Falette, MD, Williams
George Falette, Alam MD, Terrell WilliamsProfessor Jonathon A DelCegnoENGL 2100727 April 2015ProblemUranium is not the most viable or efficient source of nuclear energy. This element has a plethora of disadvantages for the national governments and power plants worldwide that use it as a nuclear energy source. Uranium also affects the surrounding environments and communities nearby its nuclear reactors. Nuclear reactors that use Uranium to produce nuclear energy consequently produce an abundant amount of radioactive waste. This is a prevalent dilemma for Uranium users because this elements radioactive byproducts can take up to tens of thousands of years to fully decay.In addition to the longevity of its decay, the dumping methods used to dispose of Uraniums radioactive wastes are indubitably unsafe for the environment. Uraniums waste is sometimes stored under sand which will clearly have damaging effects to the soil, but more commonly it is dumped in water systems; which in turn results in eutrophication. This term refers to when there is an abundance of toxic chemicals or nutrients introduced into an aquatic ecosystem. In some instances these changes can allow ecosystems to become more favorable for other species and allow these new species to compete in the habitat. Eventually, this will cause aquatic gentrification, forcing out the typical inhabitants of an aquatic ecosystem because the environment has become unfavorable for them to thrive.Eutrophication has severely adverse effects for aquatic life, and subsequently animal and human life, because disrupting the chemical composition of a body of water causes alterations in its vegetation formation. The over abundance of chemicals has been shown to cause a proliferation of deadly algae that blocks sunlight from bodies of water. When the water dwellers eat this virulent algae, or the algae itself decays, it releases hepatotoxins which induce liver damage, and neurotoxins which destroy nerve tissue, into the water and air. This release of hazardous toxins into the immediate environment is immensely detrimental for the proximate aquatic life, and the animals and humans that interact with these water dwellers and their habitats.Furthermore, in terms of national dilemmas that can arise from Uranium use, there are extremely high risk factors and scrutiny inducing effects for countries that use massive Uranium nuclear reactors. Due to the high radioactivity of this element and its isotopes, even a miniscule radiation leak can prove to be fatal for those working in the power plants as well as entire communities and regions that are in proximity to the power plants. In some cases, nuclear reactors may entirely explode. These extreme cases are hydrogen explosions which occur in Uranium reactors when the chemical in the fuel rods, called zirconium, reacts with these reactors coolant water at extremely high temperatures. As shown with the Fukushima accident, nuclear power plant spills and explosions are entirely devastating and result in long-lasting radiation damage.If a country proceeds to gain a larger than normal supply of Uranium it may seem like a subtle call to arms for other countries. Due to Uraniums high volatility and chemically unstable nature, it can readily be used to create nuclear weapons. An increase in supply of this element can make a country appear to be immensely more dangerous and powerful. This seeming surge of power in one country can cause an amalgamation of issues that range anywhere from a rise in tension between nations and simple diplomatic disputes, to an arms race and a potential nuclear war.
SolutionAlthough Uranium has been extensively used as one efficient source of energy, it is not the most practical solution to meet our perpetual energy needs. As mentioned earlier in the problem statement, Uranium has various detrimental externalities that outweigh the benefits it offers. A much more efficient nuclear energy substitute for Uranium would be the element Thorium. Thorium offers many advantageous benefits that Uranium simply cannot match.The nuclear waste from Thorium remains radioactive for up to 500 years while its decaying. This time frame may seem long, but in actuality, is much shorter than the decay rate for Uranium wastes which as stated can take up to tens of thousands of years to completely decay. Furthermore, Thorium is about three to four times more naturally occurring than Uranium, subsequently, making this element the cheaper source to use for nuclear energy. The nuclear energy from Thorium can best be harnessed by a specific type of reactor known as the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR). This reactor is a safer choice in comparison to conventional high pressure water reactors, which use water cooling, because LFTR instead use a mixture of liquid salt which helps to prevent hydrogen explosions. The molten salt in LFTR also prevents radiation leaks by melting the freeze plug (controlled by pressure, temperature sensor) through which the radioactive material from the reactor core safely travels to an emergency dump tank where fission disables and the radioactive material cools down. This process occurring in LFTR is a major benefit because it will help prevent destructive events like those at Chernobyl and Fukushima where a hydrogen explosion took place and caused radiation leaks after the cooling system failed to cool the reactors core heat. Furthermore, Thorium reactors can be used to dispose current radioactive waste product more efficiently and use them to create more energy. While producing energy out of this waste, the fission reaction will decrease the decay time drastically making the waste disposal safer and efficient. Lastly, in terms of diplomatic analysis, Thorium is an element that will not bring much attention from other nations. As stated, this element is immensely less volatile than Uranium, and this fact of its subatomic stability makes this element much more difficult to produce nuclear weapons with.Thorium powered nuclear reactors essentially solve the issues presented by Uranium reactors. Thorium is more stable, safer to work with, more abundant in nature, cheaper to access, and its less anxiety provoking for scrutinizing nations. Despite this long list of benefits from using Thorium for nuclear energy, the most important advantage for humanity that Thorium presents is its ability to dispose radioactive wastes in a much more efficient way. Since Thorium can remove the long lasting radioactive wastes from potentially all other nuclear reactors, this element should be placed at the forefront of nuclear energy resources. Implementing Thorium worldwide would be beneficial because in the long run, the lack of the necessity to dump waste products would eventually revive countless aquatic ecosystems and prevent any further radiation damage to soil; which subsequently would enrich the environment for humanity.