Jonathan Lee High Tech Middle North County 8th Grade
The word “Nuclear” has been in many news headlines lately. This word already sounds scary, and with the recent tension between the U.S. and North Korea, they’ve become all the more unnerving. However, some things that are associated with this word aren’t bad. One example is nuclear energy. Nuclear energy is a form of energy that people harvest in order to create power, and in our case, electricity. Nuclear energy already exists, although in the scope of time, it’s a pretty new concept. Nuclear energy is made by splitting uranium atoms, which generates heat in a process called fission. The heat then produces steam, which is used by a turbine generator to generate electricity. Nuclear energy can offer many, many advantages including low air-pollution and low operating costs.
So, why haven’t we started converting to nuclear energy? Well, everything comes with a price. A single nuclear power plant creates about 20 metric tons of toxic nuclear waste a year. The power plants then bury the waste only 300 meters below the ground. Most elements have a half-life, which is where the element decays. Reportedly, these half-lives can last anywhere from one-trillionth of a second to 160 trillion times the age of the universe. The waste produced by nuclear power plants has a half-life of about 703.8 million years before it becomes harmless. This poses as a problem, as the waste mentioned can harm people in many direct and indirect ways, such as exposure and water contamination. Most nuclear power plants use Uranium-235 and plutonium-239. However, another radioactive element, Thorium, looks extremely promising in the field of nuclear energy.
Let’s start at the beginning, which is mining. Uranium leaks a deadly radon gas when mined, needs enrichment, and has less content in its ore. Conversely, Thorium comes in a higher concentration, meaning that it takes less work to get the same amount of each material. Thorium is also more abundant in the Earth’s crust, which adds on to the efficiency of Thorium mining. Thorium is also a lot safer than Uranium. In the reactor, Thorium is fertile, which means it needs Plutonium to be used as fuel. Because of this, if something were to go wrong in the reactor core, the Thorium and Plutonium can be separated, preventing a reactor core meltdown. Thorium also produces 100 times less nuclear waste than Uranium, which greatly reduces the risk of using nuclear power. Lastly, Thorium is a very good choice when it comes to fuel itself. It’s estimated that 1 ton of Thorium generates as much energy as 200 tons of Uranium. This is also equal to about 3.5 million tons of fossil-fuel. Addressing the recent nuclear paranoia, Thorium also can’t exactly be used in weapons because, as stated earlier, it’s fertile, which means it can’t really do anything on its own.
With global warming becoming a quickly-approaching problem, humanity should try to protect its host. Nuclear energy can be a very good option as it is cost effective, safe, efficient, and eco-friendly. There are many ways that a nuclear power plant can be harmful, however. Because of this, Thorium may be a good alternative to the current method of production. The three main disadvantages of nuclear energy are that the energy is non-renewable, the waste is harmful, and the process can be risky and dangerous. With Thorium, these disadvantages can be countered; Thorium is more abundant than Uranium, it produces less waste, and it is easy to mine, use, and, in a sticky situation, stop. Nuclear energy has zero emission, meaning that it does not release any air pollutants. With Thorium, nuclear energy may be the solution to our future.
<Jonathan Lee High Tech Middle North County 8th Grade