The World Needs More Nuclear Power Essay
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Opponents of the nuclear industry conjure up frightful images of nuclear accidents to spread terror to those who could benefit from its awesome bounty. A misguided desire to protect the environment blinds people to the reality that nuclear power is a "green" energy source. Nuclear power is superior to traditional power generation in almost every way whether it is looked at from an environmental, economic or technical point of view. Currently, most consumer power generation is achieved through the burning of fossil fuels. Skeptics of nuclear energy’s potential have long contended that fossil fuels are safer to process, are better for the environment and pose less of a long term hazard than nuclear power. Concerns over safety also…show more content…
This gives nuclear power a much smaller carbon footprint than its traditional counterparts. The second advantage is that nuclear power plants have less emitted radiation than traditional power plants. This is somewhat of a surprise as nuclear energy is based on radioactive materials. The answer to this conundrum is the ability to contain the radiation. Nuclear power plants are heavily shielded and often built underground to keep the surrounding environment from being exposed to excess radiation. Traditional power plants emit 0.03 millirem per year as opposed to nuclear power plants emitting 0.009 millirem per year (McGregor, para 13). These two advantages combine to make nuclear power a much more environmentally attractive alternative to coal and natural gas. Chernobyl and Three Mile Island are two bloody shirts that opponents to nuclear power have waved in their arguments against its proliferation. Chernobyl was a nuclear disaster in Russia that exposed the surrounding area to a severe amount of radioactive material. While the immediate damage and long term effects were severe, there were several factors involved in the accident that made it much worse than could be possible today. The reactor was not properly shielded nor were there safety protocols in place to mitigate such a disaster. In short, the Chernobyl reactor was a result of cutting corners and
"Atomic power" redirects here. For the film, see Atomic Power (film).
This article is about nuclear fission and fusion power sources primarily. For commercial quantities of heat derived from naturally occurring nuclear decay, see Geothermal energy. For the political term, see List of states with nuclear weapons.
Nuclear power is the use of nuclear reactions that release nuclear energy to generate heat, which most frequently is then used in steam turbines to produce electricity in a nuclear power plant. The term includes nuclear fission, nuclear decay and nuclear fusion. Presently, the nuclear fission of elements in the actinide series of the periodic table produce the vast majority of nuclear energy in the direct service of humankind, with nuclear decay processes, primarily in the form of geothermal energy, and radioisotope thermoelectric generators, in niche uses making up the rest.
Owing, fundamentally, to the control on the power or heat increase, that is inherent to the slow delayed critical fission process, Fission-electric power stations and engines have and continue to be built, as an alternative to the dominant fossil-fuel power systems of the world. Fission-electricity is one of the leading low carbon power generation methods of producing electricity, and in terms of total life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions per unit of energy generated, has emission values lower than renewable energy when the latter is taken as a single energy source. A 2014 analysis of the carbon footprint literature by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported that the embodied total life-cycleemission intensity of fission electricity has a median value of 12 g CO2eq/kWh which is the lowest out of all commercial baseload energy sources. This is contrasted with coal and fossil gas at 820 and 490 g CO2 eq/kWh. From the beginning of fission-electric power station commercialization in the 1970s, nuclear power prevented the emission of about 64 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent that would have otherwise resulted from the burning of fossil fuels in thermal power stations.
There is a social debate about nuclear power. Proponents, such as the World Nuclear Association and Environmentalists for Nuclear Energy, contend that nuclear power is a safe, sustainable energy source that reduces carbon emissions.Opponents, such as Greenpeace International and NIRS, contend that nuclear power poses many threats to people and the environment. Far-reaching fission power reactor accidents, or accidents that resulted in medium to long-lived fission product contamination of inhabited areas, have occurred in Generation I and II reactor designs. These include the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in 2011, and the more contained Three Mile Island accident in 1979. There have also been some nuclear submarine accidents. In terms of lives lost per unit of energy generated, analysis has determined that fission-electric reactors have caused fewer fatalities per unit of energy generated than the other major sources of energy generation. Energy production from coal, petroleum, natural gas and hydroelectricity has caused a greater number of fatalities per unit of energy generated due to air pollution and energy accident effects.
As of 2017, the International Atomic Energy Agency states that 60 reactors, mostly of Generation III reactor design, are under construction around the world, with the majority in Asia. Collaboration on research & developments towards greater passive nuclear safety, efficiency and recycling of spent fuel in future Generation IV reactors presently includes Euratom and the co-operation of more than 10 permanent countries globally.
