The production of nuclear energy has been a controversial subject since the birth of nuclear power. This technology, which was originally created for weapons of mass destruction, has received constant criticism because of its harmful past. Many of the people responsible for the discovery of nuclear power have long hoped that their discoveries could be used in helpful applications. In the past, however, there have been problems with such a conversion. Many of the components used for weapons production were not capable of being used for energy production, and this led to some questionable safety instances. Although nuclear energy production was undoubtedly the safest and most environmentally friendly energy source, accidents at Windscale, Three Mile Island, and Chernobyl made people realize that much more could be done to increase the safety of this titanic energy source.

Throughout the history of nuclear energy, it has failed to compete with traditional energy supplies. This is for various reasons, but it is primarily due to the lack of development, implementation, and the public impression.

New Technology Paves the Way

The possibility for a revival of nuclear power generation will most likely be due to advances in nuclear technology. Although these advances could have been made much earlier in our society, it was because of various concerns that they did not. Now people and governments are starting to open up to the huge potential that nuclear power has displayed.

In previous plants, technology was taken primarily from research gained during the production of nuclear weapons. Now, however, research is being used to develop nuclear concepts based solely on power generation. This is leading to great headway for the power possibilities. An individual with a great deal of responsibility for the advances, Professor Rudolf Schulten of Germany, recognized the necessity of making use of new high temperature processes; he also put together a concept to make reactors resistant to the loss of coolant accident that happened at Three Mile Island.

These increases in technology have helped to raise the bar on safety for an industry that already has a fine record. Along with probabilistic risk assessment, new technology has laid a strong foundation for a new generation of nuclear plants that could revolutionize energy production around the world.

With these advances in technology, advances in security are being recognized as well. First generation power plants were based on the same theory that was applied to the production of nuclear weapons. In 1977, President Carter outlawed civilian reprocessing of nuclear materials. This was to prevent the expansion of nuclear knowledge as a matter of protecting national security. This created a bad situation because it not only prevented civilian use of this incredible energy source, but it halted all research that could have expanded on the possibilities of power generation. Now, the end of the Cold War and the concentration of nuclear power towards energy source have reduced the security risks.

The Russian Initiative

Russia has seemingly set out an aggressive plan to upgrade nuclear power to the role of basic energy source. The four key components of this initiative are as follows:

  1. Safety must be raised to a level affording deterministic exclusion of severe accidents.
  2. Burial of high level waste should be given up, however attractive and safe the disposal process may seem.
  3. Non-proliferation of nuclear weapons should be ensured not only and not so much by political instruments and inspections as by technological measures.
  4. Nuclear power should be restored to economic competitiveness not in the remote future, but very early in its large scale deployment.

The first initiative can be met by the properties of the fast reactor that rules out loss of coolant accidents. Because of the absence of hydrogen and steam, explosions are eliminated as well. Finally, material selection can be used to eliminate the risk of fires.

The second initiative is more difficult to meet. A constant problem with nuclear energy is what to do with the waste material. A possible solution is the theory of radiation equivalence, which would allow the disposal of waste that would replace the radioactivity of the mined uranium. This would then setup a radiation balance that would not affect the natural radioactivity of the earth.

Non-proliferation is an initiative that is the greatest component to world security. The removal of weapons grade plutonium from the fuel cycle is feasible and would eliminate a great deal of risk from rogue elements in our society. Another possible solution is the reduction of uranium enrichment. Both of these actions would stop the buildup of plutonium resulting from fuel processing.

Finally, the fourth initiative is likely to be met with increased awareness of design. By creating more technologically advanced designs, the necessary safety precautions that must be built into a plant are reduced. Barriers to reactor accidents can likely be eliminated with the elimination of faults in the design and material selection.

The Future of Nuclear Power

In my opinion, the future of nuclear power lies in the continued research and development of new technology. The Russian initiative outlined in this report provides a good example of what needs to be accomplished in order for nuclear technology to move ahead. Besides new technology, a great deal of cooperation must be displayed by the countries with the means and necessity to pursue nuclear power.

