Вы находитесь на странице: 1из 12

Personal Exploration and Academic Research Paper

Nuclear Energy
Caleb Warner

Ever since I was a young boy I have always loved, stood in awe of, and been intrigued by
the grandeur and mystery of the scientific field. The childhood fascination within me grew into
a love and desire to study the engineering science field. Through the centuries, we can see that
science seems to be bound only by the imagination, determination and technology of the time
or generation. It is easy to see in our current age that the energy availability affects the health,
wealth, education, and technological advances of communities or nations. There is a direct
correlation of these circumstances and energy availability (Pandoras Promise). For example
most 3rd world countries do not have the same energy availability that we enjoy in most of the
United States. In the United States there is a much larger opportunity for everyone to reach a
higher potential or goal they desire. Energy, it is becoming more and more vital to our
everyday life and its importance is only going to continue growing. One form of energy in
particular could have the potential to lift the world to a better age of opportunity through
increased energy availability, or condemn the earth by its potential consequences. Nuclear
energy is the energy source to which I am referring. Nuclear energy has a complicated history
that has caused the idea to polarize into two major opinions. Nuclear energy has the potential
to fuel the world with efficient, reliable, and nearly limitless energy. Alternatively it has the
potential to destroy ecosystems, and infect the lives of humanity with a deadly invisible poison.
So the question for us is do we support this form of energy, and its potential for good to benefit
mankinds future? Or, fear its potential and oppose it outright?

Personal Exploration and Academic Research Paper


Nuclear Energy
Caleb Warner

Fossil fuels, or the use of gasoline, oil, and coal as an energy source, have an expiration
date. Fossil fuels emit large amounts of carbon dioxide, changing our earths climate.
Furthermore, the amount of fuel available for burning is depleting and will eventually expire.
Energys importance as an issue is sometimes overlooked, but the time to look for other means
to satisfy this need is now. In order to understand nuclear energy I needed to go back to World
War II. Technological advances led to the introduction of the worlds deadliest weapon, the
atomic bomb. The bomb produced incredible amounts of energy; if we could harness that
energy it could become a new energy source. Nuclear reactors were subsequently introduced,
and it was thought that nuclear power would be the biggest energy advancement in decades.
However, there were two major accidents that happened within a few years of each other, and
many lost faith in nuclear power. The two accidents are known as Three Mile Island (United
States) and Chernobyl (Ukraine). The Chernobyl Reactor meltdown was a much bigger problem
than Three Mile Island. My initial understanding and opinion towards nuclear energy was that
the fears were irrational and everyone should fully embrace it as a major solution for energy.
However, as a studied the topic I became more aware of how others saw this energy source.
As I studied I was able to learn a lot more about the actual industry of nuclear energy. I
was not aware of the significant the difference between nuclear energy output and coal.
Furthermore, the overall cost of nuclear power plants over time will be much more efficient
(Martin Sevior). Robert Rosner, an astrophysicist, described the industry of nuclear energy by
comparing it to the commercial air traffic industry. In the early stages of commercial flight, like

Personal Exploration and Academic Research Paper


Nuclear Energy
Caleb Warner

nuclear power, it had a few mistakes and unfortunate occurrences. Yet today, it is a thriving
industry and proudly sponsored as the safest means of travel. Instead of destroying or
condemning the industry at its early stages of life the government joined hands with the private
sector of commercial flight and the product of this cooperation is the successful commercial
flight industry we enjoy today (Making Nuclear Energy Work). Rosner goes on to argue that
with government regulation, the use of nuclear reactors in the U.S. will save nuclear power as
an industry. I found Rosners insights and comparisons very convincing. Why not invite
government oversight? The government would have the means to regulate and monitor the
energy and its processes. As I continued to research, I discovered why the government, or
anyone, might stray away from nuclear energy. Nuclear reactors produce radioactive waste
that can take approximately 100,000 years before it has undergone enough half-lives to reach
safe levels of radioactivity. That opens up the question, how do we safely store something
deadly for thousands of years? I found a project in Finland that plans to bury the waste nearly
a mile below the earths surface (Into Eternity). Despite the efforts to make the facility there
are still no guarantees that it will be safe for thousands of years. The United States has its own
long term radioactive storage facility in New Mexico. However, in March of this year, radiation
leaks were detected and the plant has been temporarily shut down (Frosch, Dan). I realize it is
a little disconcerting to be having problems with our own storage facility. How would we be
able to deal with it on a larger level? What is more, the effects of radiation are much worse
than I understood. According to unverifiable evidence, Helen Caldicott shared that from the
explosion of radiation that occurred at Chernobyl there has been a significant increase in
3

