One of the key factors needed to continue human progress is an energy source that is not only adequate but plentiful and unharmful to our environment. These requirements are very difficult to meet. As of right now, most of our energy comes from the combustion of coal, oil and natural gas. “They will last quite a while but will probably run out or become harmful in tens to hundreds of years.”(Source 2) The effects they have on the environment are also an issue. Many scientists are searching for other forms of energy. Nonreplicable energy sources such as solar energy are being explored; however, these methods are not highly developed and are very expensive. Nuclear energy, therefore, appears to be the best alternative since it is cheaper and because it doesn't emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere like the combustion of the fossil fuels do.
Nuclear energy comes from the fission of uranium, plutonium, or thorium or the fusion of hydrogen into helium. “Fission is defined as the splitting of atomic nuclei spontaneously or because of the absorption of a nucleus.” (Source 1) It produces radioactivity in the form of heat, smaller nuclei, and neutrons. Fusion is just the opposite. It is the coming together of two atomic nuclei. Most power plants today used the fission of enriched uranium to produce nuclear energy using a reactor.
Nuclear energy is a very important energy source to the United States. It is inexpensive and is gaining ground as the main energy resource replacement to the fossil fuels. Today twenty percent of the electricity in the United States comes from 109 licensed power reactors in the United States. Why not just completely switch over to nuclear energy one may ask. There are very many drawbacks that need to be taken into account before Nuclear Energy can be harnessed and used to its full extent. Two of the main problems with Nuclear Energy are nuclear waste produced by power plants and also dangerous accidents that happen on power plants.
Nuclear waste is the main environmental problem of Nuclear energy. After the fuel rods have been in the reactors for about 18 months and much of the uranium has fissioned, the highly radioactive rods with fission products are taken and put into a pool where they slow down they’re rate of generating heat. The problem is that the tanks are getting old and cracking. The less radioactive rods are then chemically reprocessed in most countries, however, the United States fails to reprocess like its European and Japanese counterparts and therefore needs to find a place to store the nuclear waste. The US government decided to construct three storage tanks; however, only one in Nevada’s Yucca Mountain has been completed. Pennsylvania has agreed to be a nuclear waste storage sight for Pennsylvania, Delaware, and West Virginia.
Another big set back for nuclear power...