Energy, Society, and Environment: Technology for a Sustainable Future

By David Elliott | Go to book overview

5

The nuclear alternative
• Nuclear fission
• Nuclear waste
• Fast breeder reactors
• Nuclear fusion
• A nuclear future?

Nuclear power provides nearly 6 per cent of the world’s primary energy at present. Given that its use does not generate carbon dioxide, this chapter asks whether nuclear power can be relied on to play an increasing role in combating global warming, or whether, as many environmentalists would prefer, it should be phased out. We also take a look at nuclear fusion, which some people see as a possible energy option for the longer term.


Nuclear power

The basis of the human use of nuclear energy is the fact that the nuclei of the atoms of some naturally radioactive materials found in the earth, most notably one of the isotopes of uranium, can be induced to split up or undergo nuclear fission. In doing so large amounts of heat are produced, along with nuclear radiation and a range of radioactive fragments from the fission process. The heat can be used to boil water to raise steam, as in a conventional fossil fuel fired power plant. If the fission or splitting up process can be made to happen very rapidly then an explosion occurs—the atomic bomb. In conventional nuclear reactors the physics of the design is such that this cannot happen, but in theory this is an outside chance in some of the more advanced reactors like the fast breeder.

There is a range of technologies for turning nuclear heat into electricity. In the USA the emphasis has been on water cooled reactors—in part

-65-

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Energy, Society, and Environment: Technology for a Sustainable Future
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Series Editors' Preface ix
  • Figures xii
  • Tables xiii
  • Boxes xiv
  • Author's Preface xv
  • Study Notes xix
  • Acknowledgements xxiv
  • Abbreviations xxvi
  • Part 1 - Environmental Problems 1
  • 1 - Technology and Society 3
  • 2 - Energy and Environment 17
  • 3 - Sustainable Technology 35
  • Part 2 - Sustainable Technology 47
  • 4 - Greening Technology 49
  • 5 - The Nuclear Alternative 65
  • 6 - Renewable Energy 85
  • 7 - Renewables Worldwide 103
  • 8 - Sustainable Energy Strategy 116
  • Part 3 - Problems of Implementation 129
  • 9 - Getting Started: Institutional Obstacles 131
  • 10 - Keeping Going: Deployment Problems 141
  • 11 - Case Study: Public Reactions to Uk Wind Farms 154
  • 12 - Public Acceptance: the Need for Negotiation 167
  • Part 4 - Sustainable Society 177
  • 13 - Sustainable Development 179
  • 14 - The Global Perspective 194
  • 15 - The Sustainable Future 205
  • Further Reading 218
  • 16 - Conclusions: the Way Ahead? 219
  • Glossary 232
  • Appendix I 234
  • Appendix II 236
  • Appendix III 238
  • References 239
  • Index 247
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