Personal Exploration and Academic Research Paper


Nuclear Energy
Caleb Warner

cancers, and both animal and child birth deaths or deformities (Nuclear Shadow). Caldicott
argues that we should abstain from any endeavor engaged with nuclear waste. Many of these
radioactive illnesses were horrifying to me. In Paducah, Kentucky there used to be an active
uranium processing plant, but after years of working many of the employees began developing
cancers common to excessive amounts of radiation exposure (Cold War Poison). On the other
hand, as I continued my research, I did not know what to believe. Pandoras promise (a
documentary on nuclear energy and its history) depicted the Chernobyl area so differently. The
producers used radiation detectors to show the surrounding area was habitable. Furthermore,
there are communities and families living again in Chernobyl. I didnt know how to handle
these differing opinions, except to take into account that fallacies or political spin may have
been used to make an argumentative point. I was intrigued by all of this, but wanted to know
the amount of energy alternative sources could produce compared to nuclear energy. Energy
output is usually measured in Kilowatt hours, or the amount of watts produced per hour in
thousands. The average nuclear power plant produces 11.8 billion kilowatts per hour, the
average coal plant produces 500,000 kilowatts per hour, a 10 kilowatt wind turbine can
produce 16000 kwh annually, and a single solar panel produces about 200 kilowatts per hour
(US Energy Information Administration). Isnt it incredible that a single nuclear reactor can
produce billions of kilowatts per hour more than the average coal plant, and doesnt have
carbon dioxide as a byproduct? I was appalled to find that hydro, solar and wind energy
sources barely produced more energy than nuclear alone in an annual measurement (Pandoras
Promise). It became clear to me that many alternative energy sources are very limited in how
4

Personal Exploration and Academic Research Paper


Nuclear Energy
Caleb Warner

much energy can be produced. Due to the fact that energy consumption is used for almost
everything, its need will continue to increase. I dont think we can justify thinking that these
alternate forms will be able to replace the amount of energy fossil fuels provide.
I had the opportunity to interview Ryan Schow, the reactor supervisor over the UUTR
TRIGA reactor at the University of Utah, over the phone. He shared with me some very
interesting points that made a large impact upon my view and understanding of nuclear power.
Schow worked directly with the nuclear reactor on a nuclear submarine for many years and
shared with me that he has not had any health issues from his services. According to Schow
many are not well informed to about radiation and the amount it takes to begin affecting the
body. Schow also stated that the United States has been using old nuclear war heads from
Russia to fuel its nuclear reactors. What a great way to dispose weapons of mass destruction.
Not to mention, I learned that nuclear waste can be reprocessed and used again. The outcome
to reprocessing is that waste is accumulated much more slowly because it continues to be
reduced, giving us more energy for the fuel we put in. One of the biggest concerns with nuclear
power is the waste. Now that we have the means to minimalize it, nuclear power becomes a
much more appealing alternative. A concern with reprocessing is that the waste can be refined
to a point that it can be used for nuclear weapons. Schows response to my question
concerning Fukushima (a nuclear reactor in Japan that recently had a meltdown due to a
tsunami that left the reactor unstable) was that modern models for nuclear reactors would not
have had a problem, and the incident would not have occurred. What I was able to take away

Personal Exploration and Academic Research Paper


Nuclear Energy
Caleb Warner

from Ryan Schow was that my confidence in nuclear power as a solution was not vain.
Additionally, I was able to understand that the technological advances of our day can prevent
nuclear reactor accidents.
In the end, to answer my initial question, do we support nuclear energy, and its
potential for good to benefit mankinds future? Or, fear its potential and oppose it outright? I
fear the dangerous potential nuclear power holds. Still, it was clear to me that unless there are
dramatic advances in other alternative forms of energy, nuclear power will be a necessity.
There is a growing need for fossil fuels to be replaced and other alternative forms do not
appear to have the potential to replace fossil fuels production. In any case, my confidence in
nuclear power may be misplaced due to the lack of supported evidence for newer models for
reactors. With this in mind, I still find a lot of logic in Rosners comparison of commercial flight
to nuclear power. With government regulation, I feel there could be solutions to many of the
initial concerns with nuclear power. Just as when I was a child, I feel the wonder of
technological progress helps everyone in every aspect of life.

