About Which No Two Rational People Can Disagree: Nuclear Power

Chapin Lenthall-Cleary

Our world should be powered exclusively by Uranium, Plutonium, and Thorium Fission Energy.

There are two reasons wherefore one might disagree with the above statements. They are a lack of information and irrationality.

The above fact stems simply from the sheer power of fission energy. Per unit of mass, a hundred thousand times more energy is produced from Enriched Uranium fuel in a pass-through light water reactor than from coal.

A standard nuclear plant drives neutrons into a fissile nucleus, often Uranium-235, forming smaller nuclei and releasing several additional neutrons and an immense amount of heat. The neutrons formed collide with other Uranium nuclei, releasing more heat. This heat is then converted into energy. The smaller nuclei formed as a result of this process typically decay quickly are are not problematic. However, because reactor fuel is a mixture of Uranium-235 and Uranium-238, the Uranium-238 is also bombarded by electrons. When Uranium-238 receives an additional electron, it becomes Uranium-239. The Uranium-239 then decays into Plutonium-239 over several days.

The most frequent concern about nuclear fission plants is the possibility of meltdowns. Both Chernobyl and Fukushima were direct results of the fact that the respective reactors lack a containment building. These disasters were preventable, given that American reactors were all equipped with containment buildings as a safety precaution upon being built and that many were built before either disaster. The Three Mile Island disaster was less predictable beforehand (though preventable in retrospect), but safety features mitigated the impact: more than two million people were exposed to 14 microsieverts of radiation. 14 microsieverts is the average background radiation over 10 hours. Each day, most people receive more radiation than was released at three mile island. Three mile island was harmless; Chernobyl and Fukushima were preventable.

American reactors have had containment buildings because of strict governmental regulations. For all energy sources, sensible governmental regulations drastically reduce the number of deaths thereby incurred. However, even including countries without these regulations (i.e. including Chernobyl and Fukushima), because of the massive amount of energy generated by a nuclear plant, so few plants are needed to power a country that, even including the two aforementioned accidents, solar power kills five time as many people as uranium fission. From sheer power stems safety.

The next common misconception regarding nuclear power is nuclear waste. Plutonium-239 (a byproduct of Uranium Fission) has a half life of 24100 years. This means that any Plutonium-239 produced will be unsafe for tens of thousands of years. It is notable, however, that isotopes with a longer half life are must less radioactive (they give off their radiation over longer, thus the energy per unit of time is less); unsafe, in this context, means must be stored in a barrel in the parking lot behind the nuclear plant for safety. When they are so stored, they are not dangerous. (Nuclear waste does not need to be transported somewhere for storage, but transportation is safe for the same reason that storage so is.) Unless we literally dump nuclear waste into our water supply or do other comparably stupid things, it’s not dangerous. The common objection raised herein is the obligation that we thrust onto future generations by the act of leaving them with nuclear waste; leaving them without the massive benefits of nuclear power is an unquestionably bigger burden.

Two common types of Uranium reactors exist: pass-though and fast-breeder. Pass-through reactors were first developed and began commercial use in the 1950’s. The first functional fast-breeder reactor was created in the 1980’s. (This reactor temporarily disabled certain control circuits, simulating the Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters. In both cases, the reactor automatically shut down, averting the disaster without relying upon the containment building. Several weeks later, the government ordered the reactor to close upon the grounds that it was too dangerous.) The next objection raised against nuclear reactors is sustainability. With the combination of the aforementioned fast-breeder reactors and Uranium harvest from seawater, Uranium fission could power your world for over a thousand years. Thorium reactors could conceivably power our world for much longer because Thorium is much more abundant than Uranium.

This isn’t sustainable. A thousand years of Uranium fission or a hundred thousand years of Thorium fission, fission power isn’t sustainable. Even a hundred years hence, however, we should have either developed fusion reactors, built a (possibly partial) dyson swarm, or built kugelblitz engines. This video explains the latter two (they are both very large-scale methods that generate immense amounts of energy; the former may be partially built within our lifetimes). If we don’t have a better energy source by the time that Uranium is exhausted, we’ll have bigger problems. The question to consider is not how to power the earth for the next million years, but how to power the earth until we either invent fusion reactors or develop other advanced sources of energy. This video, though quite biased, explains fusion relatively well on a simplistic level.

Coal power is efficient (though not as efficient as Uranium fission). It’ll provide a fair amount of energy whilst polluting the air, warming the planet, killing three million people each year, and quickly making Earth resemble Venus. Oil is better, and Natural Gas better yet, but both still pollute at spectacular rates.

Solar plants produce extremely limited energy. Though thought safe, Solar panels contain really dangerous chemicals. The sheer number that would be needed to power the world (they would cover more land area than the world has) makes this problem yet worse.

Wind power is safe. So are pinwheels. Neither generates any significant amount of energy. Geothermal isn’t much better.

Hydraulic power, originally hated by environmentalists because it destroys habitats, generates more energy than any other renewable source, but isn’t as efficient as fission power and is limited by the lack of rivers.

Solar and Wind power are pitiful. A 10m^2 solar array, the average south-facing roof size, produces 220 Watts of power, approximately 2% of the energy consumption of the average American. They represent a future in which we are subject to the whims of nature: there are clouds; you have no energy; ’tis dark; you have no energy; ’tis light; you have little energy. Under solar or wind, we adapt, we conserve, we sacrifice to meet the meager energy available. Conservation of energy represents sacrifice, sacrifice that directly hurts humans. The acceptance of these energy sources represents a failure of determination. Nuclear power gives us a future in which we can control our fate, not have it controlled by nature. Under nuclear power, we shan’t have to conserve energy to not destroy the Earth. It will require investment, work, and cooperation, for a Nuclear plant cannot be built atop a house like a solar panel; it will require knowledge of science and it will require a structure not hellbent upon immediate personal profit; it will require cooperation on the largest scales for the good of all but, for once, man has a chance become powerful, to take control from nature. Only fools, driven by selfishness and fear and opposed to reason, stand in our way.

Links to sources:

http://www.withouthotair.com/c24/page_161.shtml

http://www.greenworldinvestor.com/2011/07/07/nuclear-energy-efficiency-vs-fossil-fuels-oilgas-in-power-load-factorsenergy-density-and-waste/

https://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/fact-sheets/radwaste.html

https://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2012/06/10/energys-deathprint-a-price-always-paid/#76f41914709b

https://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/fact-sheets/plutonium.html

The grammatical error in the eighth paragraph is present at the insistence of my publishers.