An example of promising technology is the BREST reactor which has been a theoretical dream of the Russian Power Ministry. This unit is supposed to be able to consume plutonium and create it as waste. This would lead to a reactor that was able to consume its own waste product. Although it apparently works in theory, it needs to be developed before it can be proven. It could just be a pipe dream.

Cooperation has also advanced as the US Department of Energy and the Russian Nuclear Power Ministry have signed an agreement to form two expert teams to expand on ways to get rid of weapons usable fissile material and create a proliferation proof nuclear power system.

Road Blocks to Nuclear Power

A major road block is the necessity of anti-proliferation measures. With the creation of nuclear technology, societies must always be conscientious of the possibility that the technology could fall into the wrong hands. This must be stopped by designing systems that do not have the capabilities to provide for weapons of mass destruction.

The public perception is probably one of the biggest obstacles to the future of nuclear power. When people think of anything nuclear, it usually involves a bomb or a drum of toxic waste. The future of nuclear power must provide a more accurate and dynamic portrayal of innovation and improvement.

The current nuclear system is very poor in regards to the production of hazardous waste and overall efficiency. This problem exists because of the poor technology that was employed, resulting from the effective ban on nuclear research during the Cold War era. However, current research has yielded promising results for new reactors that have limited the amount of waste produced while trimming the waste half-life from thousands of years to around 200 years. Efficiency has been increased greatly as well. Until information like this is readily available to the public, the majority of people will continue to view nuclear power production as an unacceptable energy source.

Conclusion

The future of the nuclear power industry is promising, but by no means is it certain. In order for this technology to advance, a great deal of work must be done to promote the growth of current capabilities. Also, the power must be made even safer, although it is currently the cleanest and safest means we have for producing energy. Finally, the public must be educated on the benefits and risks that go along with such an industry. Without the proper education to the public.

Even with these measures, nuclear energy may not be able to compete with new energy alternatives. The elimination of research during the Cold War put the technology far behind, and it could be a difficult and expensive task to make up the lost ground.


Thanks to wrinkly for helping me add a little more insight.

Nuclear power has always been a controversial technology, and recent events have lead many in the world to question whether or not we should continue to use the technology for power generation. The previous nuclear accidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl are relatively minor incidents compared to the ongoing horrific disaster that is Fukushima, which threatens to disrupt significant parts of Japan, and could potentially threaten its integrity and sovereignty if the disaster footprint extends.

This disaster has been complicated by the poor response, bad decisions, and incompetent handling of the situation in the escalation to crisis and the ongoing mitigation effort. Decisions made to save money are now jeopardizing the health and safety of millions of people and could cause the end of the Alaska salmon fisheries, among other critical Pacific fisheries.

The chain of bad decisions began with the choice to build the facility closer to the shore at a location excavated to make it level (bringing it closer to groundwater) to save money, and extend to the almost comical (if it weren’t terrifyingly serious) mistakes in the cleanup effort from bad wastewater tank construction to workers accidentally shutting off major systems. This impression of indifference and incompetence damages the image of nuclear power as a viable energy source going forward.

Frankly, the world needs a corny-science-fiction-movie-level effort to mitigate and contain the disaster, as the currently situation is untenable and can very easily result in a greater problem. The current operation to remove 400 tons of highly irradiated spent fuel rods beneath the plant’s damaged Reactor No. 4 could result in the material being spilled, creating an even larger disaster. If the cleanup effort on the facility cannot secure the rods, the disaster exclusion zone may need to be extended to a couple of hundred kilometers, a distance that threatens Tokyo with evacuation.

Nuclear power can be a useful, safe source of energy. Done properly, fuel–rod management and radioactive material containment can be safe. However, if the nuclear industry does nothing to learn from the lessons of Fukushima not only would we be poorly served as an industry, but we will also create the potential for even greater disasters. The Indian Point nuclear plant 50 miles north of NYC has three times the fuel material at Fukushima, for example. Only by developing and building plants with secure and safe on-site semi-permanent storage and robust and redundant safety systems can we in good faith continue to develop and deploy nuclear power.

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