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Nuclear Energy, Your Opinion?

Updated on March 18, 2011

Nuclear Energy - Is it a Good Thing?

In this time of dwindling energy supplies and growing energy needs, I will discuss the value of nuclear energy. And the risk.

Should we focus on alternative energy sources, to nuclear energy?

Or is it the best source of energy for our huge Earth population?

Get in the Discussion

I want to hear your thoughts!

Nuclear power plants use a process known as nuclear fission to produce energy for many of our homes and businesses.

Nuclear fission is the splitting of the nucleus of an atom into parts, which often produce free neutrons and other smaller nuclei. These smaller parts may eventually produce photons (in the form of gamma rays).

Fission of heavy elements (think of the Periodic Table from your physics classes) is an exothermic reaction (releases heat) which can produce large amounts of energy. This energy is released as electromagnetic radiation and as kinetic energy of the fragments (heating the bulk material where fission takes place). Further along, the energy is turned into electricity.

Nuclear Energy: The History

In 1934, Enrico Fermi and his team managed to experimentally produce nuclear fission when they bombarded uranium with neutrons. His work was furthered by German scientists during the late 1930s. Many scientists recognized that if fission reactions released additional neutrons, a self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction could result. One of the first scientists to recognize this was Leo Szilard.

Fermi and Szilard both immigrated to the United States where they were part of the team of scientists to develop the first man-made reactor, known as Chicago Pile-1, which achieved criticality on December 2, 1942. This work became part of the Manhattan Project, which built large reactors at the Hanford Site (formerly the town of Hanford, Washington, whom the residents were displaced). As you may recall, the Manhattan Project was the project to develop the first nuclear weapon (an atomic bomb) during World War II by the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

This development spurred other scientists in other countries to work on their own nuclear projects, which included the development of nuclear weapons.

The Push Toward Going Nuclear

The 1973 oil crisis had a significant effect on countries which had relied more heavily on oil for electric generation to invest in nuclear power. However, there has been a lot of pressure over the past 20+ years to discontinue development of nuclear power plants in the United States. The last U.S. commercial nuclear reactor to go on-line was Watts Bar 1, which came on-line in Feb. 7, 1996.

Many other countries, including China, India, and Japan are continuing to develop and build nuclear power plants.

James A. Lake, who is the associate laboratory director for the nuclear program at the Idaho National Laboratory, feels there is a strong likelihood that there will be a re-emergence of building nuclear reactors.

The strong economic and safety performance of nuclear power in the United States, the growing demand for energy, and the increasing awareness of the environmental benefits of clean nuclear power form the foundation for a nuclear energy renaissance that can support U.S. energy security, economic prosperity, and environmental quality goals in the 21st century.

A Video on the Future of Nuclear Power

Nuclear Energy, Are you for or against it?

Is Nuclear Power a Good Thing?

Nuclear power plant in Cattenom, France

Nuclear power plant in Cattenom, France
Nuclear power plant in Cattenom, France

Dismantling a Nuclear Reactor

Nuclear power plants are licensed by the NRC for 40 years. After that, they can ask to renew their license, or they can shut down the plant and decommission it. Decommissioning means shutting down the plant and taking steps to reduce the level of radiation so that the land can be used for other things.

NRC has very strict rules for shutting down a plant. The NRC requires plants to finish the process within 60 years of closing.

Since it may cost $300 million or more to shut down and decommission a plant, the NRC requires plant owners to set aside money when the plant is still operating to pay for the future shutdown costs.

Nuclear power plants can be decommissioned using three methods:

1. Dismantling -- Parts of the reactor are removed or decontaminated soon after the plant closes and the land can be used.

2. Safe Storage -- The nuclear plant is monitored and radiation is allowed to decay; afterward, it is taken down.

3. Entombment -- Radioactive components are sealed off with concrete and steel, allowing radiation to "decay" until the land can be used for other purposes.

Nuclear Plants in the US

Nuclear Plants in the US
Nuclear Plants in the US

List of Current Nuclear Power Plants in the Unites States - This is not a complete list yet

