Energy Worth a Reaction | Teen Ink

Energy Worth a Reaction

December 1, 2008
By Anonymous

“In 1993 there were 109 licensed power reactors in the U.S. and about 400 in the world. They generated about 20% of the U.S. electricity” (McCarthy). In a time where energy is at a premium, some alternative source must rise as a new front-runner. Yet with fossil fuel prices’ instability and unreliability, where can we look to find a viable alternative? Nuclear energy can rise as that front-runner. Nuclear power, a viable, renewable energy source that shows efficiency, economical superiority, gentleness on the environment, and the needed help to lessen our dependence on fossil fuels.
To understand any side of a nuclear power argument, one must first understand the process gone through to create nuclear power. Light water reactors, heavy water reactors, gas reactors, and liquid-metal cooled fast reactors are the four types of systems used to create nuclear power. Light and heavy water reactors exist as the main systems used today, yet research towards gas and liquid-metal cooled fast reactors may result in these arising as the main systems (Lillington 3). According to John McCarthy’s website, the process involves no burning or incinerating to achieve its heat source, therefore eliminating many harmful emissions. It almost always begins with the fission, the splitting of an atoms nucleus releasing energy, of uranium, which releases nearly 10 million times the energy as burning coal. This reaction produces a vast amount of heat, so they place the reactors in water to produce steam. The steam funnels out and runs through turbines, which create electricity. They meticulously control the amount of uranium involved in the reaction, varying the heat levels and thusly the amount of steam and electricity produced. “A large plant generates about a million kilowatts of electricity - some more, some less” (McCarthy).
In the world today, much attention surrounds the issues of clean energy and harmful emissions from the energy production process. Our world is experiencing an energy crisis, and the United States and the world need to find an energy solution with as safe an environmental application as any other option. Nuclear power does rise as a viable option. Despite some common misconceptions, “Nuclear energy is a very clean energy,” according to Mustafa Balat in Energy Sources Part B: Economics Planning and Policy 2.4, “It has no atmospheric emissions or pollutions (or close to none), is compact, produces little waste (and this is confined and self-degradable), and avoids increasing the greenhouse effect” (Balat 381). By building and using nuclear power plants instead of current power supply operations, we may reduce NOx and carbon emissions by the equivalent of removing six of ten and nine of ten passenger cars in the United States, respectively (Fertel). Nuclear power can help reduce carbon emissions from electricity generation in a very cost-effective way as an established base-load electricity supplier. In fact, the IEA suggests that we begin a transition to nuclear power to lessen an estimated fifty-five percent increase in carbon emissions from a rise of nearly fifty percent in demand for fossil fuels by 2030. They estimate that by transferring some of our energy production to nuclear power, the world’s carbon emissions may decrease sixteen percent, the equivalent of the United States’ and Canada’s emissions combined, by 2030 (“Urex Energy Applauds…”).
Despite talk of unreliability and possibilities of future price spikes, such as the ones experienced with fossil fuels, nuclear power plays the opposite. It appears very reliable, “Present reactors that use only U-235 in natural uranium are very likely good for some hundreds of years (McCarthy),” and productive, “Nuclear power represented 20 percent of U.S. electricity supply 10 years ago, and it represents 20 percent of our electricity supply today, even though we have six fewer reactors than a decade ago and total U.S. electricity supply has increased by 25 percent in the period” (Fertel). This information shows superiority in price stability due to the amount of fuel (uranium) present, as opposed to fossil fuel which shows extreme price volatility. The nuclear power field now pumps out 782 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity despite operating with six fewer reactors (Schulz 59-63). This task, an achievement not commonly seen in other fields of production, shows nuclear power’s supremacy in reliability and efficiency. Expansion is pivotal in the role of reliability for nuclear power also. A proposition for nineteen plants in 2006 estimated that these plants may possibly add around 24,000 MW of electricity.
The United States shows signs of an addiction to fossil fuels and foreign oil. To weaken this addiction, we must find new supplies and methods to take care of the things we need that oil and fossil fuel for. Oil and natural gas methods make up roughly forty-two percent of our domestic energy production (Gaffigan 7). Nuclear power plays a key role in our success to weaning off of our national dependence to fossil fuels. Oil, coal, and natural gas just are not the answer to our electricity needs in today’s society. The demand for electricity continues to grow and the world’s supply of the fossil fuels needed to continue in the direction we began decades ago just seems too unstable. To become energy-independent, we must look toward nuclear energy based power (Waters III). Through the use of nuclear power, we achieve a certain price stability not present in the fields involving fossil fuel based technologies. “Nuclear plants reduce the pressure on natural gas supply, thereby relieving cost pressures on other users of natural gas that have no alternative fuel source” (Fertel). When the electricity production field switches some of it’s generating to nuclear power, they in turn support the nation’s economy in two ways: lower fossil fuel prices by lessening the demand and providing a more cost-efficient electricity production method.
A common gripe towards what to do in this energy “crisis” we live in is what the government plans on doing to help the country out. The government emerges as a key supporter of nuclear power as an alternative for powering our nation, “… the U.S. House of Representatives demonstrated strong support for nuclear energy’s role with passage of comprehensive energy policy legislation, H.R.6” (Fertel). With the actions the government took regarding the stock market and banks, many people set their minds toward the thinking that they do not want much if any government regulation or help on nearly all things. Yet the energy issue seems the contrary. Entry into this game can be very pricy and risky. Without government incentives and breaks, interest in building new nuclear power plants might dwindle. This possible lack of interest may possibly prohibit the output of our nation’s nuclear power supply. Without building more plants nuclear power simply cannot continue to excel as a major provider of our nation’s electricity, allowing for prices to continue to increase, pollution to rise, and the economy to decrease. This reasoning shows why government backing of nuclear power proves its vitality.
Not only does the government backing nuclear power help the economy by lowering the demand for fossil fuels and decreasing energy costs for people across the nation, but also by providing growth. When the government accepts a proposal for a new nuclear facility, they also provide thousands of jobs. A nuclear power plant is no small facility. These jobs do not simply come from people working at the new plant; they come from all of the jobs needed to help build the plant. The plethora of jobs needed for all aspects of the build shows that these plants begin and exist as invaluable assets. They must hire many construction workers to build the plant, steel workers get jobs in factories all across the United States to help supply the demand brought about by the construction, concrete factories must supply the tons needed, electricians need to rig out the entire facility, engineers must design and plan everything, the list goes on. Just accepting proposals for these nuclear power plants works as stimulation for the economy. More money goes into the people’s hands to go out and buy things. It seems easy now to notice that nuclear power also holds a key role in the reversal of our economy’s current decline.

