Nuclear Power: A Burden or a Blessing?
When the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, the world was thrust into the atomic age. Nuclear power had become a reality. It promised to provide clean, efficient energy for centuries to come. Despite all of the promises, nuclear power has only been put into minimal use. Only a few of the nuclear plants that the government planned on building have actually been built. Some of the plants that were constructed have been shut down. Now, more than fifty years after the dawning of the atomic age, many people are still skeptical about atomic energy. Scientists still have many questions to answer about the long term impact of nuclear waste on the environment. The issue of using nuclear power to produce electricity involves the cost, its radioactive waste, and the public's concern about its safe usage. Atomic energy is the energy stored within the nucleus of an atom. Stable atoms do not release this energy. Radioactive atoms, however, are very unstable and release large quantities of energy. This atomic energy is utilized within a nuclear reactor. Uranium, a radioactive element, is the fuel of most nuclear reactors. Uranium rods are allowed to interact with each other in the core of the reactor. As the rods interact, the radioactive uranium atoms decay and release great amounts of heat. The heat is used to change water into steam. The steam is forced through pipes until it reaches giant turbines. The steam pressure turns the turbines which drive giant electrical generators. Electricity is produced and sent through high voltage power lines to the public. Nuclear power is a very expensive source of energy. First of all, that uranium used for fuel is not found in nature in its elemental form. It is always found bonded with other substances. Once this uranium compound is mined, the uranium must be separated from the other substances. The uranium compound is sent to an enrichment plant where it can be purified. The purification process is very complicated and involves many complex machines and procedures. Uranium must be sent to several different enrichment plants before it is pure enough to be made into fuel rods. Millions of dollars are spent in order to produce one set of fuel rods. This cost is passed on to the consumer through an increase in energy prices. Most consumers do not want to pay higher energy bills. Some people, however, feel that the higher cost is acceptable because nuclear power is a very efficient source of energy. When a set of uranium fuel rods is installed in a reactor, they will not need to be replaced for several years. Coal-fired power plants are not nearly this efficient. A coal-fired plant burns thousands of tons of coal each day. This difference in efficiency is very important because the world's coal supply is being rapidly depleted. Uranium fuel, on the other hand, is very plentiful. Consumers do not want to worry about the electricity being shut off because the power plant ran out of fuel. They like the piece of mind they get from knowing that the supply of uranium on this planet could provide efficient energy for centuries to come. Another major concern with nuclear power is the waste. Unlike a coal-fired power plant, a nuclear plant does not make pollution while it is on-line. The burning of coal releases many toxic gases, such as carbon dioxide and chlorofluorocarbons. These gases collect in the atmosphere and trap heat energy from the sun as it reflects off the earth's surface. This trapped heat energy causes the increase in temperature of the earth's surface and lower atmosphere known as global warming (Schneider 21). A nuclear reactor does not pollute the air or water like a coal plant. It does, however, produce radioactive waste that is very dangerous. When the uranium fuel rods are spent of their energy and need to be replaced, they cannot simply be thrown away. The used rods are still very radioactive and will remain so for hundreds...
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