Monday, March 23, 2009

Nuclear energy has great potential

Recently there are ongoing talks about climate change and global warming problem in which world seeks for an answer how to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. Many of these answers include full focus to renewable energy sources but some also suggest use of nuclear energy. However there is not only the question of climate change, there is also the question of constantly increasing demand for energy on global scale, and energy use is currently growing at rate of 3% per year so world will very soon have to explore all possible energy options to satisfy ever-growing energy needs. Of course, if current economy crisis becomes long term crisis, then energy needs will not increase – probably energy demand will even drop. In this article we will assume that economy is going to recover soon, and with that energy demands will rise.

One of these options is definitely nuclear energy. Unfortunately, nuclear energy still suffers because of its former sins (Chernobyl, Three Miles Island), and many think of only Chernobyl disaster when thinking about nuclear energy. But truth is completely different, and today with maximum safety measures on, nuclear energy is definitely worth to consider. Nuclear energy sector has learned from mistakes and today we are talking about nuclear power plants with maximum safety, with literally no chance of another Chernobyl disaster. From the ecological point of view nuclear energy is ecologically acceptable energy source, for instance it creates less than 1/100th of the CO2 created by the traditional power plants.

There are two well known processes in producing nuclear energy - fission and fusion. Fission, which is the splitting of nuclei, is highly efficient process that creates more than 10 million times the energy compared to the energy created in the burning of the same amount of fossil fuels. Fusion is the opposite, the process of joining nuclei that happens naturally in stars and the sun; though fusion process has been recreated in laboratories, it is not ready yet for mass energy production. Once this happens the amounts of usable nuclear energy will dramatically increase.

Currently, there are 442 nuclear fission reactors operating in the world, of which almost one third (130) is in the United States. With the current technology, thermal reactors can capture only 1% of the energy available in uranium. This energy makes up between 11% and 18% of the total energy available in the world. Developing technologies that would allow us to capture more of this available energy are still couple of decades away but nonetheless nuclear energy has big potential.

Nuclear fuel cycle. Uranium is mined, enriched and manufactured to nuclear fuel (1) which is delivered to a nuclear power plant. After usage in the power plant the spent fuel is delivered to a reprocessing plant (2) or to final repository (3) for permanent storage in a safe place, such as inside rock. In reprocessing 95% of spent fuel can be recycled to be returned to usage in a power plant (4).

Uranium is the main source of nuclear energy (large uranium deposits are found in Australia). Mining uranium is not too expensive, and the additional advantage of uranium is very easy transport to reactors anywhere in the world. This of course makes nuclear energy relatively inexpensive to produce when not only compared to conventional methods of energy production, but also to some renewable energy sources. Cost of nuclear energy is between 3 and 5 cents per kilowatt hour, and the developing technologies have seen this cost to be dropped over the last 25 years, unlike the cost of other forms of energy that have steadily increased over the same period of time.

With these advantages, and relatively low incidence rates, nuclear energy is definitely one energy source we should be thinking much more in years to come.

4 comments:

Joseph said...

Any1 who think's that Neuclier power is good should be told the truth about it.It is the most dangerous type of power station ever built on planet earth.All government's are getting it in the back pocket from the power companies for letting them go ahead.1 cock up in say France and good buy EUROPE.This is a fact.And the more powerstations that are built rises the chances of a melt down.No matter what any government's tell you dont believe it about neuclier power stations.The only thing to do with them is scrap them.I have solid proof that what I am saying(appart from the governments getting it in the back pocket)is true.And I can prove it.Neuclear power is more dangerous than a pandemic,tsunami or even a metior strike (now theres a thought.1 metior hitting a power [lant in the usa would render the whole of the usa uninhabitable.and that is a fact.

Anonymous said...

Dear Joseph,
I have a hard time believing (or even reading) what you have written because you fail to demonstrate your literacy. Perhaps your credibility is knocked due to the fact you can't spell "nuclear" right (not neuclier nor neuclear). Anyways, more people die in coal burning plants in ONE MONTH than people have died from the ENTIRE HISTORY of nuclear plants. Only 56 people died from Chernobyl vs the 4,000 people that die in coal burning plants every year. Nuclear power have an astounding safety record. The media distorts the picture. Look at the true facts and see how it really is. Oh, and learn how to spell what you are talking about before you rant and rave. Thanks.

veera shaikh said...

I am not exactly going against the fact that nuclear power is productive and has a wide range of advantages or anything but we cannot deny the fact that how much nuclear power has cost the world, no doubt it is true that only 56 people died in the chernobyl disaster but the after effects were mutation and terrible diseases, isnt that too much. I understand that its a 1 in a 100 chance that a nuclear reactor would explode but if it does then the nuclear leakage is far more dangerous then an earth quack, I hope I am not offensive or anything and I welcome anyone who would want to correct me if I am wrong.

Anonymous said...

As an engineer, I find this to be an old discussion raking over argumentative detritus. From the point of view of electricity generation, the crucial question decision makers should ask is : how many deaths occur per TWh of electricity generated? In the USA, coal combustion was considered to cause 4 deaths per TWh (AAS studies, 1970's) but has improved its score recently. If the US figures of the recent past applied world-wide, we would estimate some 40000 fatalities PER YEAR from the burning of coal in power stations. Imagine the uproar if 40000 person died of radiation poisoning? It is very hard to find direct or indirect evidence of public fatalities from nuclear power outside the Ukraine.
The IEA in 2008 published a paper indicating that out of 900000 persons dyign annually from particulate air pollution, a third of eh deaths are energy related. Imagine the tunnel-minded outrage if nuclear energy caused even a fraction of that mortality! There is another perspective; electrocution deaths. Before Fukushima disaster, nuclear energy generated 25% of electricity in Japan, and therefore had to be blamed for 25% of the annual deaths caused by electrocution (about 200 or so annually). World-wide, thousands die of electrocution. So electricity itself is hazardous.
This debate has been poorly constructed and loaded against nuclear energy hazards, which are actually smaller than popular impressions would have it.