The Nuclear Energy is Not Renewable
Renewable energy is a buzzword today but is it an important aspect of protecting our natural environment. Renewable energy refers to resources we can use without destroying that resource or depleting the supply available.
Cork and bamboo have become popular floor coverings for environmentally conscious homeowners. Bamboo grows quickly to replace what has been harvested and cork can be used without destroying the plant it comes from. It may take a hundred years for a hardwood tree to grow to replace one cut down and used for flooring or cabinetry.
Increasing use of power for homes and businesses makes renewable energy an important topic today. We know nuclear power does not release pollutants to harm air quality as fossil fuels are known to do.
Renewable Resource or Not?
Uranium is the fuel required for nuclear energy production and it is not a renewable resource. There is a specific amount of usable uranium that is spread widely around the world. However, there are ways in which uranium supplies can be extended.
With newer breeder reactors, nuclear power is sometimes referred to as "semi-renewable" but the process that is awarded that designation is unstable and seldom used. This is a method that utilizes both uranium and plutonium and the resulting nuclear waste is especially hazardous.
Fission vs Fusion
Fission is the process that creates a chain reaction in enriched uranium pellets in the core of a nuclear reactor. This is the splitting of an atom that creates great heat to power turbine generators and product electricity.
Fuel rods containing processed uranium pellets can last for years in a reactor but eventually they will be less efficient and need to be replaced.
This creates high level nuclear waste that must be dealt with. Today, most spent fuel rods are stored on the property that houses the reactor. The rods are stored in pools of steel reinforced concrete where water flows over the fuel rods to maintain a safe temperature.
The question of whether nuclear energy is renewable may lose important as our demands for more and more electricity continues to grow. The earth's supplies of oil and coal are going to run out at some point. Some experts estimate we have only another 50 years of fossil fuels left. If that is true, nuclear energy may be the only option we have left for creating the amount of power we demand.
Wind and solar energy can provide for some of our needs but the amount of power generated is not going to replace fossil fuel power plants. Geothermal fields are being tapped but again there is an element of nature not easily overcome. Geothermal areas are mainly located around the Pacific basin along fault lines.
We can tap the heat of a geothermal area only as much as the earth can replace that heat so geothermal energy sources must be balanced. We can't count on sunny days or a brisk wind in all areas of the country which limits the value of solar and wind power to specific regions.
The great hope for nuclear power is to develop a fusion process that can be safety used in power plants. Fusion has been an elusive dream for scientists.
It is the process that powers the sun and stars. Nuclear fusion would allows us, in theory, to use the uranium present in ocean waters and would come far closer to making nuclear energy a renewable or at least vast resource.
Every few years there is announcement about fusion. The tremendous heat required to initiate a fusion reaction is one problem but the proximity of atoms is another.
It is difficult to replicate on earth the massive reaction that occurs naturally on a start in space. The biggest dream is that of cold fusion and research and testing is ongoing.
The nuclear energy is not renewable. However, we are rapidly running out oil and coal and nuclear energy may be the only methods we have to provide for power needs in the future.
Because the fuel requirements of a nuclear reactor are fairly low, the uranium available will last for many years. New methods of using U-235 can extend the useful life of this fuel and might guarantee the uranium available might last for a thousand years.
Whether nuclear energy is renewable or sustainable or any of the other requirements we are placing on fuel sources today may be irrelevant.
Concerns may have to give way to the simple fact that nuclear energy may be our only option for power production in the next hundred years.
Safety concerns and financial problems with building expensive new power plants will need to be addressed in a logical manner to guarantee the lights will stay on around the world.