Our planet, Earth is in crisis! The glaciers are melting, the oceans are rising and the weather system seems out of control. Are we killing our planet? Are we causing global warming by burning fossil fuels for power generation? In 1821 Michael Faraday invented the first electric motor (Bellis). Since that time, man’s appetite for electrical power has grown exponentially. World population growth, and developing nations determined to be more modern are consuming natural and electrical resources at an ever growing pace, we are putting a strain on our ecosystem that may be harming the planet’s environment beyond repair. Electrical power can be generated many ways, Coal, Natural Gas, Hydro Dams, Oil, Solar, Wind, and Nuclear are the major options. All of these choices have advantages and disadvantages regarding the impact to our environment. Considering all of the options for generating power and the implications to our environment, nuclear power may be the safe, environmentally friendly, responsible way to power our future. In 1938 a discovery was made called fission, the nucleus of a uranium atom was split by a neutron generating more than 100 million times the energy released in any chemical reaction. This discovery was made by two German scientists, Otto Hahn and Fritz Straussman. Letourneau_R Page 2
Unfortunately the first use of nuclear energy was not for power generation, or any other peaceful venture, it was used in the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima (Metcalf 19). Over 15 years later in 1953, Congress passed amendments to the Atomic Energy Act, which allowed for the commercial development of electric power generation using nuclear power. Within one year the United States government built and started generating power from a nuclear reactor. Arco, Idaho was the first town in the United States with its electrical requirements generated by nuclear power. During the next 24 years almost three nuclear power plants were built per year across the country. In 1979 there were 70 commercially operated nuclear power plants operating in the United States alone (Metcalf 22). Due to some highly publicized and entirely preventable accidents around the world (Cravens 12), most notably Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania, which heightened fears about the safety of nuclear power generation, the nuclear revolution really slowed down by the end of 1979 (Walker 196). Today, there are 439 Nuclear power plants worldwide. The United States alone has 103 nuclear power plants generating electricity, more than any other single country. These plants generate about twenty percent of the total power requirements for the United States. Currently, there are two major types of Light Water reactors used in the generation of power, the Pressurized Water Reactor (PWR) and the Boiling Water Reactor (BWR). These reactors pass water by the reactor vessel which is extremely hot due to the nuclear chain reaction inside, and absorb the heat from the vessel to create steam (BWR), or in the case of a Letourneau_R Page 3
(PWR) the high pressure super heated water heats a secondary water loop to create steam and turn the turbine and generator, which generates the electricity (Metcalf 46-51). The major drawback to these designs is they have very complicated safety systems that depend on several other factors to operate exactly as expected, although they do operate well within the expected standards for public safety and environmental impact. There is a new reactor design based partly on a German reactor, it is built in a modular fashion with several much smaller reactor core components that can better withstand the smaller amounts of force, than one large reactor core in the event of a component failure. This design eliminates the possibility of the reactor exploding and releasing radioactive elements into the atmosphere (Gray 74). Nuclear power is generated in several countries, as of April 2008 there are 439 operating...
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