First of all I have to put a disclaimer on this weeks post. GlamSciUK is not an active supporter or lobbyist for nuclear power. This post is my own opinion voiced on this platform to open discussion and heighten awareness. We need to explore all alternative energy sources to meet the increasing needs of the human race.
In the mainstream media there have been many vocal opponents to Nuclear Power. The lay consensus is that Nuclear Power is dangerous, costly and harmful to the environment. The sad truth is, it is anything but!
Nuclear power was first discovered in the 1930s. Ernest Rutherford discovered that the splitting of a lithium atom produced massive amounts of energy, staying true to the mass equivalency principle. Mass equivalency is Einstein’s E=MC2.
Nuclear power is harnessed by nuclear fission. This is the decay of an atom into smaller parts. When spontaneous or man made decay is induced on an atom it produces masses of energy that can be converted to heat.
So how does Nuclear Power work? Very simple. The same as a coal fired plant. In a Nuclear Power plant the coal boilers and chutes are replaced with a nuclear reactor. The reactor splits the uranium atom. When the uranium 235 atom is split, the heat and energy released is converted into steam, the steam turns the turbine which fires the electricity generator and powers homes.
Right now the world is mostly powered by coal. A fossil fuel which emits hundreds of millions of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Coal use has reduced in the past 200 years due to steam ships no longer sailing the seas and homes being heated with kerosene instead of domestic coal.
When we see coal fired plants emit smoke from their towers, the majority of the gases are sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide which contributes to acid rain, smog, and nitrogen oxides. The towers of a nuclear power plant emit water vapour. So Nuclear Power emits ZERO greenhouse gases. Although to be fair, incorrect disposal of nuclear waste into rivers has contributed to surface warming. Should the correct disposal measures be introduced this would erase this issue. Science can’t take the carbon out of coal.
So let’s talk about efficiency. A typical coal fired plant disposes of 300,000 tons of ash and sludge per year. A nuclear plant disposes of around 20 metric tons of split uranium. Usable energy is measured in kilowatt hours. Coal produces 8141 kilowatt hours per ton. Uranium effiency clocks in at 24,000,000 kilowatt hours per kilogram!
So how abundant is uranium? Uranium isn’t rare. It is as abundant as zinc or tin. It is fairly common in rocks and seawater. Even better, when coal burns ash is discarded. Uranium can go through a reactor more than once.
The water vapour emitted from a Nuclear Power station actually assists in the replenishing of the atmosphere. Right now, approx 65% of the world using coal for power is destroying the Earth.
Elephants in the room need to be addressed. Chernobyl and Fukushima. Chernobyl was caused by a design flaw in the reactor in which a steam explosion caused a graphite fire and meltdown. Whilst this was a damaging and lasting disaster, nuclear reactor technology has improved vastly since 1986 and safety/cooling systems would now safely avert disaster.
So what about Fukushima you may ask? An earthquake in 2011 caused a tsunami which shut the reactors down. The cooling systems couldn’t cope with the unexpected pressure and three meltdowns followed. Sadly, very few technologies and buildings are able to survive natural disasters, this includes nuclear power plants.
Since these two disasters, Nuclear Power is decreasing. This is giving rise to renewable energy. Given the facts of nuclear power, it is easy to see the environmental and efficiency benefits. If we used the abundant uranium as a nuclear power source it would be too cheap to meter.