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A Primer on Nuclear Power

Harry Draaisma
301234534
Team Alif
TA: Ali Hekamati
EN! 100"105
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Ackknowle#$ements:
% woul# like to e&ten# my sincerest t'anks to (ot' my TA) Ali Hekamati) for markin$ my
*re+limanary assi$nments to *re*are for t'is *a*er an# my instructor) ,ic'eal -oer#sma) for
teca'in$ us t'e *ro*er way to write a *a*er of t'is ma$nitu#e. %/# also like to t'ank !lara
c'irrmeister an# ,ic'ael 0urewic1 for 'el*in$ me e#it t'is *a*er.
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A Primer on Nuclear Power
2'en man first s*lit a*art t'e atom it unleas'e# a *ower so $reat) t'at it s'ifte# t'e 3ery
course of 'istory. T'is atomic *ower was 4uickly utili1e# into a wea*on so catastro*'ic t'at it
coul# o(literate entire cities. 5ut w'en t'e flames of war #ie# out) it was #eci#e# t'at suc'
ener$y coul# (e more (eneficial in *eaceful ci3ilian uses. %n 1653 t'e Atomic Ener$y
!ommission 'ar3este# t'e first electricity from atomic ener$y 718. %t was only enou$' *ower to
make four li$'t (ul(s $low #imly) (ut from t'ese small ste*s came t'e (e$innin$ of nuclear
*ower. 9rom t'ese 'um(le (e$innin$s) nuclear *ower 'as (ecome a ma-or alternati3e ener$y
*ro#ucer worl#wi#e) *ro#ucin$ 10: of worl#;s total electricity 728. %t s'ows no si$ns of slowin$
#own eit'er) as countries like !'ina seek to $ain more self+reliance wit' lar$e scale nuclear
*ower *lant #e3elo*ment 738. Howe3er wit' any tec'nolo$y t'ere are always risks in3ol3e# an#
nuclear *ower is no e&ce*tion. Nuclear acci#ents) like !'erno(yl an# more recently 9ukus'ima)
remin# us of t'e #e3astation nuclear *ower can still wiel# if not treate# wit' care. Des*ite t'ese
risks) nuclear *ower looks to (e a ma-or *art of our future. As suc') it is im*ortant for us to
un#erstan# it so t'at it may (e *ut to it may reac' its ma&imum *otential. As suc') t'is *a*er will
outline (ot' t'e (enefits an# #etriments of nuclear *ower) so t'at t'e com*le&ities of suc' $reat
atomic *ower can (e un#erstoo# an# its role in our ener$y *ro#ucin$ future ma#e clear
T'e most o(3ious (enefit of nuclear ener$y is t'e s'eer amount of *ower it can *ro#uce.
As state# earlier) nuclear *ower alrea#y *ro#uces u* to 10: of t'e worl#;s electricity. 2'ile t'is
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mi$'t not seem im*ressi3e) it is im*ortant to consi#er t'at usin$ fossil fuels for mass ener$y
consum*tion starte# wit' t'e in3ention of t'e first $as lam*s in t'e early 1<00;s 748. T'is
com*arison s'ows t'at nuclear *ower is still in its infancy) an# t'eoretically ca*a(le of
accom*lis'in$ $reater feats t'an it alrea#y is. Presently) #ifferent nuclear materials can (e
com(ine# to$et'er into mi&e# o&i#e fuels =,>? 9uels@. T'ese (len#e# materials out*ut 1.5
times more ener$y t'an -ust usin$ sin$ular materials 758. Howe3er) t'e future of nuclear *ower
looks e3en more im*ressi3e. 9ast (ree#er reactors are reactors currently in #e3elo*ment t'at
'a3e t'e a(ility to recycle use# nuclear material) increasin$ t'e efficiency of t'e reactor u*war#s
of a(out A0 times t'at of a normal reactor 758. T'e *ower of t'e atom 'as always (een s'own) (ut
only now is it truly (ein$ 'ar3este#.
