When the term Nuclear Power or Nuclear Energy gets used usually the first things that come to mind for most people are bombs, destruction, war, and deformed humans. Which in fact are four things that occur the least in the nuclear power field. Nuclear power is much more than just bombs and destruction, bombs barely even take up a percentage of the total amount of nuclear energy used in the world today. Most all of the nuclear energy used today comes in the form of production of electricity. Nuclear power plants are responsible for 16% of all of the worlds electricity production; which really may not sound like a lot, but when you think of the amount of electricity used in the world it really puts it into prospective how vital nuclear power is to us all. The reason nuclear power is such a vital role in our society is largely due to the global warming trend, and the fact that nuclear power is much cleaner and more “environmentally friendly” than other forms of energy production; which is just one of many reasons nuclear power is a growing trend. Nuclear power is not just a very simple energy source to come by. It is produced through a very tedious and meticulous process that if controlled is very powerful and if uncontrolled is extremely dangerous, which is why it is a much regulated energy source, but without it where would we be? The Physics of a Nuclear Reactor:
Nuclear power does not just form off of some radioactively charged material like it is portrayed in some simple minded television shows. In fact it comes from a very tedious and meticulous process called nuclear fission. Nuclear fission is a process by which a slow-moving neutron is absorbed by the nucleus of a uranium-235 atom, which in turn splits into fast-moving lighter elements (fission products) and free neutrons. This process creates massive amounts of energy in forms of gamma rays, and in the form of kinetic energy. Nuclear power plants perform this process within their nuclear reactors, where they can then use this kinetic energy to heat water that flows through the reactor into steam. At which point the steam will rise and spin a turbine that creates the electricity sent out to you and I. Disadvantages:
Though this process seems pretty straight forward and hazard proof it is far from just that. The process of nuclear fission is one of the most dangerous processes known to man. There are so many things that can go wrong with this process that a few countries have refused to resort to it due to the horrible effects it has if something goes wrong. The most common thing that could go wrong in this process of creating nuclear power is the reactor over-heating. This happens because of the water coming into the reactor that turns to steam is also used as a coolant to keep the reactor from getting too hot and causing a melt-down. This could be caused by the outside temperature being too hot, which would not allow the coolant water to cool down enough which would not allow the water to cool the reactor. Causing a chain reaction in which a total nuclear melt-down occurs where it becomes too hot inside the reactor and the reactor splits and releases radiation into the air, along with a large explosion which shoots radioactive debris and ash into the air. This such situation has only occurred once in the history of nuclear power production, and it will never be forgotten, the scars it left on the earth will be seen for many years to come. It happened at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant near Pripyat, Ukraine. On April 26, 1986 the situation described earlier was played out to a tee. The explosion shot radioactive fallout so far up that it was recorded to have landed in just about every Northern Hemisphere Continent. To this day radioactivity can still be traced in the area, so much so that the remains of the explosion have yet to even be cleaned up. The Chernobyl disaster is thought of as being the worst nuclear power accident ever and rightfully so. The melt-down resulted in the evacuation of over 336,000 people, and resulted in 56 direct deaths, with 9,000 possible deaths within 20 years due to radiation exposure. The effects of this disaster were tremendous, but it also showed us how easily this stuff we were playing with could turn on us and cause a catastrophe. Which is also a cause for concern today in another sense. With all of the terrorist acts going on around the world today it causes major concern in the way that a nuclear power plant is a very easy target that could and would cause much destruction should it be terrorized. There is really no defense against a terrorist attack on a nuclear power plant, and should there be one there is no way to stop the immense amounts of radiation from exploding into the air. It would be absolutely catastrophic, anything and everything within a certain radius would be subject to overwhelming amounts of radiation exposure, and would most certainly die. So you can see why this is one of the main causes for concern with nuclear power plants today. Due to the very unstable nature of fission in general, let alone nuclear fission, these are the main set backs to the production of energy through nuclear power. Advantages:
However the question that needs to be asked is what is worth more, the minuet chance of a nuclear meltdown or a terrorist attack, or the massive amounts of energy produced at the minimal cost of nuclear power. The reason why nuclear power is such a big rave is mostly due to the heightened costs of crude oil and other energy producing products. The initial cost of a nuclear plant is very high, but within the lifetime the costs saved by the use of nuclear power rather than say oil or coal will have paid itself off. Also, speaking of coal and oil, the amount of harmful emissions released into our atmosphere is very large compared to the amount released by a nuclear power plant. In fact, this is one such thing nuclear power plants pride themselves on is the fact that they do not produce any environmentally hazardous emissions. This is a huge factor, especially today where the “Green House Effect” and “Global Warming” are two of the biggest topics in today’s society. Everywhere you look there are people out there trying to think of new and improved ways to clean our earth, to save it from the harmful emissions we release into the air with our cars and our field sprays well here is definitely one. Alternative Uses:
Nuclear power is not just a one sided source of energy. It does not solely produce electricity for our homes and offices. You can find nuclear power and energy just about everywhere you go now days. I say just about anywhere because just about anywhere you go has a smoke detector, and smoke detectors use an artificially produced radioisotope: americium-241. This radioisotope is extremely sensitive to changes in heat and allows the detector to sound the alarm if an intense amount of heat, such as a fire, were to come close to the detector. Where nuclear power is found that is not quite so common is in Nuclear Submarines. Nuclear submarines work pretty much just like a small nuclear power plant. The same reaction takes place just on a more minor scale, and the energy produced by the nuclear reaction powers the submarine. This was a major revolution in the technology of submarines, being able to stay submerged for days without surfacing, being able to conceal the position of the submarine. This became a very vital part of the most recent wars. Submarines are a very vital part to our national defense, and the nuclear energy that powers them makes it all the more efficient. Conclusion:
Today Nuclear power effects, in one way or another, a small majority of us all. Through the process of nuclear fission we have electricity, smoke detectors, nuclear submarines, nuclear bombs, and much more. Plus with the production costs of nuclear energy being so much more reasonable it makes everything just that much easier for us all. Certainly nuclear power is not something to just mess around with because it can and will turn on you in an instant, but with evolving technology and understanding we will someday be able to tame to great power of nuclear fission to the point where we may be able to use it in everyday life.