So i just finished a rough draft of a paper on implementing more nuclear power plants in the U.S. it goes fairly in depth and I feel like it presents a persuasive argument. Check it out if you want, i tried to make it as interesting as possible. I hope you guys realize how important it is to convert to sustainable energy and realize how global warming is going to affect our generation. Feel free to rip it apart if you disagree, im down to start a debate about the subject. I know its long but I think you would be surprised at how interesting it is.
Spark notes: Nuclear power plants=Good
A push for nuclear power in America
What if the U.S. solely relied on nuclear power? How much greenhouse gas emission would it save? What would be the environmental impacts-both positive and negative? Right now the U.S. uses 101.554 Quadrillion Btu, about 21% of the world’s produced energy (International Energy Statistics(IES)). According the IES this causes 5,833,000,000 metric tons of Carbon Dioxide to be emitted a year. Nuclear power can reduce this number vastly, which will in turn greatly help with global warming. Right now the U.S. is running at 10% nuclear capacity and produces 20% of the United States total energy (Deutch et al.). This means creating 5 times as many nuclear power plants would completely eliminate the need for coal as well as other greenhouse gas emitting energy producers.
Nuclear power is nowhere near a new concept. It has been around since the middle of the 50’s, granted a lot of new technology have vastly changed to way it operates. However, due to melt downs, environmental issues, safety, and cost, there are no new nuclear power plants under construction right now (Deutch et al. 11). But where would America be if it didn’t take risks? This country was founded off of risk and we all know how that turned out; Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Technology for nuclear energy has room for growth in all the categories listed above. Meltdowns to the extent of Chernobyl no longer happen. However these distant memories have been held close to Americans hearts, be it fear of nuclear weapons being related to nuclear power plants or misunderstood outcomes of past occurrences. In this article we will circumnavigate the topic of Nuclear Energy, looking at pros, cons, concerns, and how to go about expanding nuclear energy. It is time for a change and, with current technologies, nuclear power is the direction to head.
As we all know, greenhouse gas emission is the main human caused factor for global warming. That is why there is such a large push for renewable energy, burning fossil fuels creates billions of tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year. Wind and solar emit extremely low amounts of greenhouse gasses but the technology to go mainstream with those technologies is not here, yet. On another note, coal and natural gas emit immense amounts of Carbon Dioxide, 1050 grams per kilowatt hour for coal and 443 for natural gas, whereas nuclear only emits 66 grams per kilowatt hour (Sovacool). These figures factor in the lifecycle of the power plant including everything from mining the uranium to storage of spent rods. By a quick computation it is easy to see that coal releases almost 16 times more carbon dioxide and natural gas, mind you “a clean burning fuel”, releases nearly 7 times the amount.
If we could wait 20 years before taking action on the energy crisis, then wind and solar would be the way to go. But when there is technology readily available to vastly reduce greenhouse gas production now, what is the point in waiting? Solar and wind energy produce about 10 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour, which is clearly better than nuclear, but an extra 50 grams per Kwh is ,far better than 900. As soon as a breakthrough in wind and solar technology occurs, energy construction should switch to them but for now new construction should be nuclear energy. Eventually the two will meet and the U.S. will have a solidly variation of energy production, all emitting less than 100 grams of greenhouse gasses per kwh.
Problems and Hesitations Surrounding Nuclear Power Generation
Chernobyl, the greatest nuclear power disaster in history, is old news. What happened in 1986 in Russia is no indication of what is to come, however it has sparked fear and greatly slowed the advancement of nuclear power plants across the world, especially in America. The reactor, an RBMK, was the type of reactor at Chernobyl while America uses BWR, Boiling water reactors. It is common knowledge now that RBMK type reactors are unstable at low operating powers (World Nuclear Association(WNA)). Looking at the worst nuclear power meltdown in the U.S.’s history, Three Mile Island, it is very dissimilar to the Chernobyl incident. There was not a single death due to the melt down and, according to the Kemeny Commission Report, “"there will either be no case of cancer or the number of cases will be so small that it will never be possible to detect them. The same conclusion applies to the other possible health effects." 12 years after the incident the site was decontaminated and cleaned and since 1985 unit 1 of the plant has been running smoothly, safely and reliably providing power to Pennsylvania; cleanly. There was a lot of unneeded fear created by the government during the incident which has prevented the advancement of these systems. Nuclear power is a massively over feared concept. According to the WNA, there was false fear for radiation poisoning as well as an explosion. While meltdowns do happen, they are few and far between. The last major event was in 1979, and was Three Mile Island. The worst outcome of this melt down is the fear it inflicted on American’s, not a single death and the overall environmental impact has disappeared by now. When events like this happen, problems are fixed, malfunctions become less likely and safety rises. The fear enables this however American’s need to realize that nuclear power generation can be safe. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, NRC, licenses nuclear power plants to run for 40 years and offers an extension of 20 years once those are up. The NRC expects that almost all of the licenses will be extended. This is a clear indication of the safety of nuclear power plants, the U.S. would not allow these plants to continue operation if they didn’t deem them safe.
