, Research Paper
The Future Looks Bright for Japan
Over the past 40 years nuclear energy has gone from being the energy source of the future to the energy source that everyone fears. The world has faced 20 plus nuclear accidents since testing began in the 1950 s (www.hempwine.com). Three of the four most disastrous nuclear accidents have occurred in the past twenty years. Theoretically, nuclear fission(1) is an excellent means to generate electricity; however, fission s history of accidents has shown it to be too risky to the environment. Countries are beginning to turn away from nuclear energy and rely more on alternative renewable energy sources and new sources of fossil fuels.
THREE MILE ISLAND
In 1979 there was a nuclear accident near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant. No one was killed, radiation did not escape the plant, however, the reactor suffered a partial meltdown of the fuel rods, creating fears of a China Syndrome (2) disaster. This fear was exacerbated by the movie “China Syndrome” that was coincidentally making the theater circuits.
Leaking water severely damaged the nuclear fuel core in a reactor, which caused radioactive gas to be released in the Three Mile Island Nuclear power plant. Over 30,000 residents resided within five miles of the Three Mile Island. Fortunately all radiation was contained within the nuclear power plant and there were no environmental or health effects caused by the escape of hydrogen gas.
The1986 accident in the Ukraine at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant opened everyone s eyes to the extreme dangers and potentially catastrophic consequences of nuclear accidents. Years of destruction and suffering occurred from the nuclear fallout at Chernobyl. It is the worst nuclear accident the world has ever experienced. People and governments around the world are concerned that another serious accident is only a matter of time. At any moment another nuclear power plant could kill thousands.
Chernobyl was a result of a reactor design that was not properly operated. The nuclear release occurred while shutting off the power for turbine testing. The reactors were known to be unstable at low levels of power. Two explosions caused the graphite moderator to catch fire, burning for 9 days and releasing all the nuclear power plant s Xenon, half the iodine and cesium and 3-5% of all remaining radioactive material. The radioactive dust particle was carried by wind throughout bordering Ukrainian countries. Results were extensive. 31 people died, 185,000 people received more than 20 mSv(3) of radiation between 1986-89. Over 700 cases of thyroid cancer have been reported and there have been huge environmental effects among wildlife and plants. Chernobyl has 3 out 4 reactors still operating.
Just recently, Japan, the fourth largest energy-demanding country in the world, experienced a nuclear accident at a fuel reprocessing plant(4) in Tokai Mura. It is only one of the fuel reprocessing plants for the 12 nuclear power plants in Japan. On September 30, 1999, fission products were released at a small fuel reprocessing power plant in Tokai Mura, Japan. Incredibly, residential housing was located less than 200 meters adjacent to the fuel reprocessing plant! The plant was known to be unsafe long before the accident. There was 16,000 times the normal amount of radiation released into the environment. Sixty-nine workers, three firemen, and seven area residents received elevated doses of radiation. Three men were hospitalized for an excess dose of radiation. It is estimated that the hospitalized patients received up to 20,000 mSv (milliSieverts)(3). As much as 100 mSv of radiation was released as far as 100 m away from the reprocessing power plant. High gamma readings around the fuel reprocessing plant fell to zero 20 hours after the original release. Strontium, iodine, cesium, sodium, xenon and krypton are radioisotopes that were released up to 3 km away from the plant. There are seven intensity levels given to nuclear accidents. The release at Tokai, although a rather small facility, was rated a 4, placing it as one of the sixth worst nuclear accidents. Chernobyl is the only 7 in history and Three Mile Island was a 5 (www.uic.com). It is especially disquieting that Chernobyl and Three Mile Island were caused by human error.
A RESOLUTION FOR JAPAN
As a result of this accident, Japan is now looking for alternative energy source. An energy source that can allow them to wipe out nuclear power and replace it with a more safe energy source. Japan doesn t want to take the risk of facing another nuclear accident, big or small.
Japan uses a lot of electrical power. Statistics from1993 show that Japan demanded 839.8 billion-kilowatt hours of electricity per year. 60% of that electricity came from fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas), that were all imported. Nuclear power plants produced 28% of the electricity. 11% of Japan s electricity was produced with hydroelectric energy and 1% by other forms of energy. Nuclear fission is the cheapest and cleanest form of energy to generate electricity. When something goes wrong with nuclear fission there are dramatic results.
