Should We Use Nuclear Energy to Power Our Hybrid Vehicles?
We've heard much about new environmentally sound electric cars but only recently have hydrogen powered cars been in the news.
The most common nuclear reactor is an LWR (Light Water Reactor) and it can produce electricity but also can make large amounts of hydrogen at low production cost. In the process, using electrolysis nuclear power can split water into it's elements of hydrogen and oxygen.
Basics of Nuclear Energy
The U.S. has 103 nuclear power plants in 31 states. These reactors provide about 20% of the electricity the country uses. The fuel used is uranium which is mined in 16 countries around the world.
Because uranium is so widely available it is not subject to the supply shortages we associate with using fossil fuels to make electricity.
In fact, the U.S. is one country that has its own source of uranium. Fifty percent of the total uranium used for nuclear energy today is supplied by mines in Canada and Australia.
In a nuclear reactor, a controlled fission creates a chain reaction in the fuel rods releasing extreme temperatures of heat. The heat powers turbines and generators and produced electrical power. The same process can be used to make hydrogen to power cars.
A Logical Combination
The demand today is for greener and cleaner products. Climate change, global warming, pollution of the air and water are a result of years of industrial advances that drew increasing amounts of power produced by burning fossil fuels.
Nowhere is the focus more centralized than on the automotive industry. Cars are a major contributor to pollution and as the number of cars on our roads continues to increase, green cars have become the focus of politicians, if not the public.
The first hybrid cars combined gasoline power engines with electric battery power. The batteries have limited range before recharging is needed so the hybrid car is designed to save gasoline by using the battery when it is most efficient.
The environmental problem that remains is a car must be recharged with electricity. If that electricity is produced by a fossil fuel burning power plant, is there truly a benefit to be found using a hybrid car?
If the power is generated by nuclear energy and batteries are charged with electricity that is created in an environmentally safe way, hybrid vehicles might increase in popularity and usefulness.
It's not truly "green energy" if you try to avoid using gasoline produced by oil by using electric batteries that must be charged with electricity product by coal. That's only a tradeoff of one fossil fuel for another.
May Not be Accepted by Consumers
The accident caused by nature had a rippling effect in Japan. The Japanese have been pro-active in encouraging use of hybrid vehicles powered by electricity from nuclear reactors.
To encourage use of hybrid cars, the Japanese government has offered large subsidies to citizens who drive hybrids. The growth of electric vehicle sales in Japan is in question now due to the nuclear incident.
Damaged reactors have been permanently shut down and public sentiment is unlikely to favor the building of new nuclear installation in the near future.
This has led the Japanese government to announce the development of water wind farms. Wind turbines will be constructed in a massive way just off the coast of Japan to boost energy production and replace the closed nuclear facilities.
There is a shortfall of nuclear energy resulting in power cuts in several regions. The motor industry in Japan is taking a financial hit as sales of hybrid cars have fallen.
In the U.S. hybrid car promotions have not been successful. In spite of government subsidies to auto makers building the new electric cars, sales have remained stagnant.
The move to hydrogen driven automobiles has been proposed as a way to attract the buying public to use of an environmentally friendly vehicle. However, without nuclear energy to power hybrid cars, the efforts will probably fail for now.
The clean energy produced by a nuclear reactor can provide electricity or hydrogen to power a car without the associated pollution we are accustomed to.
Hybrid cars do not make sense unless nuclear energy is used. Recharging batteries or making hydrogen is not environmentally sound if the power used must be generated by fossil fuel burning plants.
In the U.S. there is skepticism about using nuclear energy to power hybrid vehicles. The public fear of radiation leaks is one reason but the dislike of the smaller hybrid cars is another.
The United States is a huge country with vast land space crisscrossed with highways. Until hybrid cars can reach the speed and power of gasoline powered vehicles, these green cars will be used only for urban transportation and not as a primary vehicle.