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Nuclear Energy Nuclear energy only contributes 14% of the world’s electric energy mix today, and as electric energy only contributes 16% to the end energy use, its contribution is essentially negligible (Dittmar). Because the world misunderstands how useful and safe nuclear energy is, support is needed to advance towards this renewable powerhouse. Nuclear power is produced when a nucleus absorbs a neutron and splits into two lighter nuclei. Nuclear reactors harness the heat which is produced from the energy released when the atom splits and convert it into electrical energy. In fact, the Uranium, which is the most common element used to produce nuclear power today, has an energy content of 3 million times greater than that of fossil fuel.

“Consequently 1 gram of Uranium is equivalent to approximately 3 tonnes of coal” (Sevior).  This means that we consume 3 million times fewer materials with nuclear energy. The Misconceptions There are common misconceptions about nuclear energy that many people believe, which are: that Americans get a surplus of radiation from nuclear power plants, that plants can explode like a nuclear bomb, and that nuclear energy is bad for the environment. We are surrounded by natural radiation; there is radiation coming from everything. “Only 0.005% of the average American’s yearly radiation dose comes from nuclear power; 100 times less than we get from coal 200 times less than a cross-country flight, and about the same as eating 1 banana per year” (Blakely). If eating a banana is able to emit the same or more amounts of radiation than a nuclear power plant, then shouldn’t people stop eating bananas instead of trying to blame nuclear power plants? The second misconception is that a nuclear reactor can explode like a bomb.

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It is impossible for a reactor to explode like a nuclear weapon because weapons contain very special materials in very particular configurations, neither of which are present in a nuclear reactor. Also by the design for these reactors, there are reactors called generation I to IV. Generation I reactors were developed in 1950-60s, and the last one shut down in the UK in 2015. Generation II reactors are typified by the present US and French fleets and most in operation elsewhere. Generation III reactors surpass all other reactors made to date.

The difference between generations II and III are negligible generation III further reduced the possibility of core melt accidents. “There is a simpler and more rugged design, making them easier to operate and less vulnerable to operational upsets” (World Nuclear Association (2017, August)). With the designs being easier to function and easier to operate, there is less of a possibility of a meltdown or human error occurring. With the reactors not having materials with the potential to explode, it is impossible for it to go off like a bomb.

Generation IV reactors are currently in design and aren’t going to be available until 2020. The final misconception that will be addressed is that nuclear energy is bad for the environment. Nuclear reactors emit no greenhouse emissions while they are running. “Over their full lifetimes, they result in comparable emissions to renewable forms of energy such as wind and solar. Nuclear energy requires less land use than most other forms of energy” (Meier). If nuclear energy uses fewer resources than other means of energy production and is cleaner, then the government should focus more on its use.

Safety and Health Precautions TakenNuclear energy is as safe than any other form of energy available.  No member of the public has ever been injured or killed in the entire 50-year history of commercial nuclear power in the U.S.  In fact, recent studies have shown that it is safer to work in a nuclear power plant than in an office. We live in a radioactive environment.

We are subject to background radiation all the time and the normal levels are well known. Radiation is in the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the places in which we live and work. “There is evidence to suggest that unless radiation exposure reaches ten times the normal background level, there is no harm to humans from radiation” (“Center for Nuclear Sciences and Technology Information.

“, Biological effects). Furthermore, some radiation near background level may be beneficial to, and even necessary for life. “On average, Americans receive a radiation dose of about 0.

62 rem (620 millirems) each year. Half of this dose comes from natural background radiation. Most of this background exposure comes from radon in the air, with smaller amounts from cosmic rays and the Earth itself. The other half comes from man-made sources of radiation, including medical, commercial, and industrial sources. ” (United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission).

According to the World Nuclear Association, the average exposure of radiation at a nuclear power plant is about a dose of about 0.01 millirem per year. Radiation from a nuclear power plant will not affect a person, compared to the natural radiation from the earth.The nation’s nuclear power plants are among the safest and most secure industrial facilities in the United States.

Multiple layers of physical security, together with high levels of operational performance, protect plant workers, the public, and the environment. Nuclear plants are well-designed, operated by trained personnel, defended against attack and prepared in the event of an emergency. All nuclear power plant staff are subject to background and criminal history checks before they are granted access to the plant.Natural Disasters and Human Error. Many people believe that because nuclear meltdowns have happened in the past, like the ones in Fukushima, Chernobyl, and Three Mile Island, that meltdowns will happen again. With the Fukushima, disasters there was an earthquake that caused a 15-meter high tsunami that crashed into the plant disabling the cooling and power supply of the three reactors, which in turn caused the three reactors to have a meltdown on March 11, 2011, within three days all three cores had melted. The Chernobyl incident occurred in April of 1986 at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine. The disaster was the outcome of a flawed reactor design coupled with serious mistakes made by the plant operators.

Finally, the Three Mile Island mishap that occurred in 1979 at Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in the USA, a cooling malfunction caused part of the core to melt in the secondary reactor.  Due to a mechanical failure, it prevented the main feedwater pumps from sending water to the steam generators that remove heat from the reactor core. This caused the plant’s generator and the reactor itself to automatically shut down. The pressure in the primary system began to increase.

In order to control the pressure, the pilot-operated relief valve opened. The valve should have closed when the pressure fell to proper levels, but it had become stuck open. Instruments in the control room, however, told the plant staff that the valve was closed.

As a result, the staff was unaware that the cooling water was pouring out of the stuck-open valve.The Chernobyl and Three Mile Island meltdowns were due to a design flaw and human error, and the Fukushima incident was because of a natural disaster which was uncontrollable. From these incidents, the world learned that better designs and training is necessary for new plants.  Conclusion Although some disasters have occurred with nuclear energy, those are not enough to stop the moving forward on this renewable, clean, and misunderstood way to create energy. With better designs being made that are safer and more efficient, this is the future of energy and the world needs to embrace it. Being worried about change is a normal thing but take the leap of faith to this amazing resource.


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