Earth News Journal 17: Uranium Nuclear Waste

Nuclear energy is becoming a critical topic of discussion among government officials across the world.

Because our current generation relies so heavily on a nonrenewable, environmentally-unconscious fuel source, researchers are vigorously searching for an inevitable replacement.

According to an article from The New York Times, author Matthew L. Wald explores one recent proposal on the reliance of a revolutionized nuclear energy. Currently, nuclear reactors run on concentrations of 3-5% uranium 235 – a deadly compound that makes up more than 90% of a uranium bomb. Therefore, nuclear energy has never been a holistically-safe ideal for energy production because of its potentially hazardous repercussions.

Bill Gates, Microsoft’s multibillionaire, has proposed the production of “a new kind of nuclear reactor that would be fueled by today’s nuclear waste.” Uranium 235, when placed in a reactor, gives off a pure, mostly natural waste product, uranium 238. TerraPower, Gates’ company of developers, is designing a nuclear reactor that would “run almost entirely on uranium 238…[to] supply all the electricity in the United States for the next 800 years and…cut the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation around the world.”

This reactor would only require a small amount of the problematic uranium 235, mostly used for initiating the reaction “like lighter fluid getting a charcoal barbeque started.” Unfortunately, the proposal is still in its infancy, and the entire project would require a significant amount of money and support from government agencies. Gates’ attempts to appease the Chinese have still remained noncommittal in response.

Reflection

Personally, I think this alternative nuclear energy reactor would be most beneficial to the society’s demand for an increase in energy supplies. Nuclear power, right now, remains a highly dangerous source of fuel, and I think the entire science of nuclear power has yet to be fully investigated. However, if this new reactor could lessen these potential hazards, by running on uranium 238 as opposed to uranium 235, I believe it could become a valuable resource in the future. Natural gas, coal, and petroleum oil are not going to last us forever – we know that, yet we continue to squander these materials, refusing to convert our energy dependency into a fuel source more readily available. Nuclear power isn’t incorporated heavily in today’s world energy plants because of its direct link to the infamous atomic bomb. With this newly conceived nuclear reactor, I definitely see the opportunity for an expansion in nuclear energy reliance. I still support natural energy sources, like wind, water, and solar energy, over such chemically-induced energy sources, but I support this Gates initiative due, in part, to its focus on other energy sources that are renewable and more dependable.  

Wald, Matthew L. “Atomic Goal: 800 Years of Power From Waste.” The New York Times. N.p., 24 Sept. 2013. Web. 27 Sept. 2013.

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