Atomic energy is the force which is stockpiled within the heart of an atom. If the atom is stable, then no nuclear energy is released from it. If the atom is unstable like radioactive atoms, then it releases a mass volume of energy. Atoms can be compared to solar system where atom is at the centre like a sun and electrons revolving round the atom like planets in the solar system. When the nucleus of an atom is barraged with a neutron, by a process of fission, nucleus is being split apart and enormous energy is released.
Though, the atomic energy is the best alternative to conventional energies like coal based or oil based as there is little emission of carbon dioxide. However disposal and managing of nuclear waste is really challenging as it would trigger health hazards if not properly handled. This research essay focuses on the advantages of the nuclear energy, challenges facing the disposal of nuclear waste, viable alternatives to nuclear energy and potential danger if the nuclear waste is stored in a single site like Mount Yucca in U.S.A and finally arrives its findings.
- ADVANTAGES OF NUCLEAR ENERGY:
Nuclear energy offers many advantages and one of them being advantage to the environment especially air quality. Unlike the burning of fossil fuels results in the emissions of greenhouse gasses and carbon dioxide which creates serious health disorders and global warming, nuclear energy does not emit carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide and sulphur.
For instance, in U.S, as per 2002 statistics, there were about 103 nuclear power stations which provided about 20% of the U.S.A’s power demand. Further, these nuclear power plants had added about 8% more power on the yearly basis. It is to be observed that in U.S.A, nuclear power plants alone have added more than 23,000 megawatts which is equivalent to energy manufactured by the 24 mega power plants. One another advantage is that due to increase in the volume of production in nuclear power plants which has resulted in lowering the cost of nuclear power generation per unit.
It is estimated that nuclear energy manufacturing in U.S.A has shunned the release of about 176 million tones of carbon in the environment annually if the same amount of energy was manufacture by burning fossil fuels like coal. Natural gas was regarded as cheap fuel for manufacturing energy previously when it price ruled around $2/million BTU. Now the price has moved to $ 6/ million BTU and hence it remains no more as cheap fuel for manufacturing energy .When compared to natural gas, nuclear energy is definitely is more economical.
Further, there is ever increasing demand for energy and only nuclear energy is capable of meeting to cater such demand. Further, the economics of a country relies on economical supplies of energy. At one point, energy sources like oil and gas may be exhausted and at this juncture, nuclear energy will be the nodal player for meeting energy demand of the country. Comparing to the coal based or natural gas based power plants, nuclear power plants needs only limited fuel. One tone of Uranium will produce enormous amount of energy than what is produced by several million tones of barrels of oil or several BTU of gases or several millions of tons of coal.
- NUCLEAR WASTE DISPOSAL – CHALLENGES
The main issue to be addressed as regards to nuclear waste disposal is the method of handling and disposing the nuclear waste and protection measures to be initiated against nuclear profiliferation. The long-term underground storehouse in the Yucca Mountain in Nevada district of U.S.A is mainly initiated to store and safeguard the spent commercial fuels.
The current methodology of open or ‘once-through’ nuclear fuel cycles employs just mined uranium, smolder it a solo time in a reactor and then releases it as waste. It is estimated that by adopting this technology, about only 1% of the energy is being extracted from the uranium and then converted into electricity. This technology also results in large volumes of spent nuclear fuel that has to be marshaled out in a safe mode. The above illustrated shortcomings can be dissuaded by recycling the spent fuel –in other words, the process by which recuperating the constructive materials from it.
Countries like U.K, France and Japan utilize a technology known as closed nuclear fuel cycle especially in their mega nuclear power plants. The uniqueness of this technology is that spent fuel is recycled to recuperate uranium and plutonium which emanates during irradiation in reactors and then recycle it into new fuel. This process offers dual advantage .
One being doubling the recovered energy from the fuel and eradicates most of the radioactivity elements which is having long life from the waste that must be permanently preserved. It is to be observed that freshly mined uranium is cheaper as compared to the recycled fuel. Contemporary recycling technology also directs to the plutonium separation which could possibly be redirected to manufacturing of atomic bombs.
- WHAT ARE THE PROS AND CONS OF HAVING YUCCA MOUNTAIN AS PERMANENT WASTE REPOSITORY? WHAT ARE SOME OF THE MAJOR DANGERS?