  • Beaver Valley, Pennsylvania
  • Bellefonte, Alabama
  • Calvert Cliffs, Maryland
  • FitzPatrick, New York
  • Bear Creek, New York
  • Hope Creek, New Jersey
  • Indian Point, New York
  • Limerick, Pennsylvania
  • Millstone, Connecticut
  • Nine Mile Point, New York
  • Oyster Creek, New Jersey
  • Peach Bottom, Pennsylvania
  • Pilgrim, Massachusetts
  • Salem, New Jersey
  • Seabrook, New Hampshire
  • Susquehanna, Pennsylvania
  • Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania
  • Vermont Yankee, Vermont
  • Browns Ferry, Alabama
  • Brunswick, North Carolina
  • Catawba, South Carolina
  • Crystal River 3, Florida
  • McGuire, North Carolina
  • North Anna, Virginia
  • Oconee, South Carolina
  • Virgil C. Summer, South Carolina
  • Sequoyah, Tennessee
  • Turkey Point, Florida (hit by Hurricane Andrew)
  • Watts Bar, Tennessee
  • Byron, Illinois
  • Braidwood, Illinois
  • Clinton, Illinois
  • Davis-Besse, Ohio
  • Duane Arnold, Iowa
  • Enrico Fermi, Michigan
  • Monticello, Minnesota
  • Perry, Ohio
  • Prairie Island, Minnesota
  • Arkansas Nuclear One, Arkansas
  • Callaway, Missouri
  • Diablo Canyon, California
  • Grand Gulf, Mississippi
  • Palo Verde, Arizona
  • River Bend, Louisiana
  • South Texas, Texas
  • Wolf Creek, Kansas

Three Mile Island

Three Mile Island
Three Mile Island

The Chernobyl disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant was the worst nuclear power plant accident in world history. This accident resulted in a severe release of radioactivity into the environment following the destruction of reactor number four.

The 2005 report by the Chernobyl Forum, which is led by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and World Health Organization (WHO), attributed 56 direct deaths (47 accident workers, and nine children with thyroid cancer), and estimated that there may be 4,000 extra deaths due to cancer among the approximately 600,000 most highly exposed and 5,000 among the 6 million living nearby.

Although the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and certain limited areas will remain off limits to the public, the majority of affected areas are once again considered safe for settlement and economic development.

An Eyesore or an Energy Saver?

Clotheslines

Books About Nuclear Energy and Alternative Energy

Your Thoughts on the Lens?

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    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Awesome lens. Very thorough and allowing both sides speak their thoughts on the subject.

    • EcoLogik profile image

      EcoLogik 5 years ago

      Complet set of information on Nuclear Power.

      Very cool.

    • drguven lm profile image

      drguven lm 5 years ago

      Great site as it shows the both sides of the story. But unless people are willing to give up their comforts and electricity, Nuclear Energy is the only way to go

    • australiasbest profile image

      australiasbest 6 years ago

      Great lense with plenty of info.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Nice lens and really quite informative about nuclear plants and energy.Thanks for share

    • Philippians468 profile image

      Philippians468 6 years ago

      thank you for sharing this thought provoking lens! cheers

    • profile image

      yourgoldenfuture 6 years ago

      good lens...

    • beckwong profile image

      beckwong 6 years ago

      great lens:)

    • kateloving profile image

      Kate Loving Shenk 6 years ago from Lancaster PA

      Good job here--we need more truth about Nuclear Power--and ****Blessed****

    • profile image

      RinchenChodron 6 years ago

      Great idea for a debate lens. Thanks

    • annieangel1 profile image

      Ann 6 years ago from Yorkshire, England

      good time to bring this back into focus

    • KarenHC profile image

      Karen 6 years ago from U.S.

      As you mentioned in your Squidcast, this is very timely indeed. I've always been nervous about nuclear power. It is clean energy...IF...all goes right. But there's no guarantee that all will go right. Even with all of Japan's careful planning for disasters, they are still in a huge mess with their nuclear reactors after the quake and tsunami.

    • profile image

      yourgoldenfuture 6 years ago

      only fools think this energy is safe...looks at japan and cries...

    • Richard Ark profile image

      Richard Ark 6 years ago

      Great in Trend Lens !! Left my comments above ^

    • profile image

      neuralconcepts 6 years ago

      It should probably be noted that the Chernobyl RMBK was a dual purpose reactor - not only was it used to generate electrical power, it also produced plutonium for the Soviet military. This made the design more complex and (clearly) prone to problems. Additionally, the reactor lacked a containment structure, which is required in most if not all Western commercial power plants. It's impossible to say whether any of this would have prevented the disaster, but certainly the effects would have been less.

      Still, the idea of expanding nuclear power seems unwise in an era where dirty bombs and/or nuclear weapons are the Holy Grail of terrorist nutties. Additionally, given the lead time (on the order of decades) of getting new plants approved, built, and running, even if nuclear power can theoretically meet current/future energy needs, it will arrive too late to make a difference. Consider that at the current growth rate, it will only take another 30 years or so for the world's population to double.

