The Debate Over Nuclear Power

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At first glance, nuclear energy seems like a great alternative to burning fossil fuels. It is a cleaner more efficient power source, that does not cause global warming or acid rain. U.S. nuclear reactors rely on uranium, which is naturally abundant locally, so nuclear power reduces reliance on foreign energy. However, while some argue that nuclear power plants are as safe as any energy production, the radioactive waste produced as well as nuclear accidents like Three Mile Island are evidence that alternative options should be explored. According to Sandra Alters, nuclear reactors work like this: Fuel rods, made of zirconium, with pellets of fissionable fuel (uranium in the US) are assembled into bundles in the core of the reactor. They are surrounded by control rods, made of iron, cadmium, indium or silver, which absorb or capture neutrons to slow the reaction. Neutron moderation is also important because neutrons have to be slowed so that the atomic nucleus can capture them. By the process of fission, or splitting of the uranium nucleus into smaller fragments by bombarding with neutrons, heat is produced. In a Pressurized Water Reactor (PWR) this heat circulates in a pool of radioactive water, which transfers its heat to a second pool of water that produces steam, which runs through a turbine and turns the generator, turning mechanical energy into electrical energy. Uranium-235 is the ideal fuel, because it is readily available and reactions with it release neutrons that continue the change reaction. However, Uranium straight from the ground is 98% Uranium-238, which much be enriched to at least 5% Uranium-235 for fission to occur. Further challenges include maintaining a critical mass, or the amount of fissionable required... ... middle of paper ... ...ear power needs to be rethought. References Alters, Sandra M. (2009). Nuclear Energy. Opposing Viewpoints in Context. doi:GALE|EJ3020670105 Canadian Nuclear Association. (2012). Nuclear Facts- Is nuclear energy a good choice for the environment? Retrieved from http://www.cna.ca/nuclear_facts/nuclear_environment/ Environmental Protection Agency (n.d.) Gamma Rays. Retrieved from http://www.epa. gov/radiation/understand/gamma.html Freudenrich, Craig. (n.d.) How Nuclear Fusion Reactors Work. Retrieved from http://science .howstuffworks.com/fusion-reactor.htm Greenpeace. (n.d.) Radioactive Waste. Retrieved from http://www.greenpeace.org /usa/en/campaigns/nuclear/safety-and-security/radioactive-waste/ Pressurized Water Reactor [Online image]. Retrieved January 20, 2014 from http://www.nrc. gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/nuregs/brochures/br0164/r5/br0164r5.pdf
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