Personal Exploration and Academic Research Paper


Nuclear Energy
Caleb Warner
Annotated Bibliography: Nuclear Energy.
Caldicott, Helen, and Harvey Wasserman. "Nuclear Shadow." Nation. 29 Apr. 1996: 11-20. SIRS Issues
Researcher. Web. 30 Oct. 2014.
This was an article written by Helen Caldicott a well-known anti-nuclear activist. Throughout the
article Caldicott shares and express the danger and negative health effects that nuclear
radiation can have on the body. Helen Caldicott makes a large emphasis on the Chernobyl
incident and the effects the release of radiation has had on the health of individuals in the
surrounding area. Much of the world has had a lot of discussion and policy on the subject of
nuclear energy but Caldicott is an advocate of complete removal of all nuclear products.
Caldicott argues that the radiation that can contaminate just about anything has longer lasting
health effects than portrayed.
Carroll, James R., and James Malone. "Cold War Poison." Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY). 29 Jun. 2000:
n.p. SIRS Issues Researcher. Web. 29 Oct. 2014.
In Paducah Kentucky there is an enriched uranium production sight. 50 years ago it was started
to produce enriched uranium for nuclear weapons and nuclear reactors. This article focuses on
the issue that it has been found that the plant has been leaking radioactive waste and has been
contaminating the surrounding area for almost all fifty years of business. Many of the workers
through the years were exposed to unsafe levels of radioactivity and investigations were
ongoing to prove if many of the physical illnesses many developed later on in life were work,
and radioactivity exposure related. Much of the surrounding plant and animal life in tests
showed radioactive amounts well over natural radiation exposure.

Personal Exploration and Academic Research Paper


Nuclear Energy
Caleb Warner
Cosmos Documentaries, Into Eternity Online Video Clip, YouTube, YouTube, May 28, 2013, Web,
October 23, 2014
This documentary was focused on a Finnish governments project known as Onkalo. The Onkalo
Project will be a solution for Nuclear Waste or radioactive material. The facility is buried nearly
450 meters into the ground and there the radioactive material will be encapsulated and buried.
The Onkalo project will expand until an estimated time period of 2100. After the facility is to full
capacity the entire facility will be sealed or reburied. It will take 100,000 years for the
radioactive material to decay before it is no longer in a harmful radioactive state. The
underground area would remain and incredibly deadly environment for the next several
centuries. The idea is that Onkalo will be so far out of the way it will never be found or
disturbed. However, there are many unknowns with the future and keeping the area safe from
intruders.

Frosch, Dan. "A Livelihood in Nuclear Waste, Under Threat." New York Times. 21 Mar. 2014: p. A.14. SIRS
Issues Researcher. Web. 29 Oct. 2014.
In the town of Carlsbad New Mexico is Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, the nation's only permanent
underground repository for nuclear weapons waste. Since February 14, 2014 the plant has been
closed due to a radioactive leak. None of the workers exposed have received unsafe amounts of
exposure to the radiation. Most of the town is employed by the plant, and there has been a lot
of concern over whether or not the plant will reopen. The plant has been in operation since

Personal Exploration and Academic Research Paper


Nuclear Energy
Caleb Warner
1999 and has not had many if any faults since opening. The entire nation depends on this plant
as a nuclear waste repository.
"Q&A: "Fukushima Accident Still Ongoing After Three Years"." Global Information Network. 20 Jun.
2014: n.p. SIRS Issues Researcher. Web. 27 Oct. 2014.
Mycle Shneider a Nuclear Energy Consultant answers a few questions concerning the incident in
Fukushima Japan. According to Schneider the use of nuclear energy is in decline around the
world. Since Fukushima the nuclear energy field has lost credibility within much of Asia. The
risks that are possible with Nuclear energy are being seen as to great to justify the means of
nuclear energy as a source. The situation of Fukushima was not a worst case scenario. According
to Schneider the issue is ongoing because radiation has not been completely contained and is
still leaking into the surrounding environment.
Martin Sevior, How Nuclear Power Works. Issues, August 30, 2011. Proquest.com, 10/22/2014
Martin Sevior works in the physics department at the University of Melbourne. Within the
article Martin Sevior addresses the fallowing on Nuclear Energy power plants; Greenhouse
emissions, Nuclear costs, Nuclear Fission, Reactor safety, Nuclear Waste, and Nuclear
Proliferation. According to Seviors studies upon the Vattenfall, a Swedish Nuclear Reactor, its
model was significantly safer and efficient compared to the Chernobyl era models. Sevior
analyzed the costs of Nuclear Reactors could be organized to into four groups the cost of:
building, operating and maintaining, waste disposal, and decommission of the plant. Compared
to coal power plants, Nuclear Reactor Power Plants are much more beneficial according to
Sevior. Some concerns that Nuclear Energy generates are the radioactive waste that requires
9