Many people fear major catastrophes associated with the use of nuclear fission. They think that a nuclear power plant may act as some type of huge atomic bomb. This belief emerges as completely wrong. Two major incidents happened since the beginning of the use of nuclear power, yet they accumulated only small numbers in deaths. At the main one, Chernobyl, only thirty-one people died, not much compared to a cave-in at a coal mine. The rest of the worlds’ reactors are not even the same as the ones that the Chernobyl plant used, Soviet built RBMK reactors. The other major incident, Three Mile Island, destroyed the reactor yet contained the radioactive core, only venting some of the radioactive gasses. No proof that these gasses harmed the public proves to be accepted. Since the Chernobyl accident deaths traced to nuclear fall out from a nuclear power plant only amount to two. No nuclear accidents have ever come about on U.S. Naval ships, which many have received power from there own nuclear power plants for the past fifty years (McCarthy). Worrying about fall out from a nuclear power plant might end up as a greater threat to our society than the threat itself if it hinders the growth of the nuclear power sector.
As it appears obvious to see, nuclear power arises as one of the front runners in the energy solution for our nation. It obtains many qualities far superior to those of the fossil fuels we currently use for our energy needs today. In the aspiration for “green” energy, nuclear power is exemplarily in terms of lack emissions and environmental harms. It also helps to stabilize our economy by reducing demand for fossil fuels, lowering electricity costs for people across the nation, and providing many jobs in the process of building new factories for the re-vamping of the industry. Not only is nuclear power available for use right now, but also very likely a reliable source for hundreds of years to come. The government wants to help nuclear power along as a leading power source for our nation as well. The fear of fall out from these plants proves itself as more of a risk than actually present, too. Nuclear power is an energy source that needs to be realized as a viable alternative and deserves a positive reaction.

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