Nuclear Power Issues and Thoughts

Blog entry created by: Alex

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A nuclear reactor decorated with lights?

The topic of nuclear power is important to many people today for environmental reasons and health and safety concerns. On the trip I saw a nuclear cooling tower that looked like it was decorated with Christmas lights. I became interested in nuclear power and wanted to learn more, so I started researching the topics of nuclear power, nuclear weapons, and nuclear safety. This report is about the things I have learned through my research. The topics discussed in this paper are the amount of energy nuclear power provides for different countries, how nuclear energy works, nuclear weapons, and safety.

Countries using nuclear power include France, USA, Japan, Russia, UK, North Korea, India, and Pakistan.

Percent of the country’s power the nuclear power plants provide:

France 80%

USA       20%

Japan    40%

Russia   79.5%

Iran        0%   (one plant under construction)

France, Japan, and Russia rely on nuclear power much more then the USA.  1/5 of the USA’s power comes from nuclear power. Iran nuclear power is very controversial with the USA. But USA now knows that since Russia is supplying Iran with Uranium Iran does not need to continue their uranium  enrichment project.

How nuclear power works:

This is how the nuclear process starts.  First uranium is dug out of the ground. Then it’s transported to the plant where the U-235 uranium is placed in the reactor core in bundles. When the uranium is slightly super critical, the uranium heats up and turns the water into steam. The steam then turns the turbine which generates electricity. The water works as a coolant for the rods so they don’t  overheat. If the uranium gets too hot it will melt.  To stop the uranium from getting fully supercritical the operator must lower the control rods completely down into the bundle to shut down the reactor. The reactor is also shut down to put new fuel in the reactor. Once the uranium is used up it is put in a cooling tub till it is cool it enough to move to dry storage (dry storage is usually on site).

What is Uranium?

Many of you many by asking what is uranium?  Uranium has been on earth since the planet was formed, but once we use all of it, it’s gone. Uranium is found in many stages of decomposition. Each stage can be used for different things, and some stages are rarer than others. Some stages can be used for nuclear weapons, and some can be used for generating power.  Enriched uranium can also be used for weapons and war.

Why do countries develop nuclear weapons?

There are several reasons why countries have developed weapons over time. The US, Canada, and the UK developed nuclear weapons from the Manhattan Project, which was a project to make nuclear weapons during WWII before the Germans did. Then the US used them offensively on Japan’s Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I think that the UK decided to detonate one to keep up its reputation as a powerful country. The UK keeps four ballistic missile submarines online in case of war. I think that France, having been the fourth one after the US, Russia, and the UK to detonate one, also did it to keep up its reputation.

How many – who has detonated – who has given nuclear weapons up?

Nuclear weapons are a very big topic and here is a little about them. Around 1984 there were 65,000 active nuclear weapons. There was also an elite club for countries with nuclear weapons. To join you have to admit to possessing nuclear weapons. The only country to develop and possess nuclear weapons and then get rid of all of them is South Africa. Other countries to have nuclear weapons and willingly give them up are Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine, who all returned Soviet nuclear arms stationed in their countries to Russia after the collapse of the USSR. Which countries have nuclear weapons and have detonated them? The United States, Russia, the People’s Republic of China, North Korea, France, India, Pakistan, and the UK. Also Israel is believed to have nuclear weapons but denies such claims. The order of early detonations goes USA, Russia, UK and France.

Nuclear power and our environment

Environment and renewability are key concerns for governments, citizens, activists and many other people. The US has so far produced an amount of nuclear waste that is equal to a football field in length and one meter high.  This is much, much, less than coal and fossil fuel and gas, which have produced so much CO2 over the years that is destroying the atmosphere. Nuclear power at the moment is better for the environment because it does not release CO2 into the atmosphere. And currently that is the worst thing for the environment.   But the problem with nuclear waste is that after it’s de-enriched you have to store it for 10,000 years and protect it from terrorists, earthquakes, floods, war, and other dangers. The radioactivity could kill many people, mutate their genes, poison crops and destroy the environment if it’s not stored properly. One good thing about the having the waste is that future scientists might be able to develop a way to use that waste, which would make it a valuable resource. Or they might find a way to reuse it to make nuclear power again.

Safety of nuclear power

Nuclear safety is also a big worry with everyone. All over the world there are anti nuclear activists concerned about nuclear weapons and  nuclear power safety. Most nuclear  power plant safety is fine now though. To stop radiation there are three layers: a steel one around the reactor, followed by two thick layers of concrete. Containment structures are some of the strongest structures built by mankind, and can withstand tornado-force winds or a direct strike from an aircraft carrier. They can even withstand blows from a commercial airliner! They’re only designed to withstand that now because of threats received on September 11th from one of the three hijacked planes, which threatened to crash into the nuclear power plant.  At the time the barriers weren’t strong enough to withstand such a hit.

Security at US nuclear power plants

To gain access to the reactors you must go through 3 levels of security. The first level is a group of armed guards. The second level  is protected area  where all personnel and vehicles must be searched for weapons and explosives. At the third level, the vital area, there are alarmed doors, key card readers, hand scanner and more guards. If for any reason they need to shut down the plant it can be shut down in 3 seconds, where starting up takes hours.  Since starting up takes hours most terrorists won’t even try to take over a plant, because once it’s shut off their plan is lost.  All in all safety is pretty good right now.

Time to build more plants in the USA?  …companies are already racing to get plans approved

U.S. reactors are limited to 60 years of operation — which means that 187 new nuclear power plants must be built by 2050.Today a total of 12 reactors are having their designs reviewed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). They don’t expect any new reactors running  until 2016 or 2017, but companies hoping to dominate the U.S. market have filed applications to build a variety of designs, and the NRC has committed to reviewing the massive documentation for each. No reactor in the USA is the same; they’re all custom. Safety right now on new designs does not have to be better than current ones.

In my opinion…

What I have just discussed is only a tiny fraction of the information about nuclear power and weapons. To review, I discussed how nuclear power works, nuclear weapons, and questions of safety. After researching the topic, I believe that nuclear power is the best option for the future.  It’s better than fossil fuels because fossil fuels, when burned, emit Co2. The Co2 then goes to destroy the atmosphere. Fossil fuels are also bad for our health and the environment (the green house effect). All of these thing are  terrible for the world.

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Posted on: September 14, 2010 | Categories: Countries, Environment, Global Issues

 

4 comments

  • maurizio gagliardo says:

    GREAT JOB ALEX !!!

  • Matthew Goulding says:

    Hi Alex I got your post card. Thats interesting information about the nuclear stuff.

  • Gregory Sarceno says:

    Hey Alex. I got your post card and the knife. Pretty cool information about nuclear stuff. I do have a Skype acount so I don’t know why you don’t think I don’t have one. I have also added you so…. I don’t know what’s going on.

  • John Keller says:

    Alex, Very good. I was impressed by the depth of the information.
    I too think that we should be developing more nuclear power.
    I had a friend who worked for the US government lab in Chicago. In the 80′s or 90′s He told me that we can now build the reactors so that they are completely stable.
    Grand Pa


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