Japan Tsunami Disaster — A Possible Warning About the Future of Nuclear Power

by Nindo Mom on March 20, 2011

Our increasingly technological society demands increasingly more electricity to carry out it’s day-to-day functions, even as the the world’s supply of fossil fuels continues to dwindle. That’s why it’s so important for us to find alternative, renewable sources of energy, like that generated by wind, geothermal, solar, and wind. Energy created by these methods is clean — meaning it doesn’t harm the Earth’s atmosphere, land, or water — and it’s essentially unlimited. But although nuclear power has often been included under the general category of “clean energy.” However, this may seriously stretch the definition when you consider the radiation it causes.

Creating nuclear power may not create carbon dioxide or sooty clouds of debris, but it does create radioactive waste that remains dangerous for many thousands of years. As of May 2010, six percent of the world’s power and 13-14% of the Earth’s electricity was generated with nuclear power — and it does avoid some of the damaging side-effects of fossil fuels. But the dangers of spent radioactive fuels — and of possible nuclear meltdowns — may far outweigh the other benefits.

Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant accidents following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami underline the problems of using nuclear fission to generate power. Even though we’ve only been using nuclear power for a relatively short time, there have already been some serious accidents with the reactors. In addition to Japan’s Fukushima accidents, there was the Chernobyl meltdown in 1986; the Three Mile Island accident in 1979; and nuclear submarine accidents in 1968 and 1985.

Because of the very serious repercussions of nuclear accidents — widespread death and illness, food and water contamination, human and animal birth defects and cancer, radiation poisoning . . . and the list goes on — it would seem that we need to vigorously research alternatives for producing power by our current method of nuclear fission.  Nuclear fusion, which generates power by combining atom nuclei rather than splitting them, has the potential to be much safer than fission —  but fusion technologies are still in the experimental stage. And fusion still generates an accumulation of radiation, although not as much as fission. But however you look at it, we’re still left with dangerous radiation: if we’re going to use either nuclear fission or fusion, we’ve GOT to find a way to deal with radiation — and not just by burring it.

There is a technology that reprocesses spent nuclear fission fuel, thereby GREATLY reducing the length of time the spent fuel remains radioactive from many thousands of years to just hundreds of years. This technology is used in breeder reactors — but Jimmy Carter and his Congress passed a law forbidding reprocessing in the 1980s. Taking another look at this ban — and the reasons for it — could open up some technologies to help us reduce the radioactive spent fuel situation facing nuclear power plants today.

Energy generating alternatives such as energy created by wind, solar, water, and geothermal are already being used today, but not as widely as they could be. One reason for this under-utilization is that these methods are still relatively expensive. But this would start to change once the technologies become more widely used and commonplace, and parts for the systems could be mass-produced and would thus become less expensive.

I’ll be investigating energy alternatives to nuclear power in future articles. For now, here are some resources on alternate energies that might interest you:

Solar Electricity Handbook 2011 Edition

Alternative Energy Systems and Applications — 418 pages. Examines areas involving reat turbomachine and solar energy, CHP applications, and additional alternate energy concepts. Focuses on first-order engineering calculations. Engineers will learn to apply these concepts to find solutions.

Alternative Energy for Dummies — 384 pages. Learn the basics about alternative energy, how it works, and what it’s costs are. Also explains the details of our current energy sources, what the alternatives are, and how energy efficiency and conservation can reduce your reliance on fossil fuels. Also learn to apply alternative fuels to transportation — from biofuels to exotic propulsion to electricity, see how they are used, and how hybrid, all-electric, and fuel cell–powered vehicles operate.

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