Electricity consumption in the U.S. is among the highest in the world. According to the EIA (Energy Information Administration), electricity consumption in the United States is expected to increase by 50 percent, from 3,567 billion kilowatt-hours in 2004 to 5,341 billion kilowatt-hours in 2030. Such robust growth will place challenging demands on the current energy sources utilized in the United States. Nuclear energy will play a very important role as an energy source. This paper looks at the classification of nuclear energy as a source of electricity produced in light water reactors, its advantages and disadvantages, two major nuclear accidents that slowed down its growth in the U.S., new techniques for radioactive waste disposal and its revival in the U.S.
The energy used in nuclear power plants is obtained from the fission of uranium, plutonium or thorium. It is depicted as:
U235+neutron Kr96+Ba141+ 2 or 3 neutrons + Energy
An atom of uranium is hit by a neutron causing it to split into two lighter atoms, krypton and barium, plus two or three neutrons that subsequently are used to repeat the process, plus a release of energy in the form of heat and radiation. It is estimated that the heat released this way is 10 million as much heat as is produced by the combustion of a single atom of carbon in coal. The heat produced in the fission of nuclear materials is used to produce steam to run turbines to generate electricity, very much in the same way that it is done in conventional power plants.
There are two types of nuclear reactors currently used to produce electricity in the U.S., light water reactors (LWR) and heavy water reactors (HWR) depending on the type of neutron moderator used. A neutron moderator is a substance used to reduce the speed of neutrons so that the nuclear fission reaction can take place. Water is used as a... [continues]
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