About 40000 tones of spent nuclear fuel and complex radioactivity wastes from research, commercial and defense activities were accumulated in U.S.A and about 2000 tons were being added every year as nuclear waste.
Nuclear wastes are being preserved in 39 states and about 130 temporary aboveground facilities. Under the authority from the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, Yucca Mountain, in southern Nevada could turn as the first geologic repository for nuclear wastes in U.S.A. The Department of Energy is having proposal to commence the operations of the repository by 2010 provided if license is granted to it by the Nuclear Regulatory commission. The envisaged repository will be constructed about one thousand feet underground and one thousand feet above the water table in rock that has stayed undisturbed for million of years after the outbreak of great volcanic which had dumped hot ash that solidified into the rock.
Yucca Mountain’s atmosphere is too dry and about 95% of rainy water either runs off the mountain mostly evaporates or is absorbed by the vegetation. As such, very little amount of water has the probability of infiltration and reaching the nuclear waste repository level. Hence, it has been proved scientifically that ground water contamination is not all possible as there won’t be any seepage from the nuclear waste repository.
For the last two decades, Scientist and engineers have collected technical data about the rock in Yucca Mountain, water seepage through it, anticipated earthquakes and the probable volcanic disturbances of the planned repository. The research data reveal that for atleast for ten thousand years, the level of depository yielded radioactivity would be far less than the fifteen millirem per annum, which is well below the prescribed radiation protection standard for public safety and health.
Spent nuclear fuel will be stored in hard ceramic pellets in sealed corrosion-resistant metallic tubes and liquid waste from defense-related activities would be solidified into glass logs, inside sealed metal container, before shipment. 
Some of the danger of Mount Yucca Repository:
- There is a possibility of ground water contamination.
- Spent fuel may become a health hazard due to occurrence of an earthquake.
- There is possibility of radioactivity due to occurrence of accidents while transporting nuclear waste to a common, single depository and the transportation of spent fuels may be vulnerable to terrorist attacks.
- Safety transportation and well protected storage can not be achieved and this results in a long-term threat to environment.
- WHAT WOULD BE THE LONG TERM SOLUTION TO THIS PROBLEM? SHOULD ALL NUCLEAR WASTE BE CONCENTRATED IN ONE SITE OR DISPERSED?
Necessary strategy should be evolved to find out alternate energy solutions like wind power, solar power, energy conservation etc. This will provide long term solution to the problem. Nuclear waste should be concentrated on one site as it would reduce the expenses on maintenance and security. Selection of Mount Yucca is the wise decision as there is less possibility for water contamination or radioactivity exposure on the occurrence of the earthquake.
- WHAT ARE OTHER VIABLE ALTERNATIVES TO NUCLEAR ENERGY?
Nuclear energy is too costly as compared to other energy sources. In the total nuclear cycle, there is substantial emission of carbon dioxide. Further, nuclear energy is unsafe and constant increase in nuclear reactors will enhance the danger of nuclear weapon explosion. Some of the alternatives to nuclear energy are listed below:
- Renewable energy is a feasible substitute to nuclear energy.
- The need for nuclear power can be avoided by energy conservation.
- Tapping of solar energy.
- Generation of wind power.
Though the nuclear energy has tremendous advantages, stiff opposition from scientists and environmentalist are being voiced against the government failure to pursue safeguard for nuclear replenishment and nuclear waste management.
Hence it has become mandatory on the part of governments to introduce stiff safeguard procedures for replenishment of spent fuels and proper management of nuclear wastes. Though the nuclear energy is costlier but it is more reliable and environmental friendly. The radioactivity waste residues from nuclear power plants pose health hazards. If any accidents like Chernobyl that may occur may have devastating effect on the atmosphere and public health. Hence, governments should seriously pursue to manufacture energy through renewable sources rather than concentrating on devastating nuclear fission materials like uranium.
Biggert, Judy, et al. “Nuclear Waste Standoff.” Issues in Science and Technology Fall 2006: 9+.
Nuclear Waste.” The Columbia Encyclopedia. 6th ed. 2004.
 DonJ. Hanley, “Yucca Mountain”, Macmillan Reference USA, Vol.2, 2004, p330.