Most electricity in the US is produced using sources such as nuclear energy, burning coal, or natural gas, which electric power plants use for heat to make steam that spin turbines under pressure. The spinning turbines interact with a system of magnets that produce electricity that then reaches our homes by electrons moving through wires (www.differentsourcesofelectricity.com). The US gets 20% of it's electricity from nuclear power plants, 50% from burning coal, 18% from natural gas, 7% from hydroelectric, and about 2.3% from wind power and solar energy (www.differentsourcesofelectricity.com). Burning coal causes the most pollution along with the most carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide emissions than any other fossil fuel (www.naturalgas.org). Hydroelectricity, solar energy, and wind power are considered renewable sources of energy and produce very little CO2 if at all. Nuclear power plants use nuclear fission fueled by uranium. There are several different estimates of the amount of this metal on the planet that is usable for nuclear power plants. According to World Nuclear Association (WNA), uranium is more common than previously thought and is found in rocks and seawater that is “economically recoverable” (www.world-nuclear.org). In fact, the WNA argues that the world's reserves of uranium increased 15% in 2007 due to mineral exploration (www.world-nuclear.org). However, other sources state we will use our entire uranium resource world supply in 30-60 years if we continue at the rate of consumption presently (www.timeforchange.org). Exploration of resources and the rate of uranium consumption will be important in any developmental plan of nuclear power plants.
Nuclear power plants use pellets of uranium inside rods as fuel for the nuclear reactions going on inside the nuclear reactor. These chain reactions are made by using neutron particles to split uranium atoms thus freeing neutrons, which creates more split uranium atoms with more free neutrons and the process is repeated (www.eia.doe.gov). Energy in the form of heat is created when atoms split and is used in a process known as the Rankine Cycle, which is converting heat into “mechanical work” and thus spins turbines to produce electricity (www.technologystudent.com). The reaction creates so much heat that the reactor has to be submerged in water to cool it down and only taking it out of the reactor water when it needs to be heated again (www.technologystudent.com). There are several advantages of using nuclear power. Nuclear power stations do not burn anything to create the heat needed therefore, produce low levels of pollutants such as CO2 and considered an environmentally clean source of energy. Another advantage of using nuclear power is that it would lessen the nation's dependency of oil, which mostly come from the Middle East and South America. Building nuclear plants would also create more jobs and boost the nation's economy.
The disadvantages include the radioactivity fuel and waste produced after the reactor is dismantled. Although, the waste is not considered a large amount to properly dispose of, it takes years along with proper storage and more guards with guns to secure. Furthermore, we do not have a way to recycle the radio-active waste yet. Other disadvantages include accidents or radioactive leaks in the atmosphere or more dramatic incidences like Chernobyl. However, the US Nuclear Regulations Commission states that nuclear reactors built in the US are safer than the ones at Chernobyl and we would not have to worry about explosions. Possible other risks are terrorist attacking nuclear stations and attempting to destroy ecosystems and health of citizens. Another possible concern would be the scarcity of usable uranium.
Hydroelectricity, solar energy, and wind power are all sources of renewable energy that may one day become more cost effective to use than nuclear power. Many disadvantages of using solar energy is the initial cost of implementing a system for homes. However, there are no emissions to worry about when using solar energy and maintenance is fairly low. Nonetheless, not every part of the country is sunny all the time and weather plays a keep role in where one can use these systems. Wind farms also produce no pollutants, but do not have the capability to run efficiently all the time. The atmospheric pressures and weather patterns constantly change making these gadgets unreliable. Furthermore, it would take millions of turbines to power the nation. Hydroelectricity is very efficient and low polluting. However, hydroelectric systems use dams, which have the potential to destroy ecosystems. There are several reports about how we have less salmon now from the disturbances of the dams upsetting spawning patterns. I do believe we should build hydroelectric power stations at the dams already. Nonetheless, nuclear power seems to be a great solution to a big environmental problem, but it too takes up beautiful land that is most of the time next to water, which changes the landscape.
The US Nuclear Regulations Commission regulates and issues licenses, safety, and construction of new nuclear reactors, which include regulation of siting, design, and operation of nuclear plants (www.nrc.gov). The best sites for nuclear power plants are on flat parcels of land by dependable sources of water for cooling down the reactor. Other important factors to consider when building a nuclear power plant are picking a place with low cataclysmic activity such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and hurricanes. Illinois has several nuclear power plant locations, which are not too far from heavily populated areas, but one could not assume that it has stigmatized property values as much as the economy has.
Reducing our carbon footprint is an international concern. It is so important that private companies such as Scripps Institution of Oceanography are developing networks that physically track CO2 emissions across the world to see where they're coming from (www.sciencefriday.com). This information is invaluable to companies that are trying to lower their CO2 levels. It is also important to government bodies and the public. The bonus of using nuclear power plants is that they emit lower amounts of CO2 than coal burning power plants. Furthermore, sulfur dioxide, mercury, cadmium, and other toxic pollutants would be almost eliminated by switching to nuclear power.
When scratching the surface of information about nuclear power, it appears to be a solution while also being highly controversial. I think the solution for powering the country will be different state by state. Sunnier states may choose solar energy as a source while windier places may choose wind farms. I do live in Chicago and within 100 miles of several nuclear power plants. It's not something I worry about on a daily basis, but do feel people should be aware of the evacuation and emergency maps and consider taking precautions in case of an accident or attack before it happens. However, if I lived within a mile of a nuclear power plant, I would consider moving. Although, the US Nuclear Regulations Commission states an accident like Chernobyl will not happen again, the issues and potential violence that nuclear power plants may stigmatize make it uncomfortable and more public education needs to be implemented. I hope one day solar or wind power will be more efficient, affordable, and feasible throughout the nation. It seems to be the best renewable source of energy and we do not have to worry about radioactive material sitting around for thousands of years.
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