Monday, 21 May 2012

How Do We Get Nuclear Power?

First I will talk a little about how we produce nuclear energy, so we can better understand exactly what happens in the nuclear power stations. Then we can draw some conclusions as to whether it is safe or dangerous.

About Nuclear Power:

Our level of technology currently enables us to produce energy from the process of 'nuclear fission'. Even though we have been researching 'nuclear fusion' (which yeilds more potential energy than fission) it is extremely costly and difficult to produce energy by fusion. Which means for now we have to settle for fission.

What is Nuclear Power?

Nuclear fission is triggered when we bombard certain elements with nuetrons (elements such as uranium). The basic principle is that when an atom undergoes fission it splits into smaller atoms which are shot out at high speeds. The energy is harnessed from the heat produced by these high speed fragments. These smaller fragments can go on to cause further fission, often known as a 'chain reaction'. This is how the infamous atom bomb works, on the principle of Einsteins famous equations. Yet in a controlled environment we get nuclear power generation.

What is a Nuclear Power Plant?

With this in mind, playing with nuclear energy is not to be taken lightly. It can kill thousands in an instant. So engineers have developed many safety features to stop such catastrophic events. A nuclear power plant is well built to withstand such dangerous activities.
This includes placing the reactor core in a thick concrete building, which absorbs radiation given off by the reactions. The reactor itself is made of thick steel to withstand the high pressure and temperature in the core as well as absorbing most of the radiation. Every reactor has an emergency shutdown system designed to stop fission completely.

The world has experienced many nuclear disasters so far and I believe more will come. You may have heard of Chernobyl, in the Ukraine. This disaster happened in 1986, releasing harmful radiation into the atmosphere which led to a permanent evacuation of everyone in the surrounding area. Chernobyl today is a ghost town. It was caused when the operators were testing a reactor to find out if the coolant pumps would keep operating in the event of a loss of power until emergency diesel generators took over. To carry out this test the safety systems to shut down the reactor in an emergency were switched off! Such an ill informed decision that led to a massive explosion in the reactor core. The fuel rods melted while the reactor cap was blown off releasing radioactive fission products into the atmosphere. As a result 4000 people were killed immediately, whilst a massive 2 BILLION worldwide have been affected due to radiation/birth defects/cancer etc.

In my opinion nuclear energy can be safe but we must proceed with extreme caution as the potential dangers are enormous. There may even be unknown effects associated with radiation. Not to mention that the waste produced is extremely bad for the environment. If we could find ways around these problems then I would back nuclear power, but for me it is too environmentally toxic with our current levels of technology. What are your thoughts on nuclear energy and do you have any solutions. Maybe we could fire the waste at the sun? However that would require lots of energy. Leave a comment!

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