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Leith 1 Peter Leith Mr.

Beggs ENG- 4U1 February, 28th, 2013

Helium-3 as a next generation nuclear fuel

By looking at the past one-hundred years, humans have used copious amounts of fossil fuels. This leaves the present population with a deficit in the reserves of non-renewable fuels. Because of this lack of carbon based fuels, humanity must choose an alternative source of energy; the most viable choice will be to use nuclear fuel energy, more specifically, the element helium-3 (He-3). The aforementioned fuel is better than its predecessors in many ways, one being how efficiently energy is produced. Moreover, helium-3 is vastly more abundant than all other possible nuclear fuels. This will increase the amount of energy produced and the length of its production. Furthermore, the fuel that is used at the moment is uranium-235 (U-235), an element that creates a large amount of radioactive waste, which humans currently cannot dispose of. Also, the by-products of the fission reaction in which the uranium takes place can be manufactured into nuclear weapons. By examining the positives of using helium-3 as a fuel source, compared with the weaknesses of humanities present nuclear fuel, it is clear that helium-3 is the best alternative fuel source.

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Helium-3 has the potential to be the most energy efficient fuel used in nuclear power plants. Coupled with a nuclear fusion reactor, He-3 releases particles that no other fuel can sustain and which contribute to its efficiency. These particles are trapped by the fusion reactor and subsequently converted into electrical energy. For instance, a diagram included in a Massachusetts Institute of Technology presentation shows helium-3 averaging about a 20% higher efficiency than the current nuclear fuels used today (Bonde and Tortorello). As a result, these nuclear plants will not have to be as numerous as current nuclear plants, because of the fact that they will be producing more efficient energy. This will allow people to build, farm, or otherwise use the sections of land that would have been allotted to the current power plants. Also, since the population of the Earth is continuing the increase, there will need to be more places for people to live. Instead of building many nuclear power plants and taking up potential housing developments, humanity can use helium-3 and reduce the amount of power plants. In short, the use of helium-3 as fuel will bring the most benefits to society. The majority of helium-3 near the Earth is stored in vast deposits on the moon, accessible by mining. These deposits were formed over millions of years via the particles that the sun constantly emits. Earth, unlike the moon, has a strong magnetosphere produced by its magnetic poles. This shield prevents the harmful rays from reaching the Earth, but it also stops the helium-3. A power point from the MIT shows that there is an estimated 1,100,000 metric tons of helium-3 stored in the lunar soil (Bonde and Tortorello). Admittedly, if the total amount of all the helium-3 on the moon were converted into nuclear energy, it would produce 20,000 terra-watt years of electricity (Bonde and Tortorello). Taking into consideration that the average American home uses approximately 11616 kilowatt-hours per year (How much

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electricity), the total amount of helium-3 stored on the moon could power a single American home for 18 million years. Thus, helium-3 is clearly an exploitable resource that will last for a very long time. Uranium-235, which is presently used in nuclear power plants, produces an extreme amount of radioactive waste. After the uranium has depleted its stores of energy, the remaining radioactive metal is sealed away and stored so that the radiation is contained. This radioactive waste takes many years to decay and as such will stay in containment for a long time. Statistics from the Nuclear Energy Institute show that each year the nuclear industry produces about 2300 metric tons of waste, and that over the 40 years that these generators have been in service, 67 500 tons of waste have been produced (Nuclear Energy Institute ). When taking into consideration that helium-3 will have no environmental drawbacks, this enormous amount of waste produced is in no way needed. Furthermore, all of the space used to house the waste produced by uranium-285 will be able to be put to better use, as 67 500 metric tons of waste can approximately fill a whole football field 7 metres deep (Nuclear Energy Institute ). In short, to continue using U-285 is a wasteful endeavour, especially when cleaner alternatives are available. A dangerous challenge of using uranium-235 as a fuel for nuclear reactors is that nuclear weapons can be fashioned from the enriched uranium. This happens when instead of using the uranium as a means to generate electricity, they artificially enrich it, so that it will contain more U-235. From here, they begin to shape the charge so that the atoms will split apart, this splitting of the atom causes the explosion associated with nuclear weapons. As an example,

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(drawing upon information from BBC News and the European Nuclear Society), of the countries that possess nuclear power plants, a significant portion of them also have an armament of nuclear weapons. Therefore, it is clear that there is a correlation between producing nuclear power with uranium-235 and the creation of nuclear weapons. Although, simply because some of the countries listed do not have stores of nuclear weapons, does not necessarily mean that they lack the technology to do so. Given these points, it is clear that being able to manufacture nuclear weapons from uranium-235 makes it less desirable than other nuclear fuels. Considering the above explanations, helium-3 proves to be a viable source of alternative fuel. This is exhibited by its ability to be extremely efficient in terms of all previous used fossil and nuclear fuels. Also, the availability of He-3 is certain because of the extent of the stores on the moon, which we are able to harvest. Moreover, helium-3 produces no radioactive waste or any environmental concerns, unlike its predecessor uranium-235. In continuation, using He-3 as a fuel source in nuclear fission does not contain the same risk as uranium-235 as there is no possible way to manufacture nuclear weapons from helium-3. Because of humanities dwindling fossil fuel stores, an alternative energy source must take its place. Using helium-3 in a nuclear fusion reaction is the best alternative method. Rather than rely on a source that has potential to produce dangerous weapons, society has the option of choosing a fuel that is safe and abundant.

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Works Cited
Bonde, Jeff and Anthony Tortorello. Helium-3 The energy source of tomorrow? n.d. Microsoft Power Point. 24 February 2013. How much electricity does an American home use? 6 December 2011. Website. 25 February 2013. Nuclear Energy Institute . n.d. Website. 26 February 2013. Nuclear power plants, worldwide. 18 January 2013. Website. 24 February 2013. Nuclear Weapons. 12 January 1996. Website. 25 February 2013. Which countries have nuclear weapons? 26 March 2012. Website. 24 February 2013.