Nuclear Power To Combat Climate Change

Nuclear power has been heralded as the way to combat global warming whilst meeting the increasing energy demands of the world. The technologies currently in use are considered just as clean, if not cleaner than renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power. But with concerns over the long term problems of disposing of nuclear waste, is nuclear power really the best fuel for the future. The development of small scale nuclear reactors in the USA could be an answer to the problem, enabling nuclear power to be a cleaner and safer option than ever before.

The only part of producing power from a nuclear reactor that creates carbon dioxide emissions is uranium enrichment. It has long been considered a dirty process, but some reactors in France have begun to use power generated by the plant itself to enrich the uranium on site. In doing this, the usual emission of 3.3 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour, already much better than the 400 of coal powered stations, essentially eradicates carbon dioxide emissions from the process altogether.

Nuclear power currently produces somewhere in the region of fifteen per cent of the world’s electricity, but in the bid to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, there is a call for more fossil fuelled power plants to be replaced by nuclear technology. It is not only the affect on climate change that is spurring the call to action, it is the depletion of fossil fuel reserves too. Uranium is in plentiful supply and has the added advantage of not being connected to the volatile price changes associated with oil, gas and coal supplies. The result of this is that nuclear power has the potential to be a continuous source of electricity at a stable price.

The drawbacks associated with nuclear power are in the volatile nature of the process and in the disposal of the highly toxic waste. Disasters such as Chernobyl have made the general public wary of the introduction of new plants, but the creation of mini nuclear fission reactors could eliminate such risks, and cut the amount and toxicity of the waste produced. Originally, the design of the mini reactors was to find a solution for supplying hot water and electricity to remote locations and therefore had to adapt more traditional nuclear reaction to fit in a smaller unit.

Standard nuclear reactors use rods to slow down neutrons, and unless these are properly managed they can become unstable and become a hazard. The mini reactors do not contain rods, instead they rely on hydrogen atoms to control neutron behaviour. The reactor, which is no bigger than a garden shed is therefore transformed into a battery; with no moving parts and encased in concrete, a stable platform for providing heat and hot water has been achieved.

The waste from the reactors is just a fraction of the amount generated by fossil fuelled power stations, and in such small amounts is easier to store safely. Unfortunately there is some debate over whether the mini nuclear reactors are actually an efficient way of producing energy. With a life span of around 8 years, and a unit price of ten cents per kilowatt hour, some experts feel the technology needs to be developed further to be a viable competitor for energy production.

Undoubtedly the mini reactors are an ideal solution for providing energy to remote areas, but in the race to tackle carbon dioxide emissions to prevent global warming, the technology needs to be developed at a much faster pace

Dom Donaldson is an energy expert. Find out more about Nuclear Power and the current projects underway in the energy utility sector at URS Corp.

Article Source: Nuclear Power To Combat Climate Change

Nuclear Power To Combat Climate Change
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Nuclear Power To Combat Climate Change
Nuclear power has been heralded as the way to combat global warming whilst meeting the increasing energy demands of the world.
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