Uranium; Research Paper
As new technologies continue to emerge, the world power consumption rates continue to go up. This is because these new technologies use electric power to operate and perform their functions. This consequently means that the available power sources continue to become insufficient. Therefore, human beings have to seek other sources of power to generate high levels of power while using the available resources in a sustainable manner. For example, most hydropower stations need large tracks of land and a lot of water to produce (Alexandra, 2006). This raises the need to build large dams to hold the required water and construct power stations that will generate the required power. With land becoming a scarce resource, hydroelectric power generation is becoming more expensive to produce. This consequently raises the need for other energy sources to satisfy the ever-growing power demand. Nuclear power has promised to satisfy this need. Nuclear energy production utilizes uranium to produce energy. Uranium, which was discovered in the 18th century by Martin Klaproth is found everywhere on earth (Alexandra, 2006). In most cases, this element is found in trace quantities. However, this heavy metal is an abundant source of concentrated energy meaning that it can be used in small quantities to produce a large amount of power. This paper will analyze this element for its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in nuclear power generation.
One of the major strengths of uranium is that it occurs in three isotopes, which include uranium 234, uranium 235 and uranium 238. The uranium 238 isotope is the most prevalent in the world and has a half-life of about 4.5 billion years. The high availability of uranium means that its cost is considerably lo and this consequently lowers the cost of producing nuclear power. Furthermore, the use of uranium does not emit any greenhouse gases into the environment (Beli͡aev, 2012). With the effects of greenhouse gases being felt in the environment, governments and other relevant authorities have been placing emphasis on the use of environmentally friendly power sources. The emission of greenhouse gases from reactors that use uranium as a major fuel are negligible and this means that uranium is a perfect material for energy production in today’s world (Beli͡aev, 2012).
In addition to this, compared to other power sources such as fossil fuels, uranium is less prone to fuel price increases. This means that the cost of uranium is highly stable which means that producers can stick to budget estimates and ensure that they produce sufficient energy supply. Energy producers who use other sources of fuel such as fossil fuels are always facing the risk of high fuel costs, which may reduce their power production reliability. This is not the case with uranium, whose prices remains considerably stable. For example, the highest uranium prices were experienced in the year 2007 with prices peaking at one hundred and thirty five dollars per pound. Since that period, the prices have been on a constant drop with one pound costing forty dollars by the end of 2015 (uxc.com, 2016). This shows that uranium is a considerably cheap source of power. Additionally, uranium has a high energy density, which means that it can be stored and used in small quantities as compared to other fuels. This further reduces the cost of producing nuclear energy from uranium and increases the efficiency with which this energy is produced. Furthermore, the waste generated by uranium after generation of power is considerably small which means that this waste is highly manageable. This consequently reduces the environmental impact of using uranium in the production of nuclear power (Beli͡aev, 2012).
One of the major weaknesses of uranium in the production of nuclear energy is the fact that this element is highly unstable. Therefore, any incident or accident involving this material would be very devastating on the environment and its habitats. For example, accidents involving this material like Chernobyl have rendered these areas uninhabitable for human beings and other living things (Azapagic & Perdan, 2011). In addition to this, setting up reactors that use uranium to generate power is a capital-intensive activity. Building and running these reactors may use a lot of financial resources which means that uranium cannot be used by countries which are financially unstable. In addition to these, developers of repositories for High Activity Waste have been slow and this means that the available uranium waste management platforms may be inadequate (Azapagic & Perdan, 2011). Furthermore, compared to renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, uranium resources are considerably limited. Finally, public perceptions and acceptance of nuclear energy is a major element for volatility, which reduces the use of uranium as a source of fuel.
As seen earlier, the need for new and more power generation capacities is one of the major drivers of uranium for power generation. Uranium has a very high capacity for power generation and this one of the major opportunities for uranium (Chatterjee, 2006). Secondly, the world is moving towards the elimination of the conventional carbon-emitting power generators and plants. This provides a major opportunity for the usage of uranium because nuclear power plants do not have any carbon or greenhouse gas emissions (Chatterjee, 2006). In addition to this, as the costs and prices of fossil fuels continue to increase, governments and relevant authorities are pushing for the adoption of cheaper fuels. This means that uranium has a high chance of becoming the next major source of energy in the world. Further, new technologies such as Generation IV nuclear power reactors promise high levels of material utilization efficiency as well as waste reduction capabilities (Chatterjee, 2006). This means that uranium can be used without the worry of waste management and disposal. Finally, researchers have been focusing their efforts on the fuel cycle in a bid to reduce the radiotoxicity of uranium waste as well as reducing the level of wastes. This means that new technologies will eliminate radiotoxic materials in uranium waste and thereby provide more opportunities for its usage (Chatterjee, 2006).
One of the major threats in the usage of uranium as a major fuel is the increasing risk of terrorist threats on nuclear infrastructure. As the threat of terrorism becomes a reality in today’s world, terrorists are targeting non-conventional targets in a bid to increase casualties (Alexandra, 2006). As seen earlier, any incident or accident involving uranium can be very devastating and this poses a major threat to the adoption of uranium as a power source. Secondly, industry capacities and sources of skilled labor pose major bottlenecks in the expansion of nuclear energy production. This poses another major threat to the adoption of uranium in the production of nuclear energy as it creates technology-specific jobs, which need highly qualified professionals (Alexandra, 2006). In addition, as seen earlier, High Activity Waste management repositories have not been fully developed and the current management systems are inadequate. This further poses a major threat to the adoption of uranium, which produces high activity waste materials. Additionally, as the world moves towards sustainability, solar and wind energy has received more focus and attention of researchers. These energy sources are considered stronger contenders for sustainable development than uranium. Finally, changes in nuclear accident liabilities are threatening to change the course of power generation. As producers are considered more liable in accidents, they might shy away from investing their resources in nuclear power generation and thereby reduce the chances of uranium being adopted as a major fuel (Alexandra, 2006).
As seen above, uranium provides major solutions to the problem of power production capacity, greenhouse gas emissions, high costs of energy production and the constantly increasing power prices. Furthermore, the use of uranium promises lower energy prices thereby benefiting the end consumer. In addition, the lower production costs have a direct bearing on the reliability of power production and supply. This means that uranium is a viable solution to the problems that have been experienced in today’s world. With proper technologies and technical support, nuclear energy is more viable than other power sources such as hydroelectric and fossil fuel power stations. This means that if governments and other relevant authorities would be able to overcome the major challenges facing the adoption of uranium in the production of nuclear energy, the world would be able to enjoy the benefits of reliable and adequate power supply from uranium.
Radioactivity is the major limitation to the adoption of uranium as a major fuel today. However, with proper management techniques and technologies, uranium is one of the best fuel currently available in the world. The element is less prone to fuel price fluctuations and its high energy density means that it can be used in small quantities to produce large amounts of power. Additionally, it solves the problems of greenhouse gas emissions and thereby promotes sustainable development. However, with high set up costs and threats of terrorism, uranium is bound to take longer before it is adopted as a major fuel in the world.
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Beli͡aev, L. S. (2012). World Energy and Transitions to Sustainable Development. Springer Science & Business Media.
Chatterjee, K. K. (2006). Uses of energy minerals and changing techniques. New Delhi: New Age International (P) Ltd. Publishers.
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