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Nuclear Power
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ONC Editorial

Jul 25, 2023

Explaining nuclear power usage in the U.S. and its drawbacks.

Nuclear power uses a process called nuclear fission to create energy, which involves the splitting of uranium atoms and releases energy in the form of heat. The heat produced is used to evaporate water, and this water vapor then moves large turbines, which create electricity through movement.  

Nuclear power has been widely used since the 1990’s and currently provides about 15 percent of the world’s energy. The United States is one of the leading countries in nuclear power usage, as it makes up about 52 percent of our produced energy. 

There is staunch debate about whether nuclear power can be considered ‘clean’ and whether its benefits outweigh the risks. 

In comparing nuclear power to other energy sources, it is important to understand that one pellet of uranium produces the same amount of energy as 150 gallons of oil. Nuclear energy also requires less mining and is less reliant on raw resources than existing alternatives. 

However, the nuclear energy extraction process necessitates a question: what should we do with the uranium after it has been used? There are currently no recycling methods for discarding it.  

Modern practice involves sealing it in containers and burying it under tons of cement structures. Over time, these structures carry the risk of leaking, which would be harmful to the environment. 

Additionally, serious nuclear accidents have happened in the past, most notably Chernobyl and Fukushima, which impact both human and environmental health. It is important to consider these risks when discussing future investments in nuclear energy.

Annie Llombart is a University of California Santa Cruz graduate with majors in Politics and Environmental Studies and a minor in History. She focused her studies on environmental policy, international relations and sociology. She has also worked at the United Nations with the Spanish delegation and as sustainability coordinator for a think tank. She is currently a law school candidate and seeks to pursue a degree in environmental law.

Sources: 

“U.S. Energy Information Administration - EIA - Independent Statistics and Analysis.” Nuclear Power Plants - U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2021, https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/nuclear/nuclear-power-plants.php.

Martin, William. “Nuclear Power.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 2021, https://www.britannica.com/technology/nuclear-power.

“5 Fast Facts about Nuclear Energy.” Energy.gov, Office of Nuclear Energy, 2021, https://www.energy.gov/ne/articles/5-fast-facts-about-nuclear-energy.

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