See also: Nuclear fission § History, and Atomic Age
In 1932 physicist Ernest Rutherford discovered that when lithium atoms were "split" by protons from a proton accelerator, immense amounts of energy were released in accordance with the principle of mass–energy equivalence. However, he and other nuclear physics pioneers Niels Bohr and Albert Einstein believed harnessing the power of the atom for practical purposes anytime in the near future was unlikely, with Rutherford labeling such expectations "moonshine."
The same year, his doctoral student James Chadwick discovered the neutron, which was immediately recognized as a potential tool for nuclear experimentation because of its lack of an electric charge. Experimentation with bombardment of materials with neutrons led Frédéric and Irène Joliot-Curie to discover induced radioactivity in 1934, which allowed the creation of radium-like elements at much less the price of natural radium. Further work by Enrico Fermi in the 1930s focused on using slow neutrons to increase the effectiveness of induced radioactivity. Experiments bombarding uranium with neutrons led Fermi to believe he had created a new, transuranic element, which was dubbed hesperium.
But in 1938, German chemists Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann, along with Austrian physicist Lise Meitner and Meitner's nephew, Otto Robert Frisch, conducted experiments with the products of neutron-bombarded uranium, as a means of further investigating Fermi's claims. They determined that the relatively tiny neutron split the nucleus of the massive uranium atoms into two roughly equal pieces, contradicting Fermi. This was an extremely surprising result: all other forms of nuclear decay involved only small changes to the mass of the nucleus, whereas this process—dubbed "fission" as a reference to biology—involved a complete rupture of the nucleus. Numerous scientists, including Leó Szilárd, who was one of the first, recognized that if fission reactions released additional neutrons, a self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction could result. Once this was experimentally confirmed and announced by Frédéric Joliot-Curie in 1939, scientists in many countries (including the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and the Soviet Union) petitioned their governments for support of nuclear fission research, just on the cusp of World War II, for the development of a nuclear weapon.
First nuclear reactor
In the United States, where Fermi and Szilárd had both emigrated, this led to the creation of the first man-made reactor, known as Chicago Pile-1, which achieved criticality on December 2, 1942. This work became part of the Manhattan Project, a massive secret US government military project to make enriched uranium by building large reactors to breed plutonium for use in the first nuclear weapons. The US tested atom bombs and eventually these weapons were used to attack the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
In 1945, the first widely distributed account of nuclear energy, in the form of the pocketbook The Atomic Age, discussed the peaceful future uses of nuclear energy and depicted a future where fossil fuels would go unused. Nobel laurette Glenn Seaborg, who later chaired the Atomic Energy Commission, is quoted as saying "there will be nuclear powered earth-to-moon shuttles, nuclear powered artificial hearts, plutonium heated swimming pools for SCUBA divers, and much more".
The United Kingdom, Canada, and the USSR proceeded to research and develop nuclear industries over the course of the late 1940s and early 1950s. Electricity was generated for the first time by a nuclear reactor on December 20, 1951, at the EBR-I experimental station near Arco, Idaho, which initially produced about 100 kW. Work was also strongly researched in the US on nuclear marine propulsion, with a test reactor being developed by 1953 (eventually, the USS Nautilus, the first nuclear-powered submarine, would launch in 1955). In 1953, US President Dwight Eisenhower gave his "Atoms for Peace" speech at the United Nations, emphasizing the need to develop "peaceful" uses of nuclear power quickly. This was followed by the 1954 Amendments to the Atomic Energy Act which allowed rapid declassification of US reactor technology and encouraged development by the private sector.
On June 27, 1954, the USSR's Obninsk Nuclear Power Plant became the world's first nuclear power plant to generate electricity for a power grid, and produced around 5 megawatts of electric power.
Later in 1954, Lewis Strauss, then chairman of the United States Atomic Energy Commission (U.S. AEC, forerunner of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the United States Department of Energy) spoke of electricity in the future being "too cheap to meter". Strauss was very likely referring to hydrogen fusion —which was secretly being developed as part of Project Sherwood at the time—but Strauss's statement was interpreted as a promise of very cheap energy from nuclear fission. The U.S. AEC itself had issued far more realistic testimony regarding nuclear fission to the U.S. Congress only months before, projecting that "costs can be brought down... [to]... about the same as the cost of electricity from conventional sources..."
