The way that energy is produced is of great impact to humanity, as it directly results in how industry, technology, and the economy are impacted. How do all these relate to the production of energy? It is when energy is cheap and plentiful that it can be wasted, when it is plentiful and cheap that an economy and industry excel. These three aspects of a society are in direct conflict due to decisions that are made with the knowledge of the cost of energy. To achieve the best compromise between all three of these, it is vitally important to secure a form of energy that is powerful, plentiful, and protective of the environment and secure it in such a way that the costs do not rise. Although coal is a cheap energy that is easily used, nuclear energy is better because it has less harmful side effects, is better for environment, and is reusable and economic.
Any energy source that is used to produce power has side effects and risks associated with it. The very best long-term solutions that are in existence are solar and hydroelectric power. However, these power sources are extremely costly to build per joule of power. To add to this is the fact that these power sources, especially hydro, can be extremely disruptive and harmful to ecologies if not carefully installed. Nuclear power is then the next best choice, although it too has serious ramifications for the environment. Sixty-two percent of the public of America in a survey supports the use of nuclear power (Beaver, 2011). To dismiss the risk of a nuclear accident or crisis is ignorant at best, and flippant at worst. The risk associated with a nuclear power plant is high, that cannot be overstressed, but if humans do not take these risks, the earth will die from the dangers associated with other power production mediums. To first waylay fears, the tragedy suffered at Chernobyl was absolutely resultant upon ignoring the design parameters and operator error (Hodgson, 2009). The incidents suffered currently in Japan and in Three Mile Island are isolated cases and should be scrutinized individually, as all cases should be. The benefit of living in the twenty first century is that reactor technology is much better than it was in its inception (Miller, 2011).
The reactor technology of today is far more safe and secure than that of the past. Several of Japans reactors involved in the 2011 tsunami tragedy were old models based on obsolete technology. Japan suffered a humongous earthquake followed by a massive tsunami, both of which did not cause the nuclear crisis in Japan. The issue that made the situation critical was that the water damaged the generators of several of the reactors, which in turn limited the reactors to electric battery backup (Maugh II, 2011). When these batteries were used and the ability to cool the reactors was gone, they began to heat up. After this, the external housing that the water was transported to began to heat up and water vapor began forming. The heat became so intense that the water proceeded to separate from H2O into hydrogen and oxygen. Enough pressure built up that the hydrogen was able to combust, thus causing the top of the external reactor to blow off. This is what the American public witnessed on the televised news stations (Mufson, 2011). It is laudable however that the nuclear reactors were contained from exposing the fuel rods and that a much greater disaster was thwarted. The other case of a diverted nuclear disaster was Three Mile Island, which occurred on US soil. What occurred at Three Mile Island was that the reactor did indeed meltdown, but the outer container walls held the damaged core container. Even though the crisis was averted, the public confidence of nuclear power was shaken. Many of the surrounding individuals were extremely upset, and felt unable to trust the officials in charge of the investigation (Culley, 2010). To this end, the nuclear reactors that are installed need to be extremely safe, easy to diagnose, and very hardy. The risks of a nuclear accident damage the public’s view of how amazing nuclear reactors are and serve only to tarnish nuclear power’s exemplary records.
The risks associated with nuclear power and coal indeed overlap, as both can cause tumors and mutations if improperly contained or even in normal usage. It has been found that there is an increase of Leukemia in the people living around the nuclear power plants in Germany, so fears are not unfounded (Fairlie, 2010). Cancer is one of the most excruciating deaths, and controlled measures of energy production is necessary. Where the two differ, however, is that a nuclear power plant operating at nominal efficiency and safety is close to harmless. It is even expected that the body will improve under small amounts of radiation as the body will increase its protective measures naturally (Cuttler, 2009). The coal power plant disperses fine particulates of ash and dust as well as CO2, all of which are very unhealthy for people. Of course, nuclear power has far greater potential to do harm to the surrounding area, but it can also save the planet, which is why it is so important that the nuclear power plants do not malfunction. To this end, as long as the nuclear power plant can be safely run, it will be better for the public than when compared to coal. China, a country that is surging forth in the largest industrial revolution known to man, is proof that coal is horrible for the population, as the Olympic officials did not like the air quality. To say that the power provided by coal is clean is not true; the expelled air is poisonous and contributes to acidic rain whereas nuclear does not. The biggest issue surrounding air quality and nuclear power is the danger of released isotopes in the air. This can only happen if there is an accidental leak, or an intentional one. Because of the high threat of terroristic attacks, the possibility of a dirty bomb is moderate, and some think that recycling increases the possibility of this (Von Hippel, 2008). It is inconceivable that a terrorist could gain nuclear material, but the risk is too high to ignore. Is the threat of terrorists worth the continued pollution of the planet out of fear? No, nuclear fuel is useful until it is no longer radioactive, and recycling will always be worthwhile. In the end, as long as the terrorists are kept at bay, then the air pollution of a nuclear reactor is miniscule compared to that of a coal power plant.
