Nuclear Power--Our Future

Essay by Anonymous UserCollege, UndergraduateA+, March 1997

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Thousands of years ago human beings learned to make fire. By collecting and burning wood they were able to warm themselves, cook food, and manufacture primitive tools. Later, the Egyptians discovered the principal of the sail. Even more recent was the invention of the water wheel. All of these activities utilize various forms of energy-biological, chemical, solar, and hydraulic.

Energy, the ability to do work, is essential for meeting basic human needs, extending the life expectancy, and providing a rising living standard.

This is where the need for nuclear power comes in. Uranium fission is about a million times more efficient than the common practice of burning coal or oil. For comparison, coal combustion produces about 20-30 MJ/kg of heat energy while uranium, in a fast breeder reactor, produces more than 24,000,000 MJ/kg (Energy 27). Those numbers alone are astounding.

Uranium is also abundant, thanks to recent discoveries of large reserves.

At present, uranium is only being mined and separated from ore. However, a huge untapped source is our oceans. Sea water contains 3.3x10^(-9) (3.3 parts per billion) of uranium, so the 1.4x10^18 tons of sea water contains 4.6x10^9 tons of uranium. All the world's electricity usage, 650GWe could therefore be supplied by the uranium in sea water for 7 million years(Energy 25). This is a only a theoretical number because it is not possible to get all of the uranium out of our vast oceans. Also, it does not include the fact that in that many years, half of the uranium will no longer exist due to radioactive decay. So, at worst, we would get about 2 million years of power from it. Thorium is another element than can be used in nuclear reactors. Thorium is approximately four times more abundant than uranium. It is obvious that we are...