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To a huge number of environmentalists all over the world, the word nuclear conjures up thoughts of devastation and destruction. Such concerns and fears are, however, not unfounded. History has painted a dark and dangerous picture of nuclear energy, ranging from nuclear power-plant meltdowns, to nuclear bombs causing death, destruction, and misery of millions of innocent souls. What many people do not know is that nuclear technology can be used for a variety of good applications that benefit the community. One such application is in the generation of electricity.
Nuclear power plants
A nuclear power plant is a heat station. Nuclear reactors produce heat that is used for steam production. The steam will then be channeled to drive turbines which are mechanically connected to electric generators. The electric generators spin with the turbines, leading to electricity generation.
The use of nuclear power plants to generate electric power for civilian use, sparked a massive controversy in the 1970s and ‘80s, when nuclear fission reactors were deployed as a source of nuclear fuel. The supporters argued that nuclear power was suitable for generating sustainable energy because it offered increased electric power security by reducing reliance on imported fuels.
Additionally, they argued that nuclear power offered virtually no air pollution because it did not have any carbon emissions. They also offered that the reactors are tremendously complex pieces of engineering, which meant that a lot can, and still does go wrong. This is a problem they say that technological advancements cannot solve.
Major U.S energy sources and uses
Nuclear energy is not exclusively used in the national electricity grid among the countries that have the technology. In the U.S., for example, the major sources of energy are petroleum oil, natural gases, coal, and renewable energy. These alternative sources of energy help to supplement nuclear power in the national grid.
They are used for production of mechanical movement, which drives generators, to generate electricity or propel vehicles. The degree/ level of utilization of these energy sources vary widely from one source to the other. For example, petroleum oil accounts for ninety three percent of the energy used for locomotion purposes in the United States. The same fuel accounts for only one percent of the energy used in electricity generation.
These fuel sources are commonly used in residential and industrial applications. For residential use, they are applied in heating and locomotion. They are occasionally used in power generation for backup purposes. In industrial applications, they are used primarily used for power generation.
The resulting energy is used to power machinery and generate heat for processing purposes. The uses may not seem so far apart, but the extent of use and dependency differs considerably. Petroleum oil, for example, is occasionally used for powering small electric generators for residential applications. The same petroleum is used in driving commercial sized generators to provide power for industrial applications.
Principles of sustainability
For sustainability, the energy sector has been forced to look into alternative sources of energy due to the ‘law of diminishing returns’. The natural reserves of fuel are diminishing rapidly, and this has prompted the shift from a fossil-fueled economy, to dependency on renewable energy.
This move, however, is faced with many challenges, from financial, to technological, to environmental. The biggest problem though is that of energy storage, which is considered to be the most crucial requirement for building a sustainable, renewable energy system.
Presently, the three theories that have been advanced in a bid to encorage natural sustainability are biodiversity, chemical cycling, and solar energy reliance.
For the development of appropriate sustainability practices, the following steps must be undertaken. First, we need to evaluate energy use. This entails the identification of all energy consuming processes, determination of the nature and amount of energy used, identifying the source of the energy used.
Secondly, we need to improve energy conservation plans. This will lay a foundation for the third step which is to advance energy trading plans. This will involve making comparisons of energy generating activities with energy consuming processes.
Once this is accomplished, we can move on to the fourth stage which is to investigate into alternative sources of energy, and the cost or benefit of these alternative sources.
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After that, we can now develop plans for more efficient energy use. This happens to be the fifth step. Finally, we can implement the selected plans with continuous monitoring so that necessary adjustments can be made, to make sure that improvements in energy use occur.
Throw-away versus recycling societies
The search for efficiency and sustainability has led to the division of the world’s urban population and industries into two distinct societies, the throw-aways, and the recyclers.
As the throw-aways dispose of their possessions and waste products citing defects, worthlessness, and obsoleteness as the cause, the recyclers are busy trying to restore some value into what has been discarded by the throw-aways. This has brought about a lot of bashing and name calling, with each society tries to prove the superiority and wisdom of their cause. The truth of the matter is that these two societies are dependent of one another.
The easiest way to resolve this situation is by understanding the difference between necessary and unnecessary wastage, especially in the industrial sector. Necessary wastage is any activity or cost which does not directly contribute to consumer benefit, and which cannot be avoided. Unnecessary wastage is any activity or cost which does not directly contribute to the consumer benefit, but can be avoided. The latter should be eliminated as efficiently and effectively as possible.