The Future of Nuclear Energy

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In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal written by Richard K. Lester who is the head of the department of nuclear science and engineering at MIT he makes a strong argument that despite the Fukushima incident nuclear technology has promise and will become a viable and significant benefit to energy needs in the future.

Much of the issues and fears around nuclear power and its safety concerns center around plants that are three decades old or older and are not nearly as sophisticated as the type of designs that are being conceptualized and developed in the future.  Nuclear technology will advance to a point where plants will not require “pressure” and constant cooling to prevent meltdown as methods to draw nuclear energy will not require the heating/steam/hydrogen methods being used now to generate power.

Realistically I think he correctly realizes that eventually with the right fuel and extraction combinations a nuclear reactor may become a near infinite source of energy where the fuels used have such a long half-life that they don’t deplete for centuries and require no disposal of waste.  Nuclear still a vastly higher power output than any other form of alternative energy, and even if solar energy could increase to 20-40% efficiency wouldn’t match the energy producing capabilities of nuclear technology.

Still the technologies face criticism and concerns due to the severity of the current issues and fears caused by it.  Older nuclear plants do pose a risk as they age and new plants are prohibitively costly to develop without even including the necessary funding in research, models…etc.

Should we really shy away from a technology that if science and talented engineers studied could develop a way to make it truly more efficient and far less risky?  I have even read an article in Popular Science years ago about a reactor with the nuclear material inside graphene balls which operated at near room temperature.  Should the facility rupture, there wouldn’t be any radiation spill because each were sealed inside these spheres and they could be swapped out when they ran out of energy.

Where do you see our power coming from in 100 years?  Will we still be relying on coal/oil/gas as the primary sources of power in the year 2100?

-Justin Germino

Updated: April 9, 2011 — 9:37 am