Nuclear energy is the future of energy and the only sustainable source that will never be limited. The increasing population and depleting energy resources have urged scientists to look for sustainable energy sources. Petroleum, gas, and other sources of energy will be extinct in the coming 100 years or so. In this scenario, the heightening rage between major economies of the world to take over control of unlimited sources of energy requires these countries to build research and development facilities to enhance the scope of using nuclear energy as a source of unlimited energy (Lewis, 2006).
It is estimated that nuclear power plants around the world presently supply 20% of the total electricity. It is estimated that this figure would rise up to 80% in the next 150 years or so. Reluctance has been shown by many countries resulting from the political leadership and pro-nature activists towards the usage of nuclear energy due to the deadly effects that nuclear energy has on the environment. The 21st century has already seen huge disasters related to nuclear power plants such as Chernobyl and Fukushima. The first one even caused the entire city to be evacuated and it still cannot be used for another 20,000 years. Also, the horrible memories of the US nuclear bombing on Hiroshima and Nagasaki are still fresh in people’s minds. Such is the aftermath of mishaps, if any, with the usage of nuclear energy. This is the reason that strict international laws and sanctions have been imposed on trafficking or delivery of nuclear components or raw material which have led to some nations of the world arguing that they are still deprived of fulfilling their ever-increasing demand for energy with the help of nuclear energy (Lidsky & Miller, 2002).
So what are the arguments against nuclear energy? Those who are against are of the view that the disposal of nuclear waste is problematic and file lawsuits against nuclear power generating companies. Another argument suggests that nuclear energy is costly and very expensive to produce, and the energy which is wasted in building and operating a nuclear plant is enough to provide light to a colony of 200 to 250 families (Lidsky & Miller, 2002).
Still, huge investments are being made by countries for nuclear energy and its peaceful usage. Nuclear power plants, if in good shape and maintained properly, produce a safe, clean and reliable source of greener energy. It is evident that for human beings the most important thing is to sustain and survive the hostile environment. For this reason, humans need to explore the unending source of energy to keep themselves warm in cold, cold in warm, and away from the danger of being dependent on neighboring nations to fulfill their energy requirements. The current sources of energy in the world, i.e. coal, oil, natural gas, and water, will soon come to an end and humans will run out of options. The other source of energy is solar energy, extraction, and absorption which is a time taking and expensive process. Plus, it does not provide a sufficient amount of energy to be stored and used in the future (Walker, 2006). So what is this nuclear energy and what are the pertaining details? This question will be answered in the coming lines.
Nuclear energy is created by the fission of uranium, thorium, or plutonium. Another technique of generating nuclear power is to carry out a fusion of hydrogen into helium. But today the most popular and most used method of generating nuclear energy is to carry out the fission of uranium. As compared to the combustion of the carbon atom it is estimated that hydrogen fission generates much greater energy. In the modern era, nuclear plants all over the world have changed the approach and they are using enriched uranium with the concentration of uranium isotope U-235, increased from 0.7% to about 5%. This whole process is an expensive one and it is carried out in separation plants, usually in CANDU reactors which use heavy water to carry out the whole process (International Atomic Energy Agency, 2012).
According to the recent stats, there are around 400 or plus nuclear power plants in the whole world out of which 109 are in the United States only. The current procedure of generating nuclear energy is capable enough of producing energy at the same pace for around 200 to 300 years, in fact, Bernard Cohen’s breeder reactors have the capacity of producing nuclear energy for billions of years, but this is still just an idea. On the other hand, the known and in-hand reserves of uranium are sufficient enough to produce energy for around 100 years (Zakaria, 2006).
The focus now will be laid on what is going to happen in the field of nuclear energy in the future. For this reason, the researcher will present some facts and figures which will highlight the importance of nuclear energy and create a platform to discuss the future of nuclear energy in human hands. India has secured peaceful nuclear energy treaties with the USA which also urged Pakistan to approach China and other major states of the world to enter into a treaty allowing Pakistan to develop peaceful nuclear energy sources. This act of Pakistan and India is sufficient enough to highlight the strategic importance of the energy source. On the other hand, one of the major economies of the world, i.e. France gets 77% of its electricity from nuclear sources, whereas Japan fulfills 30% of its energy requirements from nuclear energy. Such is the importance of nuclear energy and its critical position in world politics in the future (National Nuclear Data Center, 2009).