Des*ite t'e a#3ances in nuclear tec'nolo$y) t'e economics of (uil#in$ nuclear *lants is
still too *ro(lematic for it to (e i$nore#. As an e&am*le) t'e last 20 nuclear *lants (uilt in t'e
Bnite# tates cost a(out C3)000 to C4)000 *er kilowatt ca*acity. 5y com*arison) win# tur(ines
are (ein$ installe# at a(out C1)000 *er kilowatt 7A8. As well) t'e cost of #ecommissionin$ or
im*lementin$ newer tec'nolo$ies in ol#er *lants is still economically unfeasi(le #ue to is cost
an# $eneral lack of interest *resent 758. T'ese limitations often *re3ent in3estment into nuclear
*ower) w'ic' 'in#ers attem*ts at researc' w'ic' coul# make *lants c'ea*er to construct. T'is
situation is so #ire t'at many analysts (elie3e t'at nuclear *ower cannot com*ete in an
increasin$ly com*etiti3e market an# many *lants are at risk of (ein$ s'ut #own 7A8. Nuclear
*ower is a lon$ term $oal) w'ic' is often at o##s amon$ t'ose 'o*in$ for a 4uick solution.
Howe3er) w'en lookin$ at any sort of alternati3e ener$y) t'e $oal is often not wit'
*resent $eneration in min#. Dat'er t'e $oal is often $i3in$ t'e ne&t $eneration a (etter) cleaner
future. 2it' t'is $oal in min#) nuclear *ower re3eals anot'er (enefit: its en3ironmental
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frien#liness. A fully runnin$ nuclear *ower *lant is com*letely car(on emission free 7E8. 5ecause
of t'is) nuclear *ower 'as (een foun# to actually sa3e li3es o3er t'e lon$ term (y *re3entin$
#eat's cause# #irectly or in#irectly (y air *ollution 7<8. T'is can also (e com(ine# wit' t'e fact
t'at nuclear reactors often $enerate lar$e amounts of 'eat #urin$ o*eration. T'is e&cess 'eat
coul# (e use# to #esalinate water in areas t'at may (ecome water scarce in t'e future 768. T'is
com(ination of features makes nuclear *ower 3ery attracti3e for t'ose lookin$ to $et t'e most
out of alternati3e ener$ies.
Nuclear *ower isn;t com*letely wit'out en3ironmental fault. T'e construction of *lants
an# continual minin$ or nuclear material is often accom*lis'e# usin$ ecolo$ically unsoun#
met'o#s. As suc') all nuclear *lants are not com*letely car(on neutral. Howe3er) t'e most
$larin$ en3ironmental issue in3ol3in$ nuclear *ower is often from t'e (y+*ro#uct it creates:
ra#ioacti3e waste. As t'e name im*lies) t'is waste is still 'i$'ly ra#ioacti3e an# una(le to (e
use# in furt'er *ower *ro#uction. T'e *ro(lem arises #ue to t'e waste;s a(ility to remain
ra#ioacti3e for u*war#s of millions of years. Presently t'e only met'o#s of #ealin$ wit' t'e
waste are lon$ term stora$e) eit'er a(o3e $roun# or in #ee* un#er$roun# (unkers 7108. Howe3er)
t'ese met'o#s are consi#ere# ineffecti3e #ue to continue# risk of leaka$e an# t'erefore
contamination of t'e surroun#in$ area) as well as t'e security risk of it (ein$ stolen for use in a
makes'ift nuclear (om( 7118. Alt'ou$' tec'nolo$y #oes e&ist to re*ur*ose t'e waste into usa(le
fuel) 'owe3er t'e tec'nolo$y is still in #e3elo*ment at t'is time 758. Bntil suc' a met'o# is
#isco3ere#) waste will fore3er 'aunt nuclear *ower w'ere3er it $oes.
