The release and development of the enormous energy potential locked in the atomic nucleus signified a key revolution in scientific research in the 20th century. With great potential and optimism of developing a pollution free unlimited supply of energy, nuclear technology was ushered into the 21st century where it has become embroiled in unending debates. Nuclear power is a clean source of energy, the raw material is sustainable and the magnitude of power output is extremely large and efficient.
Opponents have been quick to recount the costs of initial investment, the risks and safety loopholes and the more fearsome proliferation of nuclear weapons as the major detriments to exploitation of nuclear energy.
This paper offers a succinct and informed analysis on the cons and pros of nuclear power exploitation and the potentialities that exist in the future exploitation of nuclear power. With genuine interest and adherence to rigorous and stringent constraints, safety in design and construction and global informed decision making, the setbacks to nuclear exploitation can be effectively ameliorated.
In classical thermodynamics, energy is the capacity or ability to do work. Practically, energy is the major driving force of development in post modern civilizations. Energy is the main ingredient to economic, social and political prosperity. Gradual increases in demands of energy for production purposes has put a strain on non renewable sources of energy such as fossil fuels; the most predominant sources of energy(Richardson, 1996).
Decreases in oil, natural gas and coal reserves have prompted a paradigm shift to other forms of energy such as wind energy, solar energy and nuclear power to help replenish energy shortages as well as create a reserve for growing industrial energy demand(Nersesian, 2007).
Increasing global energy demands and environmental pollution coupled with the prospect of declining and eventual depletion of non renewable energy resources is the sustainable incentive towards to exploitation of a clean, more efficient and sustainable energy solution to meet the global demand.
Even though solar energy and wind energy present a cleaner more sustainable energy option, the magnitude of global energy demand can only be offset by nuclear power production(Conant, 1979). In simple terms it takes a certain amount of energy to make another form of energy. Combustion of oil produces a certain amount of energy that is much higher than when coal undergoes combustion. Nuclear energy consumes the least amount of fuel energy to release a huge out put of electricity(Nersesian, 2007).
This makes nuclear power the most cost effective form of power production and it does not contribute to environmental pollution so long as the nuclear waste is disposed off according to compliance standards, the risk of radiative exposure is reduces through installation of security measures(Dell et al, 2004). In this era of climate change and global warming, nuclear power; a green energy source is a godsend necessary to limit and considerably reduce the release of green house gases and other toxic elements into the atmosphere and the ozone layer.
In 1977, the Kyoto Protocol negotiated by the Framework Convention on Climate Change(FCCC) agreed in principle to institute steps aimed at the reduction of green house gases. The center piece of such a resolution undoubtedly rested on the transformation from non renewable sources of energy to renewable sources of energy. Only fission, wind solar, decarbonized fossil fuels, wind and biomass have the capacity to provide a steady supply of carbon free energy. To a large extent only fission energy is commercially feasible and cost effective, the other have significant economic and technical handicaps.
Nuclear energy remains the only viable option that can be fully exploited to reduce green house gas emissions to near minimum emissions while maintaining a reliable and consistent supply of carbon free electric energy supply to meet the world energy demand(B. van der Zwaan et al, 1999). Apart from the initial capital investments involved in construction, monitoring, insurance and decommission, nuclear power production is relatively inexpensive. Uranium; the raw material in nuclear reactors is less expensive than any form of fossil fuel.
Because subsequent production costs are reduced, nuclear power is a less expensive source of electricity. The magnitude of energy produced makes it more reliable and consistent energy source. Other sources of renewable energy supply are so limited as to be of very little economic benefit. For this reason countries are extending the lifespan of older nuclear reactors while constructing new ones. This has led to a progressive reduction in the costs incurred in nuclear energy production.
There are more specific reasons that attest to this trend. Countries have succeeded in developing and adopting a more superior choice of nuclear technology, efficiency in construction and operation management, low costs of decommissioning in the United States and Western Europe have ensured that green technologies like nuclear power become the future global energy solution(Griffin, 2003). Despite being one of the most efficient energy production technology, nuclear power production is plagued by a myriad of issues.
Some of these issues are ,specific in nature but a majority are basically non specific and are manly driven by lack of adequate technical and scientific know how or even fear . Specific issues revolve around licensing regulations and safety. Safety concerns are ideally resolvable and include fatigue of the piping system in much older plants, fire protection system, issues that concern the degradation of the reactor pressure vessel as a result of neutron irradiation.
Those opposed to the building of more nuclear power plants advocate for an uprating of the power output of those plants that are currently in operation(Angelo, 2004). Global terrorism is putting more strain on the regulation of nuclear production for fear of proliferation of nuclear weapons in unstable states and the acquisition of nuclear production knowledge by extremists , fundamentalists and terrorists or suicidal fanaticism(B. van der Zwaan et al, 1999). However, such fears are obviated by the defense in depth philosophy employed in the design and construction of nuclear power production facilities.
