Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Future of Power ( Part I )

Like with my post about Libya, this post has become rather long and so will be split in several parts. This is Part I.
As has been seen from the disaster in Japan, and before that in the US and the USSR, nuclear power can be very dangerous. This article is going to talk about the different types of power generation available and what I think should be done. After giving an overview on some of the different sources of power I will mention what I think would be the best course for the future and the world. 
Nuclear Energy
"Nuclear power will help provide the electricity that our growing economy needs without increasing emissions. This is truly an environmentally responsible source of energy." - Michael Burgess 
One of the most controversial sources of power, nuclear power can power entire countries with little to no greenhouse gas emissions. Nuclear power carries with a certain cleanliness that most other sources of power do not have, this is taking into account the amount of power generated from a nuclear power station.
France for example gets a majority of its energy from nuclear power stations. While some other countries do not even have any nuclear stations. Nuclear power does come with several disadvantages and those are pretty massive disadvantages.
Almost all nuclear plants that are in use today have the risk of melting down. This is basically when the things that generate the power get so hot that they literally melt and generate massive amounts of dangerous radiation. It is more complicated than this, but basically, many people can die or can get horrible diseases or genetic mutations which they can transmit to their children.
Another major disadvantage is that generating nuclear power also generates nuclear waste. This waste is basically what is left over after the fuel has been used up. No one knows what to do with these millions of barrels of waste and so they are usually just held in some cooling pool (since they can also still output dangerous radiation too and need to be cooled down for a while) until they can be put in a massive storage facility to be forgotten about. Of course that's not a very good permanent solutions and some countries have been known to sell some of the waste to other, usually poorer, countries so they do not have to deal with it. This has been reduced lately, but probably still happens.
There is however one thing that countries can do with the waste and that is to use it once more for fuel. The advantage of doing that is that the waste of that is about 75% smaller, which means a lot more of it can be stored away. The disadvantage is that after being re-used or reprocessed, the fuel can then be used in weapons with enough engineering capabilities and some effort. This is why the US has not been reprocessing its nuclear fuel for decades. Other countries have done so however. Some countries are afraid that this fuel, which isn't as closely guarded as military equipment can be stolen or sold to rogue entities, which might use the reprocessed fuel in a very dangerous and harmful manner.

The advantages of nuclear power is that it is 'cleaner' than coal and other fossil fuels, in absolute terms, less of it is needed than coal. The following numbers only serve as an example and are not true, but serve to demonstrate my point.
If 10 tonnes of coal are needed to power 10 houses for a year, then 10 tonnes of nuclear fuel can be used to power 500 houses for 5 years. That's what I mean by less of it is required. It is basically more efficient than coal and gas.
While the Fukushima disaster has put a big dent on nuclear energy, people should think twice before dismissing it outright. Many advances in technology nowadays allow for safer plants with more and more rigorous safety measures. The newest generation of nuclear power plants are not only safer, but also more efficient. It is important to realize also that the Fukushima plant had been running for almost 4 decades before and earthquake and a flood hit it. Before that, it had been running without incidents for all that time.
In addition to all of this, another source of nuclear energy is called thorium. Unlike Uranium, it does not have the properties to allow for a nuclear meltdown and thus spares people all the nasty repercussions of those. Thorium is quite plentiful in some regions of Earth and as such could be used by some countries as a perfect way to get energy with close to no downsides. From my understanding, it is very efficient and and its only trouble is the nuclear waste.

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