IntroductionCurrently will evaluate whether or not they

IntroductionCurrently there are 448 active nuclear reactors. These reactors supply more than 11% of the total energy in the world. Sixteen countries depend on nuclear power for at least a quarter of their electricity (IAEA PRIS, 2017). France relies on nuclear power to provide three quarters of its energy. Some see nuclear energy for the tragedies it was involved in, such as the one in Fukushima. Other see it as a low carbon alternative for fossil fuels. The question remains, should there be more nuclear reactors? This essay will weigh the impacts of nuclear power plants and will evaluate whether or not they are the correct choice for energy production. Economic gain by nuclear power plants will be evaluated. Social views on nuclear power plants will be discussed and the effects nuclear reactors have on the environment will be explained. Context will be given on nuclear reactors to give the reader all the information needed to formulate a correct opinion.FissionNuclear reactors use nuclear fission to generate energy. A nucleus of an atom splits into smaller nuclei in this reaction. Some neutrons are also released. This happens when a neutron hits one the nuclei. The released neutrons may hit other smaller nuclei and this creates a chain. Nuclear reactors control this chain by placing control rods between the nuclear fuel. These rods absorb some of the neutrons so the reaction doesn’t get out of hand. This reaction releases energy and this energy is gathered in several different ways. This ‘fuel’ that is being split is usually uranium-235 or plutonium-239 because of their large nuclei that are relatively simple to split. Types of Nuclear ReactorsThere are multiple types of nuclear reactors. Efficiency, cost, total energy production and purpose of these reactors change with each type. The table below shows the nuclear power plants that are commercially operational and operable (WNA, 2018).As seen in the table, pressurized water reactors and boiling water reactors are used the most. These reactors are under the category of light water reactors as they use normal water as a coolant and a moderator. These types of reactors will be the main priority in this analysis as they are used the most often.Light Water ReactorsAs said before, these rectors use normal water as a coolant and a neutron moderator to reduce the speed of fast moving neutrons. The reaction takes place in the reactor core. The core contains nuclear fuel rods that are pencil thin and are 3.7m long (Zarubin, 2016). These rods are grouped by the hundreds in bundles called fuel assemblies and are filled fuel such as enriched uranium. The control rods are lowered into the reactor to capture some of the neutrons which are absorbed so that the reaction can be controlled. When the control rods are lifted out of the core, the chain reaction is allowed to intensify without the control rods blocking them. The heat generated from the nuclear fission converts water to steam, which is then used to drive power generating turbines. The water is later put into condenser which converts it back to liquid water so it can be used again. Pressurized and boiling water reactors follow these principles but have slight variations of their own.Economic CostsNuclear reactors have several costs connected with them. Firstly, the construction cost. The cost to build a nuclear reactor can range from 4 billion to 8 billion. Light water reactors tend to be on the lower end of this spectrum. The initial cost of building the nuclear power plants including engineers and manual labour is called the capital cost.Overnight capital cost is a commonly used term. This is the cost of engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) costs and the owners costs. The owners costs is the cost of land, cooling infrastructure, associated buildings, site works, switchyards, project management, licences, etc. (WNA, 2017). The construction cost adds onto the overnight cost any escalation in labour cost, material cost and inflation. The overnight cost is 80% EPCs and 20% owners costs to give perspective (KNEB, 2016).Financing costs are dependent on the time taken constructing the nuclear power plant. Investors can increase their interest earned if the construction time is passed as the risk of making a profit increases the less time spent creating energy and more time building the actual plant.This graph shows how increasing increments (time taken) increase the financing cost.After the plant is built, there is the operation cost for the plant. This cost includes the upkeep and maintenance of the plant alongside the cost of the fuel. Fuel used in nuclear reactors, for example uranium, is much more expensive than a fossil fuel like coal. The uranium, after its gathered, has to be converted, enriched and fabricated before it can be used. This doubles its initial cost. Here is a table made by the World Nuclear Association to explain this in more detail:The advantage uranium has is that it is mined a lot less because of how much more energy it generates from only 1 kg. With a complete combustion or fission, approx. 8 kWh of heat can be generated from 1 kg of coal, approx. 12 kWh from 1 kg of mineral oil and around 360,000 kWh from 1 kg of uranium-235 (ENS, 2017). This shows that 1 kg of enriched uranium-235 generates thousands tie the energy 1 kg of oil or coal. This also makes it simpler to transport. Of course, tons are needed to operate nuclear reactors, the value of 1 kg is just used for comparison.The nuclear waste generated can be reprocessed and recovered, which means the recovered fuels such as uranium or plutonium can be reused. This is expensive but the amount of fuel gathered from this process is a great profit if done efficiently. It yields around 10% of the overall costs per kWh (WNA, 2017).Social ViewsThe Fukushima disaster happened on 11th March 2011. It was initially a 9.0 earthquake that hit northeast Japan, devastating by itself. Unfortunately, the earthquake caused a 15 meter tsunami which cut off power to 3 nuclear reactors. The cooling systems were disabled which caused a meltdown of all the cores in the nuclear reactors. On the ensuing days, 400,000 Japanese citizens had to be evacuated and the ensuing radioactive fallout affected 32 million people (Green Cross, 2015). 