Now one woul# t'ink t'e waste *ro#uce# (y it woul# make nuclear *ower seem inferior
to ot'er forms of alternati3e ener$y like solar or 'y#roelectric) (ut it #oes 'a3e one ca*a(ility t'e
ot'ers lack: it is not limite# (y location. olar *ower re4uires clear weat'er an# stron$ sun to
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'ar3est t'e most ener$y an# 'y#roelectric is (oun# to only t'e lar$est of ri3ers to (e e3en
remotely economically feasi(le. ince nuclear *ower only relies on im*orte# or mine# minerals)
*ower *lants can (e (uilt almost anyw'ere in t'e worl#. T'is is no con-ecture eit'erF nuclear
*ower *lants alrea#y e&ist in o3er 31 countries aroun# t'e worl# 758. T'is also means t'at in t'e
e3ent t'at oil *ro#uction is (rou$'t to stan#still (y some catastro*'e) nuclear *ower mi$'t (e t'e
only ener$y source wit' enou$' scale to e3en 'a3e a 'o*e of kee*in$ *ower *ro#uction at
reasona(le le3els in certain countries. Alt'ou$' t'is 'as yet to occur) t'e oil crisis of t'e 16E0;s
soli#ifie# nuclear *ower;s re*utation as a reser3e ener$y *ro#uction source in t'e B 7A8. T'ese
factors make nuclear *ower one of t'e most 3ersatile alternati3e ener$y sources on t'e market.
Gersatility is uni4ue a#3anta$e nuclear 'as o3er ot'er forms of alternati3e ener$y) (ut t'e
sti$ma t'at 'an$s o3er nuclear is somet'in$ t'at it 'as yet to o3ercome. Pu(lic o*inion of
nuclear *ower 'as 'a# a tur(ulent relations'i*) as e3en mentionin$ t'e wor# nuclear to some
*eo*le will 'a3e t'em imme#iately recall ima$es of nuclear inci#ents like !'erno(yl) or more
recently 9ukus'ima. %n#ee#) t'e risk of nuclear inci#ents is *ro(a(ly one of t'e lar$est factors of
'ostility a$ainst nuclear *lants. %nci#ents may release massi3e amounts of ra#ioacti3e material
into t'e atmos*'ere) w'ere it can (e carrie# (y win#s to (lanket areas in a ra#ioacti3e 'a1e) e3en
in areas not #irectly affecte# (y t'e inci#ent 7128. Des*ite t'is) many *eo*le are actually in fa3or
of nuclear *lants) wit' t'e ca3eat t'at t'e *lant isn;t (uilt anyw'ere near w'ere t'ey li3e 7138.
Howe3er) t'is am(i3alence towar#s it is often *ercei3e# as o**osition to t'e i#ea entirely.
Alt'ou$' nuclear *ower is tryin$ to make $reat stri#es in im*ro3in$ its ima$e an# safety) it
remains unseen if t'is will affect t'e o*inion of *resent future $enerations.
2'et'er you are a$ainst nuclear *ower or su**ortin$ it) one cannot 'el* (ut see t'at it is
$oin$ to (e *art of t'e future. %t will no #ou(t continue to (e an incre#i(ly contro3ersial to*ic)
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es*ecially as t'e nee# for a relia(le alternati3e ener$y source (ecomes more an# more a**arent.
9rom its 'orren#ous (e$innin$s as a wea*on of war) to (ecomin$ an ener$y source 'aunte# (y
(ot' its *ast an# *resent) nuclear ener$y *oses -ust one 4uestion. %f we run out of fossil fuels)
will it sa3e us w'en t'e $ears of ci3ili1ation come to a $rin#in$ 'altH >r will it sim*ly (e a see#
of #oom) sowe# in a #es*erate attem*t to re*air t'e #ama$e we 'a3e #oneH
718 D. ,ic'al. =2001@. Fifty years ago in December: Atomic reactor EBR-I produced first
electricity 7>nline8 A3aila(le 9TP: 'tt*:""www2.ans.or$ Directory: *u(s"ma$a1ine"nn"#ocs 9ile:
2001+11+2.*#f
728 Key World Energy Statistics) %nternational Ener$y A$ency) Paris) 9r) 2012.
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