In 1955 the United Nations' "First Geneva Conference", then the world's largest gathering of scientists and engineers, met to explore the technology. In 1957 EURATOM was launched alongside the European Economic Community (the latter is now the European Union). The same year also saw the launch of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
The world's first commercial nuclear power station, Calder Hall at Windscale, England, was opened in 1956 with an initial capacity of 50 MW (later 200 MW). The first commercial nuclear generator to become operational in the United States was the Shippingport Reactor (Pennsylvania, December 1957).
One of the first organizations to develop nuclear power was the U.S. Navy, for the purpose of propelling submarines and aircraft carriers. The first nuclear-powered submarine, USS Nautilus, was put to sea in December 1954. As of 2016, the U.S. Navy submarine fleet is made up entirely of nuclear-powered vessels, with 75 submarines in service. Two U.S. nuclear submarines, USS Scorpion and USS Thresher, have been lost at sea. The Russian Navy is currently (2016) estimated to have 61 nuclear submarines in service; eight Soviet and Russian nuclear submarines have been lost at sea. This includes the Soviet submarine K-19 reactor accident in 1961 which resulted in 8 deaths and more than 30 other people were over-exposed to radiation. The Soviet submarine K-27 reactor accident in 1968 resulted in 9 fatalities and 83 other injuries. Moreover, Soviet submarine K-429 sank twice, but was raised after each incident. Several serious nuclear and radiation accidents have involved nuclear submarine mishaps.
The U.S. Army also had a nuclear power program, beginning in 1954. The SM-1 Nuclear Power Plant, at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, was the first power reactor in the U.S. to supply electrical energy to a commercial grid (VEPCO), in April 1957, before Shippingport. The SL-1 was a U.S. Army experimental nuclear power reactor at the National Reactor Testing Station in eastern Idaho. It underwent a steam explosion and meltdown in January 1961, which killed its three operators. In the Soviet Union at The Mayak Production Association facility there were a number of accidents, including an explosion, that released 50–100 tonnes of high-level radioactive waste, contaminating a huge territory in the eastern Urals and causing numerous deaths and injuries. The Soviet regime kept this accident secret for about 30 years. The event was eventually rated at 6 on the seven-level INES scale (third in severity only to the disasters at Chernobyl and Fukushima).
Installed nuclear capacity initially rose relatively quickly, rising from less than 1 gigawatt (GW) in 1960 to 100 GW in the late 1970s, and 300 GW in the late 1980s. Since the late 1980s worldwide capacity has risen much more slowly, reaching 366 GW in 2005. Between around 1970 and 1990, more than 50 GW of capacity was under construction (peaking at over 150 GW in the late 1970s and early 1980s) — in 2005, around 25 GW of new capacity was planned. More than two-thirds of all nuclear plants ordered after January 1970 were eventually cancelled. A total of 63 nuclear units were canceled in the USA between 1975 and 1980.
During the 1970s and 1980s rising economic costs (related to extended construction times largely due to regulatory changes and pressure-group litigation) and falling fossil fuel prices made nuclear power plants then under construction less attractive. In the 1980s (U.S.) and 1990s (Europe), flat load growth and electricity liberalization also made the addition of large new baseload capacity unattractive.
The 1973 oil crisis had a significant effect on countries, such as France and Japan, which had relied more heavily on oil for electric generation (39% and 73% respectively) to invest in nuclear power.
Some local opposition to nuclear power emerged in the early 1960s, and in the late 1960s some members of the scientific community began to express their concerns. These concerns related to nuclear accidents, nuclear proliferation, high cost of nuclear power plants, nuclear terrorism and radioactive waste disposal. In the early 1970s, there were large protests about a proposed nuclear power plant in Wyhl, Germany. The project was cancelled in 1975 and anti-nuclear success at Wyhl inspired opposition to nuclear power in other parts of Europe and North America. By the mid-1970s anti-nuclear activism had moved beyond local protests and politics to gain a wider appeal and influence, and nuclear power became an issue of major public protest. Although it lacked a single co-ordinating organization, and did not have uniform goals, the movement's efforts gained a great deal of attention. In some countries, the nuclear power conflict "reached an intensity unprecedented in the history of technology controversies".
