18 April 2012
Posted in Earth Day
It makes up at least 20 percent of the United States’ energy production but what exactly is nuclear energy? Nuclear energy results from the fission or splitting of uranium atoms. Once the fission takes place, steam is generated from the heat and released through turbines. This process sounds simple enough, so why is it so controversial? Here we take a look at the pros and cons of nuclear energy:
Pros: Nuclear energy is a dependable source of energy, third to using coal and natural gas. Its energy is created from uranium, which can be recycled and has few other commercial uses according to the Nuclear Energy Institute. Whereas fossil fuel sources are estimated to be depleted within the next couple hundred years, there are large amounts of uranium which will last us thousands of years. Benefits of nuclear energy include it being a readily available source of technology that produces relatively little carbon dioxide and its plants can operate around the clock. Using nuclear energy is fairly safe as there are more than 100 nuclear plants throughout the U.S. that are thoroughly regulated by the government with plant accidents being a rare occurrence. Plant reactor structures are surrounded by heavy amounts of stainless steel and are reinforced by four foot concrete walls and backup systems. The end result of waste is properly disposed of in underground depositories. There are drawbacks to all types of energy production whether it is nonrenewable or renewable, carbon or solar, nuclear energy just has fewer of them.
Cons: Granted the nuclear plants take great caution in protecting the environment and its employees but accidents happen and the results can be devastating. In a 1986 accident in Chernobyl, Russia, more than thirty people died and many suffered from radiation exposure due to flawed reactor designs and inexperienced personnel. The World Nuclear Association reports that the radiation from the accident affected more than one million people. Another immediate effect of the accident was many people being forced to flee their homes for uncontaminated areas. More than twenty years later, civilians are still feeling the effects of the accident. By 2002, more than four thousand children had been diagnosed with thyroid cancer. The waste from nuclear plants has to be properly disposed of by being tucked away for thousands of years (costly) and leaks or improper disposal can result in environmental devastation. Would that really be sustainable for future generations and would we really want to run the risk of such devastation?
Deciding what route to take with energy production is vital to our future as the U.S. Department of Energy projects that coal and natural gas will run out within 250 years, but the demand for electricity will rise 22 percent by 2035. We need to take steps toward ensuring a more sustainable future for our children, the only question now is which way to go?