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Nuclear Power

I really don't understand why we aren't using more nuclear power.  Don't get me wrong, I love the idea of using solar power, wind power and especially the new generators that use the tides.  The problem is that these power sources are intermittent.  That is, you never know how much power they will produce at any given time on any particular day - there will be dead spots where no power is being produced.  So these resources are fine for supplementary power generation, but the technology does not exist at this time to build big enough batteries to get us through these dead spots.  Nuclear power on the other hand produces huge amounts of energy on a continuing basis.

I'm not going to get into the specifics of how nuclear power works or the different kinds of fuels that they use, there are plenty of other sources that explain that much better than I ever could.  I would rather address a lot of concerns that people have regarding nuclear power.

Breeder Reactors

Let me introduce to you what is known as a "Breeder Reactor".  It is just a nuclear reactor that makes more nuclear fuel than it consumes, until everything is gone.  We start off with uranium-238, a fairly abundant resource (there's enough to last thousands of years), and we cause it to undergo a nuclear reaction that produces plutonium.  This plutonium can then be reprocessed and used again.  Ideally, this process would be taken to completion, leaving absolutely NO nuclear waste.  Nothing ever works ideally though, and we find that there is still nuclear waste that has a half-life of around 40 years.  Well that sounds like a long time!  Not when you compare it to the 25,000 year half life of our current nuclear waste.  So what we have is a nuclear reactor that produces more of its own fuel and leaves us with basically no radioactive waste.  There's got to be a catch.

The catch, is that the US banned the reprocessing of nuclear fuel in 1977.  The reasoning?  Plutonium is used to make bombs, and somebody could steal it.  Sounds kind of scary right?  Not so much, you need to know that it's actually a specific isotope of plutonium, plutonium-239, that is used to make bombs.  The reaction in a breeder reactor creates plutonium-239, but it also creates plutonium-240, plutonium-241, and plutonium 242.  All of these different isotopes come out mixed together, and there is no technology anywhere in the world that can separate the isotopes.  This mixture can not be used to make a bomb - it just doesn't work - nearly all countries with nuclear power have tried.  There is no reason the US should maintain its current ban on reprocessing.

So it doesn't pollute, makes its own fuel, and can't be used to make a bomb, what is the problem?  Like so many other things in this world, money.  At this time, the reprocessing of the plutonium is just too expensive to compete with other power sources.  I truly think that with research, the price will come down and having nuclear power through breeder reactors will become the norm.  Write your senators.

Safety?

There have been a couple of major nuclear power plant disasters, most notable Chernobyl and Three Mile Island.  There were some serious problems that led to both accidents, problems that have been fixed.  I can never guarantee that there will never be another nuclear disaster, nobody can - but the chances of another one with today's technology are next to none. 

A lot of people criticize people who say this by asking them "yeah, but would you want one in your backyard?"  Um... I already have one, thanks.  Literally, there is a nuclear power plant less than 10 miles from where I am typing this.  If there were a problem, I'd be dead.  I've never worried about this happening.  The ONLY time I gave it a seconds thought was when I received an "evacuation plan" in the mail - which I thought was kind of cool.  I feel safer where I am now, next to a nuclear power plant, than I do driving down the highway.  I have statistics to back me up too.

What do you think?

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