In France, between 1975 and 1977, some 175,000 people protested against nuclear power in ten demonstrations. In West Germany, between February 1975 and April 1979, some 280,000 people were involved in seven demonstrations at nuclear sites. Several site occupations were also attempted. In the aftermath of the Three Mile Island accident in 1979, some 120,000 people attended a demonstration against nuclear power in Bonn. In May 1979, an estimated 70,000 people, including then governor of California Jerry Brown, attended a march and rally against nuclear power in Washington, D.C.Anti-nuclear power groups emerged in every country that has had a nuclear power programme.
Three Mile Island and Chernobyl
Health and safety concerns, the 1979 accident at Three Mile Island, and the 1986 Chernobyl disaster played a part in stopping new plant construction in many countries, although the public policy organization, the Brookings Institution states that new nuclear units, at the time of publishing in 2006, had not been built in the U.S. because of soft demand for electricity, and cost overruns on nuclear plants due to regulatory issues and construction delays. By the end of the 1970s it became clear that nuclear power would not grow nearly as dramatically as once believed. Eventually, more than 120 reactor orders in the U.S. were ultimately cancelled and the construction of new reactors ground to a halt. A cover story in the February 11, 1985, issue of Forbes magazine commented on the overall failure of the U.S. nuclear power program, saying it "ranks as the largest managerial disaster in business history".
Unlike the Three Mile Island accident, the much more serious Chernobyl accident did not increase regulations affecting Western reactors since the Chernobyl reactors were of the problematic RBMK design only used in the Soviet Union, for example lacking "robust" containment buildings. Many of these RBMK reactors are still in use today. However, changes were made in both the reactors themselves (use of a safer enrichment of uranium) and in the control system (prevention of disabling safety systems), amongst other things, to reduce the possibility of a duplicate accident.
An international organization to promote safety awareness and professional development on operators in nuclear facilities was created: WANO; World Association of Nuclear Operators.
Opposition in Ireland and Poland prevented nuclear programs there, while Austria (1978), Sweden (1980) and Italy (1987) (influenced by Chernobyl) voted in referendums to oppose or phase out nuclear power. In July 2009, the Italian Parliament passed a law that cancelled the results of an earlier referendum and allowed the immediate start of the Italian nuclear program. After the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster a one-year moratorium was placed on nuclear power development, followed by a referendum in which over 94% of voters (turnout 57%) rejected plans for new nuclear power.
Main article: Nuclear renaissance
Since about 2001 the term nuclear renaissance has been used to refer to a possible nuclear power industry revival, driven by rising fossil fuel prices and new concerns about meeting greenhouse gas emission limits. Since commercial nuclear energy began in the mid-1950s, 2008 was the first year that no new nuclear power plant was connected to the grid, although two were connected in 2009.
Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Disaster
Main article: Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Disaster
See also: Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant
Japan's 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident prompted a re-examination of nuclear safety and nuclear energy policy in many countries and raised questions among some commentators over the future of the renaissance. Germany plans to close all its reactors by 2022, and Italy has re-affirmed its ban on electric utilities generating, but not importing, fission derived electricity. China, Switzerland, Israel, Malaysia, Thailand, United Kingdom, and the Philippines have also reviewed their nuclear power programs, while Indonesia and Vietnam still plan to build nuclear power plants.
In 2011 the International Energy Agency halved its prior estimate of new generating capacity to be built by 2035. In 2013 Japan signed a deal worth $22 billion, in which Mitsubishi Heavy Industries would build four modern Atmea reactors for Turkey. In August 2015, following 4 years of near zero fission-electricity generation, Japan began restarting its fission fleet, after safety upgrades were completed, beginning with Sendai fission-electric station.
The World Nuclear Association has said that "nuclear power generation suffered its biggest ever one-year fall through 2012 as the bulk of the Japanese fleet remained offline for a full calendar year". Data from the International Atomic Energy Agency showed that nuclear power plants globally produced 2346 TWh of electricity in 2012 – seven per cent less than in 2011. The figures illustrate the effects of a full year of 48 Japanese power reactors producing no power during the year. The permanent closure of eight reactor units in Germany was also a factor. Problems at Crystal River, Fort Calhoun and the two San Onofre units in the USA meant they produced no power for the full year, while in Belgium Doel 3 and Tihange 2 were out of action for six months. Compared to 2010, the nuclear industry produced 11% less electricity in 2012.
