In part one of this nuclear energy series, I talked about nuclear energy in the United States and how it could be an opponent to fossil fuels. But nuclear energy has its flaws. Reactors in America are outdated, and the waste from them can be disastrous. There could be new things in store, though. Nuclear energy could be turned into something different in the future, but only with tons of reform.
Nuclear reactors could be changed to incorporate new technology to make nuclear energy safer, more reliable, and more accessible. When nuclear power plant reactors were first introduced to the United States, they were for naval use and weren’t supposed to last (1). Currently, these traditional naval reactors are still used in 85% of nuclear plants (1). To innovate nuclear energy to replace fossil fuels in the United States, reactors that utilize thorium instead of the traditional uranium could be implemented. Thorium reactors, the most popular being the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR), have some advantages that could put the United States on the forefront of nuclear energy innovation (2).
First, they are much safer in theory and practice; these reactors are designed to limit issues involving core reactor damage and waste radiation (1). Secondly, thorium produces other fissile materials when it is used, meaning it produces more materials that could also be used to create nuclear energy (2). This would make nuclear energy more renewable because sources would be more abundant. Thorium is naturally occurring and produces these fissile materials, so it is much more feasible to use over a long period of time than uranium, which is man-made and completely nonrenewable (2). Finally, research has shown that India, China, and Canada have started to mainstream the LFTR in recent years, and most results have proven these reactors to be successful (3).
Thorium reactors have also been shown to raise nuclear standards and make processes more accessible. Thorium reactors even have benefits on nuclear waste, another important topic. These reactors produce waste that lasts for a shorter period and is easier to get rid of (2).
Nuclear waste, while a negative aspect of nuclear energy, can be treated and stored in ways that make it more tolerable. In the past, the government has shown interest in developing, restoring, and implementing facilities for nuclear waste, but hasn’t done much (4). Currently, the United States’ best option for nuclear waste storage is the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP).
Located in New Mexico, this waste facility is the third largest in the world; however, this plant can only deal with mid-level waste (5). Many environmentalists believe that nuclear waste is too long-lasting and produces too much radiation for nuclear energy to be sustainable (4). If reactors were innovated, waste and radiation wouldn’t last as long.
All these aspects could come together to help America maintain its economy without using fossil fuels.
(1) Petridis, George, and Nicolau, Dimitrios. Nuclear Power Plants, 1 Oct. 2011, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/cvccnc-ebooks/detail.action?docID=3019813
(2) Hargraves, Robert. “Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors: An Old Idea in Nuclear Power Gets Reexamined.” American Scientist, link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A257224415/SCIC?u=nclive&xid=cf3c7568
(3) Harack, Ben. “Nuclear Energy: The Whole Story.” Vision of Earth, https://www.visionofearth.org/industry/nuclear-power-the-whole-story/
(4) Kraft, Michael E. “Nuclear Power and the Challenge of High-Level Waste Disposal in the United States.” Polity, http://nclive.org/cgi-bin/nclsm?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1331077159?accountid=9935
(5) Butler, Declan. “Call for Better Oversight of Nuclear-Waste Storage.” Nature, https://www.nature.com/news/call-for-better-oversight-of-nuclear-waste-storage-1.15211