Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Some Thoughts on Nuclear Energy

With many things in life, something must arouse our attention to bring about change or reform. Though I am very upset for the people in Japan, I believe we cannot leave this nuclear accident ignored. This is a horrible thing, but we must assess it from every angle to ensure nothing like this ever happens again.
The Fukushima nuclear accident is a particularly unique situation. For economical purposes, many nuclear plants are located near large bodies of water. For example, many American plants are located on the southeast coast of the US along the ocean, where earthquakes nearly never occur. The Floridian coast does get its share of natural disasters too. In southern Florida, the Turkey Point nuclear plant was hit head on by Hurricane Andrew, which brought winds of up to 162 miles per hour, yet it only sustained light damage to a water tower. In the case of the Fukushima plant, it was hit by a tsunami.

Nuclear energy is created much the same way as any other form. Water is heated, steam is produced, and it moves a turbine creating energy. The only difference is the heat source. Instead of oil or coal, uranium is used. Atoms split in fission, and neutrons are released, then they react with more uranium atoms, and heat is produced. A lot of heat. As a result of the backup generators failing at Fukushima, the heat may become so great that it may soon melt the casing that the uranium is stored in, and a meltdown would occur.
Once uranium is used, or spent, it must be removed from the reactor. In every nuclear cycle, about 3% of the uranium in an average reactor must be removed. In many plants, it will sit for about 50 years in pools within the plant until it is nearly 1000th of its initial radioactivity. At Fukushima, some of this waste has leaked into the ocean.

After the 50 years is up, the spent uranium must be moved to a final resting place, where it will sit for several thousand years before it will be safe for humans to interact with. This final resting place for the US was to be Yucca Mountain, Nevada, but on April 14, 2011, Congress voted to cut Yucca Mountain’s funding; therefore we now do not have anywhere to put our radioactive waste. I believe Yucca Mountain was a very good choice for a nuclear landfill, and it was planned many years ago. Because nuclear energy really took a boom in the 1960’s, a lot of radioactive waste is now hitting its 50th birthday, and must be removed as the pools in the plants are quickly overcrowding, but the sad reality of our government is that they would rather spend money on stupid things like skylights in a state-run liquor warehouse than promote the general Welfare of its citizens. 

1 comment:

Sloane Graff said...

Wise young man. A chip off the old blocks (Bushes)