What are the alternatives?

July 27, 2008 at 7:41 pm 1 comment

Two weeks ago oil was at $145 a barrel putting a gallon of gas at a little of 4.23. We see oil as a primary source of energy but we hear every day that there are alternatives to oil but what are these alternatives? Who will end up paying the price? There is coal, nuclear, wind, and solar energy but how do they work and what effects will it have on the environment.

When people hear of nuclear energy some of the things that come to mind is the atomic bomb, deadly radiation, alongside three mile island and Chernobyl. Nuclear energy is one of the leading form of alternative energy in France which is 75% of the energy that they produce in their country. Did you know the United States has over 100 nuclear facilities and gives us 20% of our energy. Unlike the nuclear bomb the energy in a power plant is contained and created through nuclear fission. Nuclear fission is a process by which they take an isotope known as Uranium 238 and bombard it with many atoms, as these atoms become bombarded they split and hit other U-238 atoms making a reaction which yields a large amount of energy.

One of the positive sides of nuclear energy is that it does not put carbon in the atmosphere unlike fossil fuels and its waste is generally easy to dispose of. The problem with nuclear is you hear the same thing from people saying that they would not want a nuclear power plant in their backyard. This is do to the fear that is put into them by years of hearing about nuclear disaster and the threat of a terrorist attack on nuclear power facilities. Although since the mid 1970’s no nuclear power plants have not been built due to environmentalists. This has stopped the production of new plants that would be more efficient and cost effective alongside safer.

Nuclear power has its waste highly regulated by the government as the waste from this product is sent underground. Nuclear waste passes through areas by trucks which is a big scare for people who are afraid of a nuclear explosion. Nuclear waste does not yield a nuclear reaction as in the case of the nuclear bomb if there is a crash with a truck with nuclear waste the effects of nuclear radiation occur over long periods of time and will not have any short term effects on the environment.

What is the future of nuclear energy in the Untied States and as well as the world? Well the next step seems to be a reaction know as nuclear fusion. The best way to see nuclear fusion is just the the sun, nuclear fusion occurs as a giant mass takes in hydrogen and at high temperatures produces high yields of energy. The main problem with nuclear fusion is that it we can not reach a temperature that is as high as the sun. The next best thing we can do is cold fusion which occurs at a colder temperature but yields the same result. Unlike nuclear fission or coal this releases nearly no harmful waste materials and has such a high output of energy it would replace almost all other fuel sources.

50 percent of energy in the United States come from coal, this is a statistic that shocks most people as they only see coal as something to heat their barbecues with and wouldn’t think it would be viable as a reliant power source. In the US we have the largest amount of coal supplies and is a lot more clean than many people think of. The main problem with coal is that it is hard to mine coal and leads to many deaths of people mining it. Another problem is that when you burn coal you put sulfur dioxide in the air, luckily we have better techniques now that allow less sulfur dioxide into the air then we did 50 years ago. Also the United States has enough coal for the next 200-300 years which makes it viable to use as we shift away from oil in the coming years.

Wind and Solar are two technologies that are up and coming and provide energy sources that rely on the environment to power us and produce no environmental risks. Solar energy is basically harnessing the awesome power of the sun and putting it to work. Scientists say that the the sun puts out 1360J of energy per second in to a meter squared of area on a surface. Today solar panels are used to absorb this energy to try to use it to heat homes alongside other energy sources. The main problem is that solar cells are highly inefficient and can only have an efficiency rating in the teens of percentages.

With wind power we use windmills to catch the power of the wind so we can turn a turbine to produce energy. People think this is a good idea but objection comes from people who live out in the areas that windmill farms are not pleasant to look at. These last two forms of energy have not produced the kind of energy needed for the demands of the American people.

-Matt Fischofer

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Entry filed under: Environmental Issues, News Feature. Tags: , , , , , , .

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