The Plight Of Nuclear Energy

August 28, 2017

When you hear the word nuclear, the immediate impression your mind conjures up is the mushroom cloud; the cloud of death that marked the eradication of 220,000 innocent souls of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. That was, unfortunately, nuclear energy’s instigation to most of the world’s population.

 

 

 

To be fair, nuclear energy is just what this age of civilization direly needs. The energy concealed in the nucleus of the atom, what holds the protons and neutrons together is, at first, a miniscule value; but that is just in one atom. Multiplying it with the number of atoms in only one volume of substance is absolutely colossal! Atoms are, for us, infinite, and so harnessing the energy of the atom can easily tackle the growing demand for electricity today and light this world for as long as we desire, while not harming the environment in any way. People like David Dietz and Glenn Seaborg talked about this untapped energy all around us and the depth of its almost-unimaginable applications; but the fear in people, that insect has led them to adopt a false perspective of nuclear energy and the idea of a utopian future, powered by virtually limitless and harmless energy, to diminish into improbability.

 

The nuclear industry, because of its surrounding market, has developed only so much after 1945. The savage bombing in World War 2, shook even the hearts of the attackers. It is after all a destructive force, but we can change that, and we did change that. Nuclear power plants were established soon and practically were able to produce 3.7 million times as much energy as the same amount of coal. 

 

Uranium-235, the only naturally fissile element, was used as fuel and was broken down to produce heat energy. All this heat from the nuclear core, boiled the water around it into steam which turned the turbines and generated electricity. This process, called fission, has been the only method of generating nuclear energy up till now and has proved to be quite fruitful, although a few bumps along the road make it less of an attraction to investors thus naturally lowering its demand. The main reasons for this are the difficulties of radioactive waste disposal and nuclear core meltdowns.

 

Honestly speaking, these are quite logical reasons that put the nuclear energy industry in a tight spot. Conventional nuclear power plants only use about 4% of the nuclear fuel while the 96% left is declared as waste. Although reprocessing methods exist to remove the fissile elements from the waste, they actually increase the volume of waste rather than decrease it, due to the chemicals added in the process, deeming it inefficient. On the contrary modern startups, like ‘Transatomic’, have discovered ways to counter this by using liquid nuclear fuel rather than the old solid rods and nuclear engineers have also come up with ball-structured nuclear fuel that cannot melt. These increasingly new innovations can easily avoid Fukushima-like accidents in the future and bring back the promise of a bright future.

 

 

Furthermore, the other method of harnessing nuclear energy, called fusion, is something of a Holy Grail to the energy sector. Fusion is what lights up the Sun. It is what allows it to burn. It is what makes it emit immense amounts of heat energy. But for us humans, it was unachievable owing to the complexities of the process. Fusion, unlike fission, was the process of bombing two atoms into each other instead of splitting one, creating elements of other atoms and energy in the process, but the atoms could not simply collide into each other as forces existed between them. To overcome these forces, ITER has proposed to collide these atoms in plasma so that they hold high amounts of kinetic energy. The project is run by seven member entities -the European Union, India, Japan, China, Russia, South Korea, and the United States and is scheduled for completion in 2019 whereby it will be able to produce 500 MW for up to 1000 seconds with an input of only 50 MW! Increasing the input by a factor of 10, the technology is most promising and can truly allow unlimited energy production as the fuel, Hydrogen, is abundant in the universe and on Earth. When was the last time USA and Russia worked together on something this big?

 

Nuclear energy is clearly the deal and its safe this time. It’s not dependent on any environmental condition unlike other renewable energy sources and once countries accept it, the only high construction costs can be easily overcome with a high market demand. It does not emit greenhouse gases which is all we have been fighting for, since the Ozone Hole. Why not leave a minimal carbon footprint and achieve the maximum we can from other safer ways? In 2016, nuclear energy accounted for just 11.8% of the total global energy production with only 31 countries out of 196 having set up nuclear power plants in them. Such promising prospects should be shared all around the world, not be feared of. So let ‘the miraculous inventiveness of man not be dedicated to his death, but consecrated to his life,’ (Eisenhower). Let’s try to put the past behind us and learn from our mistakes. Let nuclear energy be the bridge of peace between us. Let’s change tomorrow; let’s begin today.

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