Nuclear plants are primarily designed to protect the public from radiation exposure. For terrorists to attack such plants then it would mean that their primary aim is not to cause mass civilian deaths but sabotage the power production. Moreover, these facilities have a vehicle barrier systems designed to deter against truck bombs. Advanced security systems cordon off restricted areas from any form of intrusion or unauthorized entry. Nuclear facilities are immune and more resistant to aerial attacks than any other civilian security or energy installation.
After the September 11 attacks, the United States government installed additional protection measures and carried out studies to determine the extent of damage to a nuclear plant should it be struck by a large aircraft as in the World Trade Center attacks. Results affirmed that no considerable damage was envisioned because such an explosion would not be able to penetrate and affect the nuclear fuel or even penetrate into the nuclear facility to cause any radiation release(Angelo, 2004; US National Energy Council, 2003).
Nuclear accidents and safety issues have remained to be the most pressing, highly visible issues because accidents generally release nuclear radiations that affect the general public. Nuclear facilities are required to completely prevent radioactive release into the environment. Fear of potential exposure to radiations is still being propelled by two notable nuclear reactor accidents. In 1979, the Mile Island accident in the United States caused severe destruction to the facility although no external human or environmental health was recorded.
This was only possible because the reactor had installed a safety containment vessel. In 1986, the Chernobyl nuclear plant in Ukraine accident caused disastrous human and environmental effects. Lack of a safety containment vessel, glaring human errors and poor reactor design was to blame for the extent of the destruction. 31 employees and emergency response personnel lost their lives from acute radiation sickness. The environmental consequences were spread throughout the Soviet Union.
Effects were also felt in parts of Europe and even across vast regions of the Northern Hemisphere (Angelo, 2004). The facts behind the detrimental effects caused by the Chernobyl nuclear reactor accidents pointed to gross design and operational defects(Evans, 1984). Such defects are not applicable to modern nuclear reactors that undergo rigorous and stringent compliance tests but the Chernobyl accident still drives popular misconceptions that emanate from nuclear neurosis or radiation phobia as some psychologists prefer to refer to the misconception syndrome.
However, issues about nuclear safety should not be stashed aside and the status quo in safety left to reign. Safety in nuclear energy production should be a continuous improvement exercise because radiologic accidents inflict profound psychosocial impacts along and across the societal strata. Emergency response and evacuation mechanisms are a prerequisite to any operating reactor plant. The trends of evacuation and health care assistance in the aftermath of a reactor accident is a determinant of the level of psychosocial impacts that will manifest in the society long after the accident.
Disorderly evacuation, panic driven movements by the surrounding community and general public panic stimulate unwarranted societal anxiety. It is these impacts that tend to propagate indecision on the level of safety a nuclear plant can attain(Foreman, 1970). Economically, nuclear energy production costs are comparatively lower when compared with other sources of energy. However, initial investment capital is enormous(Kursunoglu et al, 2000). The costs incurred in construction, monitoring, insurance and decommission are extremely high hence creating opposition to investments in nuclear power(Domenici, 2007).
Because the efficiency of nuclear energy is not under any doubts, a broad based strategy program is essential to ameliorate the concerns about initial cost of investments, risks involved in energy production, waste disposal problems and the fear of proliferation of nuclear weapons. Conclusion Recent developments in the nuclear technology and the continuing threat of nuclear warfare has stimulated fresh intellectual debates on the benefits of nuclear technology to the existence of mankind.
Even when used for civilian production of energy, nuclear technology conjures up a real threat to world peace the oldest wish for humanity since the onset of human civilization. Nuclear power is the most potent force for human annihilation and it gets even more scary when such a tool is placed is accessible for suicidal fanaticism. When used unwisely, it may prove to be a deadly weapon that is capable of trashing human civilizations and making real the undying fear of nuclear apocalypse.
Regional nuclear warfare and nuclear nuclear terrorism can only be forestalled or completely eliminated when humanity works together for a common purpose that is beneficial to each and every head on the surface of this earth. Human beings have an innate responsibility to do all in their power as human beings to use nuclear technology to advance the cause of modern civilization in power generation, medicine, agriculture, research, industrial applications and space exploration.
Nuclear power should be harnessed properly with the genuine cause of building a sustainable planetary civilization that spans beyond the ends of the earth into the uncharted territories of the solar system. Rigorous and stringent constraints, safety in design and construction and a global informed decision making is a prerequisite to nuclear power exploitation. References Angelo, A. Joseph. (2004). Nuclear Technology. p. 439-443 B. van der Zwaan. , Hill, C. R. , Mechelyncj, A. L. , Ripka, G. (Eds). (1999). Nuclear Energy: Promise or Peril? Conant, Melvin. (1979). Access to Energy: 2000 and After. p. 85 Dell, Ronald. , Anthony, David. , Rand, James. (2004). Clean Energy. RSC Clean Technology Monographs. p. 68-76 Domenici, P. V. (2007).
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