(I wasn't sure if I was going to write a post today because of the pain from the tendonitis in my right elbow. But it is tolerable tonight, so I guess I can't back out. I rested it a lot and took my anti-inflammatory meds.)
When I think of an alternative energy source, the first thought that comes to my mind is when I was in college beaucoup years ago, we talked a lot about nuclear energy. It was going to be safe, clean, and cheap. Then we had the Three Mile Island meltdown. Coincidentally, the movie China Syndrome had been released just 12 days before. According to one source, no nuclear power plant in the US received approval to be built from1979 to 1990.
Now with new designs, smaller plants, and closer regulation, nuclear power plants are being built or consolidated. There are 32 companies licensed to operate power plants in the US. The Nuclear Energy Institute offers the following statistic:
Amount of electricity generated by a 1,000-MWe reactor at 90% capacity factor in one year:
7.9 billion KWh—enough to supply electricity for 690,000 households.
If generated by other fuel sources, it would require:
- Oil: 13.7 million barrels – 1 barrel yields 576 KWh
- Coal: 3.4 million short tons – 1 ton yields 2,297 KWh
- Natural Gas: 65.8 billion cubic feet – 100 cubic feet yields 12 KWh
(based on average conversion rates from the Energy Information Administration)
One of the bigger isssues regarding nuclear power plants is their effect on the water supply. When compared to the amount of electrical energy produced, nuclear energy has less impact on the environment than does coal or natural gas. The amount of water used is about 1% to 2% of the river's annual flow. Water from cooling towers is returned at a temperature at or slightly above the temperature at which it was obtained while comsuming 30% of the water. The cooler return rate has less impact on the aquatic life than the warmer water returned from other types of nuclear power plants.
The US Department of Energy has a department solely for nuclear energy. The government in the past three years has invested $170 million in research and development grants at universities. They will study and develop designs for safety and increased production among other issues. Nuclear energy also provides jobs in construction and maintence while generating clean energy to thousands of homes.
In March of 2012, the White House made available $450 million to support the design and building of up to two nuclear plants that employ American-made small modular reactors (SMRs). These reactors are about one-third the size of current plants and are designed with improved safety features and decreased environmental impact than current reactors. There is much more that can be said about the safety of nuclear energy, but there is not enough room in this post.
It has been 60 years since nuclear power "first turned on the lights." We can look forward to more years of sustainable, cheap, clean, American-made energy.
Nuclear Energy Institute
Department of Energy