1,656 had died initially form this disaster but many more have died from the radiation. The Japan Times writes “The reports highlight the fact that much of the problem stems from the government’s poor handling of the after-effects of the disaster and Tepco’s continuing inept handling of the cleanup at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.”. This shows the anger the Japanese citizens had towards the government. After this disaster Japan deactivated most of its nuclear reactors. Since 2011, the public opinion of nuclear reactors have shifted partly because of this disaster. It should be noted this is only the most recent nuclear disaster, many more have happened in the past and some of them were much deadlier and affected a larger region than Japan.(Carbon Brief, 2016)The decrease in total operational nuclear power plants and an increase in closures can be clearly seen in the years 2011-2012.A survey done by Paul Slovic in late 1980s shows how people perceived risks in the given activities/technologies. The given by the experts are the polar opposites form the rest of the group. This has significant value as it shows in the 1980s the common populous feared nuclear power, perhaps because they didn’t understand it. The experts had devoted their lives on researching the risks involved with nuclear energy. Interestingly, this was a year after the Chernobyl disaster, one of the worst nuclear disaster that ever occurred and the public perception was expected to be fearful of nuclear reactors but the fact that the experts still thought nuclear energy was less risky motor vehicles is staggering. This perhaps shows a disconnect form the public these experts had, some might call this greed as the promise of a fortune was high. Overall, the main point shown by comparing the survey and the views of people after the Fukushima disaster is that fear of nuclear energy isn’t recent. It should also be noted that there was no major decrease in operational nuclear power plants in the year of the Chernobyl disaster, which might mean the Japanese government has improved its communication with its citizens.There is also a separate public belief that any support for nuclear energy and research on it will also support nuclear bombs, which is partly true. The technologies are similar, but better nuclear bombs won’t change any circumstances. The human race possesses enough nuclear bombs to end the human race. This poetic irony will not change with “better nukes”. It is an understandable fear but if thought in a rational sense, it is not one of the things that should be worrying anyone.Environmental ImpactsCompared to fossil fuels, nuclear power is extremely clean. Fossil fuels use combustion to create energy which creates carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas which absorbs the solar radiation coming from the sun alongside the infrared radiation coming from earth. It re-emits the absorbed radiation in all directions, increasing the global temperature. Fossil fuels and the greenhouse gases they emit are the main cause for global warming. Also, mined coal has sulfur in it and when the coal is burned as fuel the sulfur dioxide is released into the air, unless properly filtered. This can cause acid rains.On the other hand, nuclear reactors don’t use combustion to create energy, they use fission which doesn’t create carbon dioxide, but it does leave nuclear and radioactive waste. Currently, there is no long term solution to get rid of nuclear waste. Nuclear waste can remain active for hundreds and thousands of years (Kivi, 2017) For now, nuclear waste is kept underground the nuclear power plant, sometimes surrounded by water because of its good insulation of radiation. There are discussions on a solution to this issue but not much progress has been made so far. Finland recommended a facility that is extremely deep, in which the waste would be placed, and then the holes made would be covered, preferably forever.Another issue with nuclear power plants is the water cooling systems it has in place. The process of gathering water can be horrific for the environment. Because of how nuclear power plants get their water from rivers or lakes, fish are caught and killed ruining whole habitats. There has been connection made between living near a nuclear power plant and cancer (Kivi, 2017). This is caused by constant but low levels of leaking radiation out of the nuclear reactor.The nuclear reactor itself may not generate carbon dioxide but select parts of the nuclear cycle does. The mining of fuel such as uranium releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, alongside its transportation. Also, building the actual power plants generates carbon dioxide. These amounts are not near the levels of fossil fuels but they are some things to consider.ConclusionNuclear reactors generate a lot of energy, the most energy per kg in fact. This gives nuclear energy the potential and ability to expand and produce much more than 11% of the world energy but there are things holding it back. It requires a lot if initial investment which means poorer or developing countries aren’t able to access it. There is also a lot of risks involved, seen from a nuclear disaster that happens every 20 years and because of the horrific tragedies the people – especially ones in Japan – are moving away from nuclear energy. It is a better option than fossil fuels in terms of its effects to the environment but it has one huge problem, the nuclear waste. The long term ‘solution’ of digging a hole and leaving the fuel there for centuries is a bad idea at best. There is no viable solution to this problem and because of this I do not think the positive effects of the nuclear reactors outweigh the negatives. If the rate at which we build nuclear reactors increases, we will have an extreme radioactive waste issue. We are leaving the problem so our future selves can solve it. Cleaner energy such as solar has so much potential that should be explored, nuclear energy in its current state is not a long term, energy generator.

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