Personal Exploration and Academic Research Paper


Nuclear Energy
Caleb Warner
extensive attention as well as care, and the probability of meltdowns. However according to
Seviors research the probability of meltdowns with newer developed models is once per every
hundred thousand years. The Swedish and French governments already have a few procedures
that offer safe and practical solution for nuclear waste disposal.
Obe, Mitsuru. "Nuclear-Restart Plans Divide Japan." Wall Street Journal. 18 Jun. 2012: A.5. SIRS Issues
Researcher. Web. 27 Oct. 2014.
In Japan where there was most recently a Nuclear Meltdown in Fukushima following an
earthquake and tsunami that hit the island, the government has been working towards turning a
few Nuclear Reactors back on. The country is in danger of energy shortages and is trying to
search for alternate forms of energy. There are differing opinions among Japanese citizens
about whether the plants should be turned on right now. Many desire further safety
precautions are made before reactivation. In September of 2012 a new agency is meant to take
over the safety inspection of nuclear plants but until then the previous guidelines for safety
regulation will be observed.
The Film Sales Company, Pandoras Promise Online Video Clip, Netflix, Netflix, 2013, Web, October
24th, 2014.
This was a documentary about nuclear energy in 2013. It gives the perspective of a few
individuals from various backgrounds. Each one of these people used to be against Nuclear
energy but have since shifted to a pro nuclear position. Within the documentary they address
several different issues that are common to Nuclear energy. One of the biggest is the public
perception of nuclear energy and how that has developed and been affected by various sources.
10

Personal Exploration and Academic Research Paper


Nuclear Energy
Caleb Warner
Past nuclear power plant instances according to the documentary has caused a skewed and
uneducated understanding of nuclear energy among many Americans. Many fossil fuel
companies funded scare-ads in the 1980s. The fear of nuclear power and the perception that it
was not needed caused the nuclear power surge to reverse. In light of recent events in
Fukushima lack of understanding how radioactive exposure is measured through Geiger
counters added to the fear of nuclear reactors. Alternate forms of Energy besides fossil fuels
are not very practical for large scale production and distribution. The documentary argues that
if you desire more green energy than Nuclear is your best option for renewal ability and low
carbon dioxide omissions. An example the documentary uses is France. It used the burning of
gas to fuel its energy but economic situations caused them to very quickly produce nuclear
reactors to supply the French state with power. There are new reactor designs that are
proposed to be safer and more efficient than the previously used reactors.
Ray, Henry, and Michael R Blood. "'Nuclear Renaissance' Has Lost Its Steam." Los Angeles Times. 16 Jun.
2013: p. A.24. SIRS Issues Researcher. Web. 27 Oct. 2014.
This article focuses on many current situations of nuclear power plants that are being shut
down. It is incredibly important that Nuclear reactor facilities stay up to code on safety.
However, the price for improvements to old plants is very expensive. Since the price of natural
gas is currently fairly cheap in the U.S. And doing well as an industry there has not been enough
money or support to keep these plants open. The author addresses what was called the Nuclear
Renaissance. Because of the possibility of government funding and affirmative action against
greenhouse gasses the future for Nuclear Energy looked bright. Then the economic recession hit
and as the author states the Nuclear renaissance had lost its steam. Since then the amount of
11

Personal Exploration and Academic Research Paper


Nuclear Energy
Caleb Warner
working reactors has been on the decline in the U.S. Caused by the large monetary
requirements to improve existing plants. While Nuclear Reactors are expensive to build and
improve they are much less expensive to maintain and keep in production.
Robert Rosner, Making Nuclear Energy work. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, April, 2008.
www.ebscohost.com, 10/22/2014
Robert Rosner is an astrophysicist and founding director of the Energy Policy Institute at
Chicago. He was the director of Argonne National Laboratory from 2005 to 2009. Within this
article he addresses many of the road blocks that Nuclear Energy has run into since its
beginning. Rosner address the two major catastrophes that have occurred with Nuclear Power
up to 2008. The two instances were in Chernobyl Russia and Mile Long Island in Pennsylvania.
Rosner argues that these two incidents occurred very early in the life of Nuclear Energy. He
makes a comparison to airplanes and that they also had a few imperfections in their early
history. But when the government and industries worked together they were able to make
commercial and public aviation what it is today. Rosner pleads that Nuclear Energy is on this
same path. There have been several improvements to the designs of potential Nuclear Power
Plants. Rosner addresses the issue that the nuclear plants still in operation are close to being
shut down and the field of Nuclear Energy is struggling on the grounds of support from the
public and monetary needs. The three issues for support that Rosner specifies are public
perception and acceptance, nuclear proliferation, economics, and management of facilities.
Rosner is hopeful that Nuclear Energy can bounce back but reform and action is required
quickly.

12