ENPH 210

Spring 2004

Nuclear Energy










(Nuclear Plant in Limerick)

--Nuclear energy is the result of nuclear reactions.

- There are two different ways in which energy is released from the nucleus of a radioactive material. One is fission, the other fusion. Fission is the splitting of the nuclei of the atom, whereas fusion is the combining of atoms for combustion, just like our sun. These reactions produce huge amounts of energy, and if it is contained properly it can be used effectively, such as nuclear power plants.

--Nuclear power is usually the result of fission, responsible for the generation of 20% of America’s electricity.





Two Types of Nuclear Plants

Uranium is the most common fissionable atom used in these power plants; however uranium’s isotope U-235, which is the fuel, is quite rare. Uranium must be mined, and then U-235 is extracted. One pellet of U-235 has the same amount of energy as one ton of coal. There are two basic types of nuclear power plants, boiling- water reactors and pressurized water reactors. These plants operate much like fossil fuel plants. Both produce heat, use the heat to convert water into steam, the steam will then turn turbines where strong magnets also revolve around turbines which generates electricity. The only difference is how the heat is created, either through combustion, like fossil fuels, or fission, founding nuclear power. There are four main elements to the reactors.

1) The Fuel- nuclear pellets of uranium stored in pencil- thick tubes called fuel rods.
2) The Control Rods- material that slows the chain reaction of uranium.
3) The Coolant- usually water, carries away the heat crated through fission.
4) The Moderator- again is water, which slows the speed of atoms, which in turn increases their opportunity to split, thereby releasing energy.

Positives of Nuclear Energy:

-Could be the solution to the limited fossil fuel frenzy

-Nuclear power plants are effecient and effective

-They require significantly less fuel than fossil fuels

-“One ton of uranium produces more energy than produced by several million tons of coal.” (Nuclear Energy, http://library.thinkquest.org/3471/nuclear_energy.html)

-Along with fuel efficiency, nuclear electricity does not release any emissions into the environment, such as carbon dioxide.

-The plants also create employment opportunities for the surrounding areas.

Negatives of Nuclear Energy:

-The world’s nuclear technology and power is continually growing... thus leading to...

-“The two most powerful nations, United State and Russia, have about 50,000 nuclear weapons combined.” (Nuclear Energy, http://library.thinkquest.org/3471/nuclear_energy.html)

-Radiation is energy in the form of waves, like UV rays from the sun. Radioactive materials release radiation as they deteriorate. Radiation is very dangerous to humans; even the smallest exposure causes cell damage, and cancers.

-How do we dispose of nuclear wastes?




--Let us not forget what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, nuclear bombs detonated in Japan (by the U.S.) killing over 140,000 people and leaving millions left with chronic disorders. How about the Three Mile Island or Chernobyl incidents, when the surrounding families were forced to flee the areas, and at Chernobyl resulting in employee deaths in days, other developed cancers from exposure. We cannot be asked to forget about these horrible historical markers for the sake of energy. It is dangerous and risky, and everybody is well informed of this.


There is more to the story than just the plants itself. A huge issue today is the disposal of all this “nuclear waste”. Where can we put it so that is immobile, untouched, and stationary for thousands of years? To be honest, there are few answers to this question. Yucca Mountain, in Nevada, has been their first attempt at a solution, and even now they are worried about the activity of the tectonic plates below the surface. Another proposal exposed to the public recently is storing the waste right here in Wisconsin, within the depths of our granite beds below near the Wolf River. Despite much opposition to this proposal it is still in serious consideration. How does one feel about nuclear energy when it is put in their backyard? Is the energy source necessary when we have several other energy options with few minor disadvantages?

Sources - Nuclear Energy, http://library.thinkquest.org/3471/nuclear_energy.html
- http://europa.eu.int/comm/energy/nuclear/inex_en.html
- http://tva.gov/power/nuclear.htm
- http://www.eia.doe.gov/kids/non-renewable/nuclear.html