Nuclear Energy as a Source of Renewable Energy
Nuclear energy in its purest form is useful in many ways. The first and foremost use of nuclear energy is used to supply power for domestic and industrial use. A little amount of nuclear energy is sufficient enough to provide an unlimited power supply at a very large scale. Imagine a car fueled with nuclear energy, which is in size of a sugar cube only. Nuclear energy has the tendency to supply power in areas where natural sources of power are not present. The best thing about using nuclear energy for supplying power is that the whole process of energy generation is carried out in isolated and insulated machines which prevent the environment in surrounding from harmful impacts. It does not emit pollutants in the air or the water and is considered to be merely contributing to global warming (Suppes & Storvick, 2007).
In modern era warfare, nuclear energy holds great importance. Not just because it can be used in atomic bombs and make cities and countries vanish into ashes in just milliseconds. But also because a small amount of nuclear energy has the tendency to keep huge naval ships and submarines running for years. A number of aircraft carriers in the United States’ fleet are fueled with small nuclear reactors and enable the ship to keep its course in the seas for years. USS Abraham Lincoln is a perfect example of using a nuclear reactor, which does not need to touch the dock for refueling purposes for the next 25 years. Aircraft carriers are considered as being a burden on the country’s economy because of the amount of fuel they consume. But with the emergence of nuclear energy, aircraft carriers are no more a financial breaker. Usually, aircraft carriers run on two nuclear reactors installed onboard. Similarly, in the case of submarines, a nuclear-powered sub could revolve around the globe under the water without any stop or refuel for decades (Koivumaki & Martti, 2010).
Nuclear power has another major use in the modern era. It can be used for fueling nuclear batteries. These batteries use the heat produced by the decay of radioactive elements to produce electricity, which is widely used nowadays at cancer treatment centers, space headed expeditions, and even at some other sophisticated surgical implants. Nuclear power in cancer treatment is considered as being of pivotal importance. As cancer is considered, cannot be cured with traditional allopathic or homeopathic medicinal treatment, nuclear energy has provided hope to a number of cancer patients around the globe. Medicines used in Chemotherapy also contain nuclear particles which are injected into the patient’s body and result in killing the malfunctioning part of the body. During radiotherapy, patients are exposed to nuclear rays aimed at killing cancer inside the body of the patient. Nuclear energy is also used in the form of radioisotopes in order to detect tiny traces of cancer in the human body. Another form of nuclear energy, i.e. Gamma emissions, is used for sterilizing medical equipment (Murray, 2008).
The biggest advantage of using nuclear energy is its reliability. Nuclear energy is not dependent on weather conditions, variable costs, or dependence over cross-border energy plants, unlike other conventional sources of energy. The nuclear reactors are built and installed in such a way that they can run smoothly for around 2 to 3 years continuously without maintenance; though, high-level monitoring of radioactivity and heat barriers are required all the time. The only case when nuclear reactors are shut down is for refueling the fuel rods (Bodansky, 2007).
In the field of food and agriculture, nuclear energy is used by leading organizations. Mainly, radiation and isotopes techniques are used for increasing the production of agricultural products, improving the food and grain quality, minimizing any production costs involved, and safeguarding crops from harmful insects and disease. Recently, the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT) has been developed which is useful in large-scale agricultural production and pest control (OECD Nuclear Energy Agency, 2003).
Future Scope for Nuclear Energy
It is in human nature to desire for more regardless of the fact that natural resources are bound to come to an end. For this reason, humans always strive to invent ways of fuelling their unlimited desires at a lower cost. The future growth of economies in the world is designed in a similar manner, in which keeping hold of an endless source of energy is their top priority. In this situation, nuclear energy provides an easy and less expensive solution to humankind. In this section, a brief outlook on the future of nuclear energy is provided (Koivumaki & Martti, 2010).
The human population is increasing faster than ever. Thus to fuel its necessities, nuclear energy is used for multi-purposes. It is estimated that by the year 2050, the use of energy resources would increase by 162.8%. This much consumption of conventional sources of energy, i.e. gas, coal, or fossil fuel would cause heavy damages to the environment, as the resultant of CO2 emission. The best solution to reduce climatic change and harmful effects of greenhouse gases emissions into the atmosphere is a shift towards using nuclear energy reactors. The increased use of nuclear energy would result in replacing fossil fuels with clean fuel, which is less expensive and environmentally friendly (Koivumaki & Martti, 2010).
