Fission of the Future
Atoms are the building blocks of life. They make up all the things around us and the reactions they go through are what power what we experience in our everyday life. Have you ever wondered if there was a way to harness the energy that atoms use? The answer to that question is fission. Fission is the act of tightly packed atoms splitting and their neutrons collide with other atoms which in turn split causing a chain reaction which produces heat. (Future 5) This heat is nuclear energy which can be used in Nuclear Reactors which could be used as an alternative energy source.
How Reactors work:
Nuclear Reactors, according to the Harvard Journal article “The Future of Nuclear Energy”, are composed of three main parts with the first being a containment structure, which houses the reactive materials and is where the steam is created and pressurized from the heat given off. Here the radioactive material undergoes fission and produces the energy that heats up the water that is surrounding the Reactor vessel. That water then is transferred into pipes that run through another pressurized chamber of water that gets heated and turned into steam. Next is the section that houses the turbine, which is ran by the steam from the containment building, and the generator which is powered by the turbine is how the power is transferred from the reactor to the power grid for people to use. The final part of the reactor is the condenser which where the excess water that was heated in the steam generator and the steam that was ran through the turbine meet back up and are ran through a series of pipes that are in contact with cold water and once the steam is condensed back into water it goes back through the the containment structure to start again.
Disposal of the Nuclear Material:
It may seem like reactors are and endless loop of creating energy, but even their well-structured loop is limited by the amount of radioactive material that is able to undergo fission. Once a reactor’s fuel cells are depleted to this point they are then transferred from the reactor themselves to a facility that stores, cools and sometimes repurpose those depleted cells. The cells are usually stored in large pools under water, where they stay for about 9-12 months in order to manage any excess heat generated from residual decay. (Storage and Disposal 2)
Costs of Nuclear Power:
When going about the construction of nuclear reactors, the costs are not as concrete as the reactors themselves. The price of building them and maintaining a reactor is not immediately paid off. The factors that go into the costs are the construction of the reactor itself, the material that powers the reactor and the disposal of the nuclear waste. The heaviest factor out of those three is the actual construction of the reactor itself. Most reactors’ costs are easier to grasp when compared to the amount of power that they provide. The most recent estimation of the cost of Nuclear Reactors is roughly $4000/KW. (Schultz 1)
Nuclear energy vs Solar:
Even though Nuclear Energy is capable of producing large amounts of energy, it doesn’t necessarily make it the optimal source of energy production. A lead competitor is Solar Power, which collected by solar panels that ”work by allowing photons, or particles of light, to knock electrons free from atoms, generating a flow of electricity. Solar panels actually comprise many, smaller units called photovoltaic cells”. (Dhar 1) Unlike Nuclear energy, Solar power can be collected in various locations, like on the roofs of homes, or even at solar panel farms, any location that has access to sunlight for large spans of time. The drawbacks to Solar power are the amount of maintenance that it requires is year-round due to the panels constantly being exposed to the elements and the requirement of a high volume of panels and storage systems needed to obtain enough energy for everyday use. (Inhaber 13)
In summation, Nuclear energy can be a strong source of power for everyday life, once the financial roadblocks and means of disposal are worked out. And who knows maybe someday someone will come up with an energy source that is power a renewable source similar to Solar power, but is able to generate as much power as Nuclear reactors are. Until then the future awaits.
Dhar, Michael. “How Do Solar Panels Work?” LiveScience, Purch, 6 Dec. 2017, http://www.livescience.com/41995-how-do-solar-panels-work.html.
This is an article from a website that explains how solar panels work. I used this article to assist me in explaining how solar panels functioned.
“The Future of Nuclear Energy.” The Future of Nuclear Energy, no. 2, 2015, pp. 1–24., http://www.hcs.harvard.edu/~res/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/HCRECS_Spring_15_Final.pdf.
This source is an overview of Nuclear energy, its history, how it works and various theories on how to improve it. I used this source to help me explain how Nuclear reactors, and fission works.
“Storage and Disposal of Spent Fuel and High Level Radioactive Waste.” Storage and Disposal of Spent Fuel and High Level Radioactive Waste, pp. 1–11., http://www.iaea.org/About/Policy/GC/GC50/GC50InfDocuments/English/gc50inf-3-att5_en.pdf.
This journal is about the various methods of handling depleted fuel rods after they are used in reactors. I used this source to help me elaborate on the disposal of fuel rods from reactors.