic bomb.
The third nuclear material component is the byproduct material that is extracted in the nuclear power plants. The byproduct materials include the remnants of the special nuclear material, nuclear fuel waste, and tailings. They are produced by concentration of thorium and uranium. Some examples of byproduct materials that are used as ingredients in the manufacture of nuclear explosives include tritium, krypton-87, fluorine-18, carbon-14, cobalt-57, and radium-226. Other than their principal uses in the nuclear reactors, the byproduct material is used to carry out therapy and diagnosis in the medical practice. Uranium recovery and mill tailings processes usually result in the significant byproduct material. In addition, any radioactive material other than the special nuclear material that is generated from exposure of the radioactive material to a fission process. Byproduct nuclear materials are also highly regulated as they are susceptible to misuse if they fall into the wrong hands.
The Long-Term Benefits and Drawbacks of Nuclear Materials
The special nuclear material, byproduct material, and source material poses the significant environmental advantages compared to the fossil fuel materials. The proper management and control of nuclear waste result in the minimal pollution to the environment. In addition to this, the nuclear materials do not release any greenhouse gasses that lead to a climate change and global warming. Thus, the nuclear materials offer a better alternative to fossil fuels that have severe environmental effects. The special nuclear material can produce the virtually unlimited nuclear power using a fission process. The nuclear materials produce sixty times more energy being produced by the current industrial technology if it is properly exploited. The nuclear material will thus be highly beneficial. They will reduce the reliance on fossil fuels whose supply is limited.
However, despite the enormous benefits of the nuclear material, they are susceptible to a number of drawbacks. These ones are associated with safety issues and environmental impact problems. The transportation of nuclear material poses a threat to the security of people and the environment in the incident of nuclear transportation accidents. The packaging of the radioactive materials may not adequately shield it against radiation, leakages, and contaminated radioactive waste. The plutonium nuclear material is highly toxic if inhaled given. Thus, it results in cancer and immediate death. In addition to this, the large volumes of nuclear material and radioactive waste may be acquired and dispersed by terrorists. Moreover, the byproduct nuclear material and radioactive waste can be applied in the manufacture of dirty and bad bombs thus showing a radical security risk. The hazardous waste from the nuclear material constitutes a big threat to human life and the life of future generations.
Generating Safe Nuclear Energy
The technological advancements and new research in the field of nuclear power will play a crucial role in generating safe nuclear power. In the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, more research has been undertaken in ensuring of the following matter. The safety standards of the Nuclear power plants are maintained. The United States Department of Energy has adopted the new cutting edge technology in all the nuclear power stations located within the United States. The technology will result in increased plant safety thus allay the fears of nuclear energy accidents. The technology will make the nuclear power stations less susceptible to accidents and natural disasters such as earthquakes. In order to ensure safety of nuclear power stations, a significant investment will be required in the more robust nuclear fuel protective casings.
The generation of safe nuclear energy will also demand the usage of nuclear fuels. These ones are less susceptible to fragile temperature conditions. The nuclear materials that should be used in the reactors should be less sensitive to extreme heat levels thus preventing catastrophic explosions. Additionally, in order to ensure plant safety, the nuclear reactors should be installed with preventive mechanisms. They will enable plant workers more time to contain any small accidents. The nuclear fuel casings will also be required to be modified by cladding using non-zirconium alloys such as silicon carbide, molybdenum, and ceramic materials. The modifications will enable the fuel casings withstand high temperatures thus prevent the risk of explosion. Additionally, the state agencies and relevant regulatory bodies will have to monitor the radioactive waste disposal continuously. It is done in order to prevent long-term environmental impacts.
How Nuclear Energy Obtained and the Procedure of Nuclear Power Production
Nuclear energy is derived from a series of chemical reactions in the nuclear reactors involving the splitting of uranium atoms. The nuclear reactor core is made up of a number of fuel assemblies. They have minute elements of ceramic uranium oxide. The fission of Uranium-235, a special nuclear material takes place in the nuclear reactor core resulting in a continuous chain reaction. It produces high levels of heat. The continuous chain reactions are controlled by the moderator using graphite and/or water. The moderator slows down the number of neutrons produced by the fission of Uranium-235 nuclei resulting in multiple fissions that produce more heat. The other special nuclear material, i.e. Uranium-238 is extracted into Plutonium. Meanwhile the rest is split to generate enough energy output for the reactor.
The fission process is repeated continuously until the reactor’s full capacity is reached. The nuclear fuel that is used in the fission process remains in the ceramic fuel casings together with fission byproduct material. The byproduct nuclear material then goes through a decay process resulting in the release of the substantial amount of heat. The reactor core for the nuclear plant is housed in a steel pressure vessel surrounded by liquid water or graphite as a moderator. The water used in the nuclear reactors as the moderator is maintained as a liquid even at high temperatures of the reactor. The Uranium-235 fissions lead to very high temperatures of 320oC, thus, the water is used to control the radioactive emissions by slowing down the process to controllable levels. As a result of the high heat and temperature levels, steam is produced on top of the reactor core. It is then used to drive the turbines thus generating enough electricity. Once the steam is through the turbines, it is condensed using a condenser before being recycled again.
Nuclear energy contributes positively to the global supply of electricity. It is given that it contributes to 12% of the total energy demand in the world. Most countries have adopted nuclear power to satisfy their high energy needs as opposed to fossil fuels being characterized by restricted supply, environmental pollution, and highly expensive. In addition to this, nuclear power is unaffected by fluctuating gas and oil prices that are evident in fossil fuels. Nuclear power is essential in a long-term environmental sustainability. It has reduced dependence on fossil fuels thus reducing global warming and climate change. In addition to this, nuclear energy is characterized by low concentrations of emissions of carbon IV oxide and greenhouse gasses. Despite the positive environmental benefits of nuclear power, it poses significant challenges with particular regard to safety owing to the high number of nuclear accidents have resulted in disasters. Adopting new technologies in the operations and maintaining ace of the nuclear plants will enhance plant safety. Meanwhile it will also be reducing the vulnerability of new nuclear power stations to potential hazards.
Given the available facts concerning nuclear energy, I have the following opinion on the nuclear energy issue. It should only be used as a last resort. I have read and observed the people and generations suffering from radiations emitted by nuclear energy plants. The Nagasaki and Hiroshima cases present the unforgettable justification. Observing the generations in the two regions 70 years later gives every reason as to why the generation of nuclear energy. It should be avoided in its entirety. Additionally, I feel that not a single nation in the whole world is prepared to deal with nuclear energy accidents. Such ones may include as the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. Therefore, it produces more bad than good.