The future outlook of nuclear energy also provides enormous growth chances to the economies of the world. As it is a sustainable source of energy, nuclear energy’s reliability exerts confidence into the economy and brings versatility. The main reason why nuclear energy will be cheaper than any other source of energy is the subsidies that each government pays for the production of nuclear energy. These subsidies enable industries in a country to depend more on this source of fuel and operate at lower costs (Koivumaki & Martti, 2010; OECD Nuclear Energy Agency, 2003).
Research studies are also underway to discover how nuclear energy can be useful in providing treatment to patients suffering from different diseases all around the world. USA and Switzerland are the leading countries that are investing huge amounts into research that how they can process nuclear energy further to minimize radioactivity and enable doctors to directly expose patients to nuclear rays (Bodansky, 2007).
Last but not least, nuclear energy’s use in the reactors and their disposal of wasted energy into the ocean would also result in benefits. It is proved now that the disposal of nuclear energy into the seas acts as a cleaning agent down under and saves precious aquatic lives. By the year 2022, it is estimated that around 150 breeds of underwater living beings would enter into surplus from extinction mainly because they had survived the environmental effects due to their stay near nuclear plants (Bodansky, 2007).
King Abdullah City for Atomic and Nuclear Energy
His Highness, King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud laid the foundation of King Abdullah City for Atomic and Nuclear Energy (KACANE) on April 17, 2010. The aim behind establishing this nuclear energy unit was to provide unlimited sustainable energy to the Saudi industries as an alternative to fossil fuel. Considering the rapidly increasing population of the Kingdom, it was thought that the nuclear plant would supply alternative energy and in addition, provide desalinated water supply to the citizens. The importance of the nuclear plant is that it will enable the Kingdom to run its industries and domestic household, with a mix of alternative and conventional fuel reservoirs. This project is considered as being of pivotal importance due to its role in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s prosperity, self-dependence on energy consumption, and the reactor’s ability to produce surplus energy so that it can be sold to other countries. Importance has been given to international standards, conventions, or treaties regarding the use of nuclear energy, while implementing King Abdullah’s dream of endless sustainable energy for Saudis, into reality (King Abdullah City for Atomic and Nuclear Energy, 2010a).
Role of King Abdullah City for Atomic and Nuclear Energy in Power Generation
Considering the growth of the population in Saudi Arabia and the escalating demand for sustainable energy and desalinated water, it is estimated that the demand for energy sources in the Kingdom would exceed 120 GW by the year 2032. With the installation of KACANE, the Saudi government has already taken steps to meet this requirement and shifted its approach from conventional fuel reservoirs to renewable energy sources. The use of oil causes a severe burden on the Saudi economy. It is estimated that by the year 2028, nuclear energy sources would supply power to industries and households, equivalent to 3.5 million barrels of oil supply in the Kingdom. In this manner, nuclear energy would enable Saudi Arabia to save its reservoirs of gas and oil, which can be used in times of crisis as an immediate alternative. The KACANE project is projected to be providing 17.6 GW of nuclear power to Saudi Arabia’s industries and households by the year 2032. The other sources of energy that this power plant would be fueling are solar energy power plants, geothermal power plants, wind power plants, and energy recycling power plants all over the Kingdom (King Abdullah City for Atomic and Nuclear Energy, 2010b).
To conclude the thesis, it is evident from the facts provided in the main body, that nuclear energy is a cheap source of sustainable fuel which enables industries and households to run at lower costs. But at the same time, there are threats and insecurities involved in using nuclear energy as a source of fuel. It is recommended that future literature regarding nuclear energy and its use in daily life should focus on harmful effects of the energy source, such as a threat of terrorism with the help of nuclear weapons or nukes, threat to human beings due to the highly radioactive nature of nuclear energy, threat to international peace due to unsuitable use and last but not least, threat to the environment. It is the requirement of time that humans should learn from their past experiences with using nuclear energy, such as the disasters of Chernobyl and Fukushima, and design ways to eliminate the insecurity factor associated with the use of nuclear energy.
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