The next obstacle is cost. There are many arguments that nuclear power is not competitive with coal and natural gas which is true, at least right now. However the costs of coal and natural gas are likely to rise soon. If a carbon emission tax is instated, natural gas and more importantly, and heftily, coal rates will see a rise. With the low carbon emission of nuclear plants, there will be a miniscule, in comparison, tax for them. However the most probable way of lowering prices is through standardizing construction practices which will be able to demonstrate to investors the reliability and accuracy of the scheduling and building of these power plants (Deutch et al. 9). If this is done, investment will rise driving costs down, however this can only be completed by building more plants and proving their reliability, safety, and benefits. With the power plants that are in operation now and their proven reliability and safety, we should well be on our way to lower costs and a cleaner future.
The last pertinent obstacle is the disposal of nuclear waste. Many ideas have been brought about such as long and short term storage as well as transmutation (Gold). According to Gold, nuclear waste from reactors come in two forms, high and low level radioactive waste. The low level waste, with a half life of not more than 50 years, can easily be stored until the radioactive substances are able to decay in short term storage. The more challenging waste to deal with is obviously the high level waste. The most effective way to get rid of this is through transmutation. The process of nuclear transmutation is fairly basic. The radioactive waste is used in a fission reactor that essentially speeds up the decay of the radioactive particles. This in turn creates energy than can be put into the grid, just like a nuclear power plant. However it also creates some high level radioactive waste, but on a much smaller level which would make long term storage more feasible. There is a lot of research on the subject of transmutation being completed right now in labs across the globe and some of the results show that nuclear waste that would normally be harmful for up to 10 million years can be transmutated so that it is relatively safe after 300 years, according to Browne. The product would then need to be stored long term. This can be done deep underground with a minimal effect on the environment. It comes down to what’s better, burying something that will become safe over time or emitting billions of tons of greenhouse gasses into our already oversaturated atmosphere.
Rewards and Benefits of Nuclear Power Generation
The magnitude of the benefits of transitioning to nuclear power would be immeasurable. Who knows when the breaking point of global warming will be crossed? With our current consumption rate of coal and other fossil fuels we are playing a game of Russian roulette with the planet, and every living organism on it, at stake. The quality of air would improve drastically. According to Gwyneth Cravens, 24,000 people die each year as a result of the toxic carbon dioxide waste that is produced with coal-fired power plants. She also states that a lifetime of waste for one person who solely uses nuclear power would fit into a soda can whereas, for coal, 169 tons of waste would be produced and 77 tons of that waste would be in the form of greenhouse gasses. The safety of today’s nuclear power plants is exceptional. There hasn’t been a major event in the last 2 decades and 50 total deaths have been accounted for according to the WNA. Catastrophes within other forms of energy production are in the hundreds of thousands. A single event with a hydro-electric dam caused 230,000 deaths and wreaked havoc on the land; coal miners are frequently exposed to mine collapses or methane explosions which typically, in a single even, kill more than the total amount of deaths from nuclear power generation (WNA). Nuclear power generation has been unfairly labeled as highly dangerous. Many Americans believe that a catastrophic event is bound to happen but, with today’s technology, mandatory trainings for workers, and its proven track record , nuclear power generation is one of the most stable, reliable, and effective forms of energy production today. America could completely remove coal and natural gas from energy production and boost nuclear power production to 50%. This would allow for the production of 100% of the energy we produce today while decreasing greenhouse gas emission 93.7%. This would reduce the greenhouse gas emissions by over 5 billion metric tons per year from 5.83 billion to under .37 billion. Within the last decade Americans are beginning to realize the enormous benefits of nuclear power. The graph below shows a steady trend in an increase of favorability with nuclear power. Nearly two thirds of the population favor nuclear power and about half of those Americans are strongly for the nuclear solution (Gallup Environmental Poll).
In closing, there is a clear need for a change in energy consumption. Currently the energy production system is taxing on American’s health, America’s pollution, greenhouse gas emission and therefore global warming. 24,000 lives are unnecessarily lost a year due to poor air quality from coal-fired plants. The costs related to this change will be large at first but it is an investment for the world’s future. However, once the initial investments are made, nuclear power will likely be competitively priced (or possible even cheaper with new technologies) with coal. The time to act is now. We don’t have 20 years to hope for a solution in solar or wind power and, comparatively, the difference in greenhouse gas emissions from nuclear to solar and wind is miniscule. It will always be beneficial to continue research in better, cleaner, safer, and more efficient energy production methods but in order to get there we need to move out of the industrial revolution era and into a new era. Coal needs to be out as soon as possible and in order to do that the best available solution should take over, and that solution is nuclear power.