Nuclear Energy vs. Geothermal Energy

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The future of humanity hinges on the advancement of effective, eco-friendly, and high-yield energy sources. Rather than dwelling on history, it is crucial to explore present and future alternatives. Two prominent choices are nuclear fission (nuclear power), which provides enduring and high-output energy but carries environmental hazards; and geothermal energy, a secure alternative that holds the risk of groundwater contamination.

The purpose of this paper is to provide factual information on both forms of energy – nuclear and carbon-based – and determine which one holds the greatest potential as the primary energy producer for the United States. Nuclear energy was first discovered in 1896 by Henri Becquerel, a French scientist. In his experiments, he observed that photographic plates placed near uranium would darken, similar to X-ray plates (Our-Energy). The generation of nuclear energy involves boiling water with a uranium rod and using the resulting steam to power a steam turbine or pressurizing water. It can be obtained through uranium, plutonium, or thorium fission, or through hydrogen fusion into helium. However, currently uranium remains the main source (Our-Energy). The crucial aspect of nuclear energy lies in its ability to produce 10 million times more energy than burning an atom of carbon from coal when an atom of uranium splits (Our-Energy). Essentially, nuclear energy involves converting mass into energy according to Albert Einstein’s famous equation E=mc2. This conversion process occurs either through atomic nucleus splitting or forceful interactions between atomic nuclei.

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The sun’s nuclear power is nuclear fusion, which happens when hydrogen atoms combine to form helium atoms. Nuclear reactors use steam as the driving force and emit almost no harmful pollutants into the Earth’s atmosphere. In the United States, the nuclear power industry takes full responsibility for all its waste and includes the cost in the final product. On the other hand, France reprocesses more than 1000 metric tons of spent fuel annually without any incidents at the La Hague chemical complex, located at the forefront of Normandy’s windy Cotentin peninsula.

The state-controlled nuclear giant Areva operates La Hague, which is responsible for receiving and recycling all of France’s spent fuel rods from its 59 reactors. While La Hague has a commendable environmental track record, it is not without its flaws. Reprocessing, or recycling, involves the reuse of these spent nuclear fuel rods. France can recycle 97% of their rods and produces only a small amount of waste. However, achieving a complete nuclear renaissance solely through this method is currently unattainable. The main challenge lies in achieving 100% recycling of the spent fuel rods. In an attempt to break down all depleted uranium, France has explored the use of fully commercial breeder reactors but has yet to achieve success. On the other hand, the United States claims to have found a solution that addresses the risk associated with reprocessing by preventing materials from being used for bomb making.

In 1977, President Jimmy Carter’s administration enforced a prohibition on the reprocessing of spent fuel for power reactors in the United States due to apprehensions regarding the potential danger of nuclear materials being obtained by unauthorized entities such as rogue nations or terrorist groups (Nuclear Waste-land). Nonetheless, experts at the U.S. Department of Energy have devised an alternative method that they argue provides improved protection against terrorism, effectively addressing concerns surrounding nuclear security and proliferation (NRC).

The demand for nuclear energy in the United States is on the rise, indicating a positive perception and acceptance of its benefits. Despite past disasters such as Three Mile Island and Chernobyl causing hesitation, significant technological advancements have greatly enhanced reactor safety over the past thirty years.The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is responsible for regulating and managing all nuclear waste in the United States, including low level waste (LLW), high level waste (HLW), storage of spent nuclear fuel, and transportation of spent nuclear fuel. LLW consists of various items such as radioactively contaminated protective clothing, tools, filters, rags, and medical tubes. Waste incidental to reprocessing refers to specific byproducts generated from reprocessing spent fuel rods, which are different from high-level waste defined by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). HLW comprises irradiated or used nuclear reactor fuel. According to the NRC, uranium mill tailings are the residues remaining after extracting uranium and thorium from natural ore. While geothermal energy may not seem visually appealing compared to wind turbines or solar mirrors in deserts, its potential should not be disregarded solely based on appearance.

Geothermal energy is currently being utilized by over twenty countries worldwide to generate electricity. Despite contributing less than one percent of the United States’ total electricity consumption, it remains the leading global producer of geothermal energy (Unleash the future). The origin of harnessing Earth’s heat for electricity production can be traced back to Landarello, a small town in Italy dating back to 1904.

According to Our-energy, the first attempt at using geothermal energy to produce electricity involved testing steam as a means to operate a small turbine. This turbine successfully powered five light bulbs, which was an important milestone in utilizing geothermal energy. Geothermal energy captures the heat trapped in rocks deep beneath the earth’s surface, formed billions of years ago from the earth’s core. Rocks located approximately three hundred feet below still retain radon remnants from the earth’s core.

Geothermal energy is a highly promising source of energy that surpasses fossil fuels in terms of potential. According to Our-energy, it is estimated to provide 50,000 times more energy worldwide. Currently, residential units in different cities and towns across the United States are already benefiting from geothermal energy to avoid high energy costs. However, Unleash the future states that one major drawback of this renewable resource is its limited availability. Geothermal power plants require suitable heat exploitation areas mostly found on the periphery of tectonic plates, especially in regions with active volcanoes and tectonic activity.

Ground water contamination is a potential drawback of geothermal energy, as it can happen when water overflows in the underground piping and brings minerals from deep within the earth’s crust. To mitigate this issue, efforts are being made to develop enhanced geothermal systems (EGS) that could prevent ground water contamination and minimize the unlikely occurrence of earthquakes. In 2007, new regulations were established by the Bureau of Land Management and the Minerals Management Service after implementing the 2005 EPAct.

The Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management have agreed to a Memorandum of Understanding concerning leasing decisions on Forest Service Land. The federal geothermal leasing and resource management is governed by a federal mandate that was updated in 2005 through Mr. John Rishel’s amendments to geothermal leasing as part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. These policies and acts have the dual purpose of safeguarding the environment and fostering the advancement of geothermal technology.

Determining the worthiness of traditional energy versus nuclear energy is challenging. Nuclear energy, being more advanced with higher power output, seems like the preferable option. However, it’s possible that these two energies could collaborate in the future. Using one energy where the other isn’t suitable could result in clean and safe energy for households globally. In conclusion, both technologies are still early-stage but hold promising opportunities for the future of human civilization. They have potential to provide endless energy and drive advancements in various other technologies, from understanding our planet better to enabling long-distance space travel. The progress and development of both energy sources will shape the future.

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Nuclear Energy vs. Geothermal Energy. (2017, Mar 24). Retrieved from

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