The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident sparked controversy about the importance of the accident and its effect on nuclear's future. IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano said the Japanese nuclear accident "caused deep public anxiety throughout the world and damaged confidence in nuclear power", and the International Energy Agency halved its estimate of additional nuclear generating capacity to be built by 2035.
Though Platts reported in 2011 that "the crisis at Japan's Fukushima nuclear plants has prompted leading energy-consuming countries to review the safety of their existing reactors and cast doubt on the speed and scale of planned expansions around the world", Progress Energy Chairman/CEO Bill Johnson made the observation that "Today there’s an even more compelling case that greater use of nuclear power is a vital part of a balanced energy strategy". In 2011, The Economist opined that nuclear power "looks dangerous, unpopular, expensive and risky", and that "it is replaceable with relative ease and could be forgone with no huge structural shifts in the way the world works". Earth Institute Director Jeffrey Sachs disagreed, claiming combating climate change would require an expansion of nuclear power. "We won't meet the carbon targets if nuclear is taken off the table," he said. "We need to understand the scale of the challenge."
Investment banks were critical of nuclear soon after the accident.Deutsche Bank advised that "the global impact of the Fukushima accident is a fundamental shift in public perception with regard to how a nation prioritizes and values its populations health, safety, security, and natural environment when determining its current and future energy pathways...renewable energy will be a clear long-term winner in most energy systems, a conclusion supported by many voter surveys conducted over the past few weeks.
In September 2011, German engineering giant Siemens announced it will withdraw entirely from the nuclear industry, as a response to the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan, and said that it would no longer build nuclear power plants anywhere in the world. The company’s chairman, Peter Löscher, said that "Siemens was ending plans to cooperate with Rosatom, the Russian state-controlled nuclear power company, in the construction of dozens of nuclear plants throughout Russia over the coming two decades".
In February 2012, the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved the construction of two additional reactors at the Vogtle Electric Generating Plant, the first reactors to be approved in over 30 years since the Three Mile Island accident, but NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko cast a dissenting vote citing safety concerns stemming from Japan's 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, and saying "I cannot support issuing this license as if Fukushima never happened". Jaczko resigned in April 2012. One week after Southern received the license to begin major construction on the two new reactors, a dozen environmental and anti-nuclear groups sued to stop the Plant Vogtle expansion project, saying "public safety and environmental problems since Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor accident have not been taken into account". In July 2012, the suit was rejected by the Washington, D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. In 2013, four aging uncompetitive reactors in the United States were closed. In the United States, four new Generation III reactors were under construction at Vogtle and Summer station, while a fifth was nearing completion at Watts Bar station, all five were expected to become operational before 2020.
In 2012, the World Nuclear Association reported that nuclear electricity generation was at its lowest level since 1999. According to the World Nuclear Association, the global trend is for new nuclear power stations coming online to be balanced by the number of old plants being retired.
Countries such as Australia, Austria, Denmark, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, Israel, Malaysia, New Zealand, and Norway have no nuclear power reactors and remain opposed to nuclear power.
By 2015, the IAEA's outlook for nuclear energy had become more promising. "Nuclear power is a critical element in limiting greenhouse gas emissions," the agency noted, and "the prospects for nuclear energy remain positive in the medium to long term despite a negative impact in some countries in the aftermath of the [Fukushima-Daiichi] accident...it is still the second-largest source worldwide of low-carbon electricity. And the 72 reactors under construction at the start of last year were the most in 25 years."
As of 2015, 441 reactors had a worldwide net electric capacity of 382,9 GW, with 67 new nuclear reactors under construction. Over half of the 67 total being built were in Asia, with 28 in China, where there is an urgent need to control pollution from coal plants. Eight new grid connections were completed by China in 2015 and the most recently completed reactor to be connected to the electrical grid, as of January 2016, was at the Kori Nuclear Power Plant in the Republic of Korea. In October 2016, Watts Bar 2 became the first new United States reactor to enter commercial operation since 1996.
Future of the industry
See also: List of prospective nuclear units in the United States, Nuclear power in the United States, Nuclear energy policy, and Mitigation of global warming
As of January 2016, there are over 150 nuclear reactors planned, equivalent to nearly half of capacity at that time.
2012 World [civil] electricity generation by fuels (IEA, 2014)
Natural Gas (22.5%)
Nuclear fission (10.9%)
Others (Renew.) (5.0%)
Nuclear power generation (TWh)
Operational nuclear reactors