Imagine being told nuclear energy is the answer to many of the problems we face, as you walk into an Environmental Science class one day? I do not have to because this happened to me, and I was prepared to walk to the counselor to ask to be removed from the course. I was shocked! How could those large concrete monuments creating toxic green sludge be our solution? To be honest, all I could envision for our future was that of The Simpsons with talking flowers, three-eyed fish, and yellow skin. But the explanation given by the instructor cleared my concern shortly after they finished.
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Natural gas and oil are resources wehave only to a certainextent,and,at the rate we use these assets,we willeventually be outand left with only the consequences. These effects can be summed up with the phrase ecological footprint which is the impression left on the earth due the consumption of land and resources over the course of a lifetime. But like most problems, thisresolution can be found in what we current possess. Nuclear energy provides the solution to the prospective problem. To ensure the end of this dependenceon nonrenewable resources, we shouldagree to allownuclear energy to take theplace of our currentreliance on nonrenewable resources. Thismodificationwill have positive effects onthe environment and the economy andwill allowmore individuals to dedicate time tocontinueexpanding our understanding ofnuclear energy.
Nuclear power plants themselves and the processes used are simpler in operation than most expect. In figure 18-14 in The Nucleus: A Chemist’s View, we are able to see the basic concept of how the power plants work (732). In layman terms, a nuclear power plant is a large steam generator with the thermal energy source being radioactive atoms housed in a protective container called a reactor. The reactor is where the reactions take place. For the reactions to occur, scientists take atoms of Uranium-238 andhave its bond energy (the energy it takes to hold a neutron to a proton) transformed into thermal energy, a more usable chemical form for us. There are two ways as to how to obtain this kind of bond energy: fission and fusion. The more utilized version, fission, is the splitting of one heavy nucleus (example: Uranium-238) into two smaller lighter nuclei. With this partition of the nuclei, a release of energy occurs because it is an exothermic process. Fusion is considered the opposite of fission in that it is the combination of two smaller, lighter nuclei to create one heavy nucleus. Fusion creates the most energy of the two processes, but it is less stable along with less understood by our scientists. As a way to comprehend how unpredictable and stupendous the act of fusion is, here is an example: the sun is able to create all its energy from the process of fusion (Zumdahl 742-745).
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