Modern Misconceptions about Nuclear Energy
Nuclear energy was first discovered very early in the 1900′s, but it was only during 1930′s when scientists proposed harnessing its power, and it still took at least two decades more to build the very first nuclear power plant in 1954.
During the entire history of mankind’s application of nuclear energy, scientists have honed their ideas and thoughts, and developed better proposed applications as the 20th century went by. But setting aside their knowledge and research, the general public’s misconceptions about this weird and incredible source of energy also took its own path of development.
Even today, after almost more than half a century’s worth of technological development, we still have and hold our very own modern misconceptions about nuclear energy, and some of which are:
- Nuclear energy has been developed for a long time already, so it should already be safe enough. This is pretty much true when viewed from a comparative standpoint (with other older reactor configurations). We do have learned a lot from our mistakes in nuclear energy, and are now currently designing third generation nuclear reactors (Fukushima is a generation two reactor). But to think that we have already completely overcome its risks is a big mistake. Essentially, the more advanced the technology is, the more complicated the number of control variables will be, and this is true with nuclear energy. We don’t really mean that nuclear energy cannot be safe, it’s just that our application today is still pretty much far from being perfect.
- Nuclear power plants can last for many decades. Well, in way, and technically speaking, nuclear reactors do have the necessary operating capacity to run for decades, most especially if it is a breeder-type reactor (since it can recycle its own fuel). However, we are usually forgetting to include in this equation the structural strength of the holding facility during its entire lifetime. While those uranium rods can be used and reprocessed many times to provide almost a century’s worth of power, the thick concrete walls that encase the reactor might not last as long. Of course, repairs and other maintenance work are there to fix things every once in a while, but eventually most of the structural components would have to be replaced entirely. And what if that reactor’s configuration is to become obsolete during that time?
- The energy released in nuclear bombs, and the one used in nuclear reactors is essentially the same. The fission reaction in a nuclear bomb is designed to go off exponentially, almost all at once, in a state that is called a supercritical mass. In a nuclear reactor, the reactions are more controlled and are simply stabilized in a standard critical mass state. So while the energy in a nuclear bomb is used in an explosion, the energy in nuclear reactors is simply used to generate the heat needed to run a steam turbine.
- Nuclear reactors could explode like nuclear bombs given the right conditions. As noted earlier nuclear reactors also experience the same type of atomic bombardment chain reactions that older fission-type nuclear bombs have. However, because the atomic reactions in a nuclear reactor are not designed to reach supercritical mass, reactions are simply sustained in steady but rising fission chain reactions. Thus the risk of a nuclear reactor exploding like a nuclear bomb is practically pointless. True, sustained but uncontrolled reactions might cause immense amounts of heat, but it would never cause anything like a Hiroshima or Nagasaki explosion (though a less energetic explosion might be caused by hydrogen gas build up during the event of a reactor meltdown).
As you might have noticed already, misconceptions about nuclear energy can happen regardless of whether or not we are supporting the technology or against it. The only way to get ourselves out of this “unenlightened” state is by actively learning more about this “glowing” green energy.
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