Nuclear Energy vs. Geothermal Energy Essay

The future of the human race largely depends on the advancement in efficient, clean, high out-put energy production. As a civilization we need not focus on what the past has held for energy production but rather what the present and future hold for us. Two key options are the long lasting, high out-put but environmentally hazardous option which is nuclear fission (nuclear power) and the safe but potential ground water contamination hazard which is geothermal energy.

This paper will point out strictly fact based information on both forms of energy and which one shows the most potential as the dominate energy producer for the United States.

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Nuclear energy was first discovered by a French man named Henri Becquerel in 1896. “He found that photographic plates stored in the dark near uranium were blackened like X-ray plates, which had been just recently discovered at the time” (Our-Energy). Energy from a nuclear reactor is created when water is boiled from a uranium rod and the steam then turns a steam turbine or by pressurizing water.

Nuclear power can come from the fission or uranium, plutonium or thorium or the fusion of hydrogen into helium. Today it is almost all uranium. The basic energy fact is that the fission of an atom of uranium produces 10 million times the energy produced by the combustion of an atom of carbon from coal” (Our-Energy). Essentially nuclear energy is a conversion of mass into energy, Albert Einstein’s famous equation best describes this event, E=mc2. This event occurs when the atom is split or the nucleus is forced into other nuclei of other atoms.

The sun’s type of nuclear power is nuclear fusion; this event is occurs when hydrogen atoms fuse into helium atoms. Since the driving force for nuclear reactors is steam, there is virtually zero harmful pollutants put into Earth’s atmosphere. “Nuclear power is the only industry which takes full responsibility for all its wastes, and costs this into the product” in the United States (Our-Energy). “France, in contrast, now reprocesses well over 1000 metric tons of spent fuel every year without incident at the La Hague chemical complex, at the head of Normandy’s wind-blasted Cotentin peninsula.

La Hague receives all the spent fuel rods from France’s 59 reactors. The sprawling facility, operated by the state-controlled nuclear giant Areva, has racked up a good, if not unblemished, environmental record” (Nuclear Waste-land). Reprocessing is part of the nuclear energy industry jargon for recycling the spent nuclear fuel rod; in fact France actually can reprocess, or recycle, 97% of their spent fuel rods leaving behind a nickel size of waste to be stored away. France’s experience suggests that reprocessing as done now is not ready to catalyze a full-blown nuclear renaissance” (Nuclear Waste-land). The problem being faced now is recycling 100% of the spent fuel rods. France has entertained the idea of having fully commercial breeder reactors which can break down all depleted uranium, but they have yet to succeed. “The United States now claims to have a way of eliminating reprocessing’s other major liability: the risk of spreading a supply of raw materials for bomb making.

The United States officially banned reprocessing of spent fuel for power reactors in 1977, during the administration of President Jimmy Carter, who feared that proliferation of reprocessing technology would make it too easy for wayward nations or even terrorist groups to obtain the raw material for bombs” (Nuclear Waste-land). The U. S. Department of Energy engineers have developed a way that they claim is more resistant to terrorist, thereby calming concerns about nuclear security and proliferation (NRC).

This is a good sign for the nuclear industry in the United States, because it shows the demand for this type of energy is growing and the benefits of nuclear energy are now being given a new life. Much of the hesitation within the United States for stepping forward with nuclear energy is because of past events at Three Mile Island and the world’s most damaging event at Chernobyl. But without a doubt technology has made nuclear reactors a safer project for energy since past events that happened over 30 years ago.

All the nuclear waste in the United States is regulated and managed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The NRC regulation activates are low level waste, high level waste, storage of spent nuclear fuel, and transportation of spent nuclear fuel. Regulated Waste * Low level waste (LLW) includes radioactively contaminated protective clothing, tools, filters, rags, medical tubes, and many other items * Waste incidental to reprocessing (WIR) refers to certain waste byproducts that result from reprocessing spent fuel rods, which the U. S. Department of Energy (DOE) has distinguished from high-level waste * High Level waste (HLW) is “irradiated” or used nuclear reactor fuel * Uranium mill tailings are the residues remaining after the processing of natural ore to extract uranium and thorium (NRC) “Geothermal energy is not glamorous- its plants look more like coal fired power plants then sleek, modern wind turbines or space aged solar mirrors in the desert” (Unleash the future). But I wouldn’t be so quick to write it off as bad on looks alone.

More than twenty countries today are using geothermal energy as an electrical energy source. In fact, the United States is the world’s leader in geothermal energy producer, even though the energy created by geothermal energy counts for less than one percent of Americas total electricity usage (Unleash the future). “The beginnings of exploiting the Earth’s heat for generating electrical energy are connected with a small Italian town of Landarello in 1904.

When experiments with this form of electricity production after steam was used for propulsion of a small turbine which charged five light bulbs and this experiment is considered to be the first use of geothermal energy for electrical energy consumption” (Our-energy). Geothermal energy uses rock deep below the earth’s surface that had been super heated by the earth’s core billions of years ago. Most of these rocks are accessible three hundred feet below the earth’s surface that still have depleted radon stored in them from the core of the earth.

Geothermal energy has good potential because it is 50,000 times bigger than all energy that can be achieved from fossil fuels all over the world (Our-energy). Already in cities and towns across the U. S. residential units are in use to dodge rising energy prices. The main disadvantage of geothermal energy is that there are not many places to exploit the heat suitable for use. The best areas are located on the edge of tectonic plates, namely areas of active volcano and tectonic activity (Unleash the future).

Another disadvantage is the chance for ground water contamination, this event happens due to water over flow in the underground piping that brings up minerals from deep in the earth’s crust. To combat this much effort is being put forth to created enhanced geothermal systems (EGS) that potentially can eliminate the risk of ground water contamination but also the risk, although small, activation of earthquakes. “In 2007, the Bureau of Land Management and the Minerals Management Service finalized new rules and regulations which implement the 2005 EPAct.

The Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management also entered into a Memorandum of Understanding regarding leasing decisions on Forest Service Land” (GEA). The federal geothermal leasing and resource management is over seen by federal mandate whish was modified in 2005 by Mr. John Rishel geothermal leasing amendments as part of the Energy policy act of 2005 (EPAct) (GEA). These policies and acts not only work towards protecting the environment but also propelling the advancement of geothermal technology.

With both energies at hand for use today it is hard to say one would be more worthy then the other as our predominant energy source. But with Nuclear energy being the more advanced technology yielding the most power, now would seem, that nuclear energy would be the one to chose. But I would not say it is farfetched that one day we see the two energies working hand in hand. With one energy being used were the other cannot, it’s hard to imagine them working together to provide clean safe energy to all households in the U. S. and the world. In conclusion these two technologies are still only at the beginning stages of their lives. The futures of these two energies have very promising opportunities for the future of the human civilization. Both energies have the ability to not only provide the human race with never ending energy but also to provide a platform for other advances in technologies, from better understanding our earth to long distance space travel. The future depends on the advancement of both energy sources.

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