The air that is produced from a nuclear power plant is only slightly radioactive. Actually, it is the water vapor that is slightly irradiated, and it is far, far below the amounts necessary to damage the surrounding area. Coal on the other hand, the second largest way to produce power, is a damaging ingredient to the atmosphere. The expelled air from a coal power plant is high in particulates, high in carbon dioxide, and reasonably high in nitrogen dioxide. These are all very harmful to a human, so is radiation, but in small amounts, even in a lifetime, it is insufficient to cause harm (Rogner, 2010). The problem with these power sources is not only on how the material effects the environment when it is in use, but also in how it is refined, how it is obtained, and how it is disposed. The way that coal is obtained requires large open pit mines, which are humongous, an eyesore, and an environmental curse. Nuclear mining is far more specialized and takes place in far smaller areas as well as not leaving an open pit. As the resources are gained from the ground, they require power to transport them to their destinations of usage and the prior refinement. The more material that is to be transported, the more energy required to move it. Coal is far more voluminous than compressed nuclear fuel, and therefore requires massive amounts of energy to transport. Coal, after it is recovered, goes through a very brief refinement period before it is ready to be used. Nuclear fuel goes through weeks of centrifugal refinement and filtering before the isotopes are ready to be used (Childress, 2010). The explanation of why a nuclear pellet is equivalent to several hundred pounds of coal in energy is due to production; far more effort is put into the creation of a nuclear pellet than a piece of coal. Coal is disposed by burning, and the remaining carbon is discarded. Nuclear power however, must be disposed of in a concise and calculated manner. In America, some of the waste is directly discarded and some is recycled in “closed cycle” processes (MacFarlane, 2010). The waste is very limited in nuclear power, but coal always will be more wasteful and repugnant to the atmosphere.
Obviously the most convenient power source is the cheapest, but in America, and in other educated countries, the need to balance the welfare of the planet with cheap power is important. To do this, the country needs to decide which is more important, the planet or energy. There is a solution that the country needs to embrace for its energy needs; cheap energy is obtainable with nuclear reactors as long as the necessary stops are put in place to ensure no disaster occurs (Smith, 2008). Despite the public hysteria regarding nuclear power in America, no person has died because of it (Stieglitz, 2009). Any accidents that occur in a nuclear power plant raise the cost of operating it, and reduce the cheapness of its power. Any major power plant accident that damages the surrounding environment is a cost too high. What is more, the damage will often be more costly than the amount of capital that would be saved. To this end, it is essential that the start up costs of a nuclear reactor not be the deciding factor, as they often pay for themselves in the first few years. Nuclear power plants are key to the energy production in America, without them the cost of electricity would skyrocket (Roman, 2009). Coal power plants, on the other hand often have accidents and breakdowns, and these breakdowns simply add to the already high cost of a coal power plant. Furthermore, when a fuel pellet of a nuclear reactor is used, it can be refined and put back into use, whereas with coal, after it is used, it will simply disperse, along with the pollutants into the atmosphere. The cost of nuclear power is truly of significant impact for comparable size plants of coal and nuclear. The nuclear power plant has a far higher efficiency as well as a far larger power production when compared to its coal relative. All these benefits do have a major stipulation in that other countries are courting nuclear power, and this could eventually lead to an increased cost of raw fuel. This is unsurprising, however, as coal also is a natural resource that the world is competing to use. The power of nuclear isotopes is far cheaper and powerful than the power of coal, although coal is far more common. Both the people and the country need to build superior nuclear power plants over the inferior and less advanced coal power plants.
The nuclear power production of America is low because the populous does not have the education necessary to sway their minds. If more individuals were to be better educated in regards to the power production in America, they would choose nuclear. The disasters that have befallen mankind due to nuclear power are miniscule to the losses due to other forms of power. Japan, Three Mile Island, and Chernobyl have a total tally of few lives compared to coal. To be truly safe, nuclear power needs to continue to improve and become ever more secure. Nuclear power is superior compared to coal in that it has higher efficiencies, the capability to be recycled, the possibility of lower environmental damage, and cheaper power production per joule.
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