Advancements in Nuclear Energy
This letter describes the world's current usage of nuclear energy and other fossil fuels. It discusses the current methods of energy generation in the United States and possible future methods that will make the Earth cleaner and safer for future generations
Dear President of the United States:
As the population of our country continues to grow at an increasing rate, so do our needs for energy. Over the past few centuries, the United States and other large countries have resorted to fossil fuels and methods of generating energy which harm our ecosystem. Besides damaging our ecosystem, plants and animals are thrown into disarray as a result of the worsening conditions of our atmosphere and environment. Although nuclear energy has been growing over the past decades, the growth has stagnated as a result of disasters caused by nuclear plants. Disasters such as Three Mile Island have been burned into our memories yet the hundreds of smaller incidents caused by fossil fuel have been forgotten such as the Farmington Mine Disaster. This disaster caused the death of 78 people with over 20 more treated for smoke inhalation and other injuries (“Farmington Mine Disaster” 1). No energy source is perfect, but nuclear power plants do the best job of generating clean, reliable, and safe energy for the populace.
The main concerns from citizens about nuclear energy are their safety and environmental impacts. The disasters at Three Mile Island (TMI) in 1979 and the more recent disasters at Chernobyl and Fukushima have caused concerns with the safety of nuclear plants. However, despite the three large accidents, nuclear energy has saved many more lives than it has ended. In 2013, NASA determined that 1.84 million deaths have been prevented as a result of nuclear plants over the past 6 decades (Pushker 4889 – 4895). Most prevented deaths are due to reduced CO2 emissions. Since 1976, over 64 gigatonnes of greenhouse gas emissions have been kept out of the atmosphere thanks to nuclear energy (Kurgesagt 3). Keeping relatively small amounts of nuclear waste in secure bunkers benefits society far more than releasing gigatonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Storing nuclear waste requires time and small, secure areas while releasing greenhouse gases and coal emissions cause many health problems and increase the rate of global warming. Thanks to reduced emissions, nuclear energy consistently stays as the power source with the least deaths per unit of energy generated.
Besides emissions caused by nuclear plants, the transportation of nuclear waste has been a large safety concern. However, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has proven that the ceramic and metal tubes containing nuclear waste will never explode under the highest temperatures recorded in accidents involving transportation (“Transport of Radioactive Materials” 2). Routes transporting nuclear waste are carefully planned by the NRC and avoid populated areas such as cities. Over the past 6 decades that humans have been using nuclear energy, there have been no cases of transportation accidents involving nuclear waste. (“Transport of Radioactive Materials” 5).
Besides being much safer than most other energy sources, nuclear plants generate much more power in a smaller area than competing clean energy sources. To generate an equivalent amount of energy from 4 nuclear reactors at a size of 1 square mile each with wind power would require the length of the Appalachian trail (2,200 miles) in tall wind turbines (“Nuclear Waste” 3). In 2015, nearly 500 coal power plants were located around the United States. Meanwhile, only 60 nuclear power plants were operating during 2015. The operating nuclear plants in the US generated almost 20% of its power while coal and fossil fuel plants generated 67% with many more facilities (“Nuclear Waste” 4).
Although the world can continue using uranium steadily for another 200 years, uranium isn’t very plentiful. To create a sustainable energy source, we to need research and build more Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors (LFTRs). LFTRs operate similarly to current reactors but use thorium liquid salts as fuel. Not only is thorium 4 times more common in the Earth’s crust than uranium, but it can be used up to 200 times more efficiently than current fuel sources. As a result of this efficiency, LFTRs generate substantially less nuclear waste than current nuclear reactors. Safety is also a much smaller issue with LFTRs. These innovative reactors use liquid thorium salts as opposed to solid fuels. The disaster at Fukushima was a result of the cooling system failing to cool the solid fuels. This disaster could’ve been avoided with LFTRs since they require no energy to shut down during emergencies. Emergency systems today in typical nuclear reactors require constant cooling to prevent meltdowns. In LFTRs, the liquid fuel drains from the generator tanks into fluid tanks where they are stored without power usage. This innovative change reduces the problems caused by power failures at nuclear plants (“LFTRs – Thorium Reactors” 1).
Nuclear energy is the best opportunity the United States has at providing clean, sustainable energy to all its people. By putting forth an effort towards innovation and construction of newer and more permanent nuclear reactors, the future of electricity can be clean and sustainable for generations to come.