      It would have been interesting to see a "second" Manhattan project where the world's top scientists were brought together, given money and resources, and tasked to come up with an alternative energy source in a fixed amount of time (say: five years). But this seems all but impossible in the current political climate, in the U.S. at least. Every Congressperson would block any proposal that doesn't bring pork to his or her district, the Democrats would refuse to cut other spending to fund it and the Republicans would reject the idea outright, claiming the magical free market will solve the problem (as long as taxes are cut).

      In any event, it's already too late. What will happen is this: nothing. The problem will simply not be solved. Society will go off the cliff and the world will experience another dark age (no pun intended). No, not Mad Max mass hysteria, but rather a prolonged period (decades or perhaps centuries) of economic contraction, a lack of progress in science and technology, and general hardship. Maybe humanity will emerge better on the other end, if there's anything left to save.

    • gypsyman27 lm profile image

      gypsyman27 lm 6 years ago

      I viewed this lens once and failed to comment here, nuclear power is dangerous. I am pretty sure about this having worked as a design engineer on nuclear power plants for many years. Great lens though, see you around the galaxy...

    • ElizabethJeanAl profile image

      ElizabethJeanAl 7 years ago

      I understand the arguments on both sides of the issue, but nuclear power is cleaner and more efficient than any other. That has to count a lot.

      Thanks for sharing,

      Lizzy

    • LimitlessGuy profile image

      LimitlessGuy 8 years ago

      Great lens...

    • TreasuresBrenda profile image

      Treasures By Brenda 8 years ago from Canada

      I do not know about the subject to comment intelligently but you have presented some great information here and your lens is blessed by an Angel.

      Brenda

    • sittonbull profile image

      sittonbull 8 years ago

      At this point, it seems to me there is no other proven option to Nuclear power. From a national security standpoint, we must proceed asap to have them online and producing and hope we are not too late. It's ironic to me that we have allowed France to be the leader in this technology. If our media sources were focused on pro-active factual reporting instead of reactive sensationalism, we would have significantly larger, cleaner and more economical nuclear power online and producing and be far less dependent on foreign oil today. The media selling sizzle is in "The China Syndrome" and Chernobyl, but the facts and the history are clear and available favoring Nuclear energy vs and other source for now! Suppliment AMAP w/ Solar and wind but nuke is doable now!

    • MSBeltran1 profile image

      MSBeltran1 8 years ago

      Great lens, great balance of info.

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      I cover this topic extensively in my Physical Science class. They will be the ones making the decisions in the future. I want them to make informed decisions not emotional ones.

      Great lens.

      Bj

    • MatCauthon profile image

      MatCauthon 8 years ago

      Nuclear energy is safe as long as the people in charge are doing there job well.

    • CherylK profile image

      Cheryl Kohan 9 years ago from Minnesota

      Just checking on your updates and I must say I love the clotheslines collage! How on earth did you do that?? Keep up the good work!

    • ElizabethJeanAl profile image

      ElizabethJeanAl 9 years ago

      I have wanted to read this lens since you built it but my computer kept bumping me off. When we cover the unit on nuclear power in my physical science class, differing viewpoints surface. That's fine as long as they understand why they feel the way they do. I want the kids to make informed decisions not base it just on fear or on need.

      Great lens

      Lizzy

    • Wordilydoc profile image

      Wordilydoc 9 years ago

      Love the lens nice presentation. I still don't think we have the capacity to safely use the technology China nearly had a problem the other day after the earthquake where one of their waste storage area nearly broke open. It's real risky.

    • profile image

      Panos21 9 years ago

      Great lens, 5 stars.

      I've heard a story that Chernobyl disaster happened because of the cold war. Many characteristics were "top secrets" and even the operators didn't know them. And control rods were made by graphite a flammable material because they wanted to maximize the production of plutonium...

    • triathlontraini1 profile image
      Author

      triathlontraini1 9 years ago

      Thank you everyone! :)

    • profile image

      Naomi-K 9 years ago

      Good balanced views. Especially interesting for me, having grown up in New Zealand, where we've been nuclear free pretty much since the 80's.

      After French nuclear testing in the Pacific, nuclear has had a very bad rap over here...

    • religions7 profile image

      religions7 9 years ago

      Very informative. I like the map (I always like seeing maps on lenses, especially good ones).

    • CherylK profile image

      Cheryl Kohan 9 years ago from Minnesota

      This is a great page and I'm favoriting it so I will get all your updates. Presenting both sides of the argument makes it especially valuable. Five stars.

    • profile image

      David_Stuart 9 years ago

      Marvelous lens and very informative.

    • chemrat profile image

      chemrat 9 years ago

      I am very much against nuclear power, and I'm a scientist. I'd like to congratulate you on presenting multiple viewpoints of this often emotional issue! I'll put you on my environmental lensrolls.

    • profile image

      happy-jack 9 years ago

      Good thing no have em yea