Japan has six practical options to consider using if they want to reduce or replace nuclear power. The fossil fuels, oil and coal have many drawbacks. They have a high fatality rate and are harmful to the environment. When burned, coal releases carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide is released into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide contributes to the green house effect . Sulfur dioxide and Nitrogen oxide are responsible for acid rain. Acid rain causes major damage to the environment. The mining also leaves the land inhabitable for plant and animal life. Oil has similar effects on the environment. The same gases are given off with the same effects. When oil is shipped across the oceans oil spills can occur. Wildlife gets caught in the oil and is unable to live. It is also has a limited supply. Both energy sources will run out as soon as their deposits are depleted. If all the oil reserves have been located, we have very little oil left. Coal is expected to last us a few hundred years. This sounds like a long period of time, but how would we exist without it when we do run out, or will we exist with it for that length of time? Natural gas is the counter answer for oil. It is more environmentally safe, and easy to come by for the next sixty years. Natural gas, which is methane combined with ethane, is found where oil and coal are mined. Methane gives off carbon dioxide, which contributes to the green house effect, this causes a long-term issue. Methane on its own can be found all over the world in large amounts. It comes from other forms of energy and the majority is found in the depths of the oceans and from biomass (Garbage, and plant life). Biomass is one of four forms of renewable energies. Biomass gives of methane when burned, which gives off carbon dioxide, but it is the same carbon dioxide that was originally absorbed by the plant life. Biomass doesn t give off any new contribution to the green house effect . This form of renewable energy is still experimental. It is supported by many, including President Bill Clinton, but it still needs refining, persuasion, and is finacially returning. The other sources of renewable energies are; wind, geothermal and solar. Wind requires a constant 22-km/hr wind to produce enough energy to be particle. It is very difficult to store and has about a 50% efficiency rate. Wind is not reliable enough to replace what nuclear power is currently doing in Japan. Geothermal is fairly expensive and not very efficient. It requires magma from below the earth s crust. This sounds to be a very good option for Japan. Japan is made up of several volcanic islands. Magma is available everywhere, and it is ready to erupt. However there are too many live volcanoes in Japan for geothermal energy to work. The other form of renewable energy is solar. Patrick Summers, policy analyst with the U.S. Department of Renewable Energy said during an interview with me on December 9, 1999, The technology is basically there, the next issue is cost, and then you have to look at the resource. For Japan renewable energies beyond solar may not be too practical. So is solar power the answer for Japan?
Yes, there is an unlimited amount of sunlight to create power and good ways to successfully convert it to electricity. Sunlight is made up of photons. When photons hit a solar cell they are transformed into heat energy, or produce electrons to create electrical energy. Each minute of sunlight creates enough energy to meet the global power needs of the entire world for a year. Now someone needs to figure out a way to use this energy efficiently. Japan is a technologically advanced country that supports alternative energy research. They spend more money and time on alternative energy research than any other country. In fact, the country funds $4 billion per year on their research towards alternative energies. Any form of domestic energy that can be created for them could be cheaper than importing fossil fuels. Japan is the second largest consumer of oil and petroleum. Coal, accounts for 56.9% of their energy source, oil, accounts for 14.3% of their energy source and natural gas is 11.1 % of their energy source. The most effective ways to turn solar energy into electricity are passive solar heated of small building or houses through a photovoltaic (PV) systems. A solar trough is a way to collect sun light for solar power. A solar trough creates energy when sunlight strikes a curved mirror. The mirror magnifies the sunlight. That intense reflection of sunlight is focused onto a metal pipe tower filled with water. The water is quickly turned to steam and propels a steam engine that creates power for a generator. This method works best with sunny days. Yet sunny day are not necessary. There are also options of building intergraded PV where solar power is supplied by solar panels on the side of a house or roof of a building to create a solar generator. This can be used for heat or a main electrical energy source. Power Company and the government do not have control of Integrated PV solar panels. Today solar energy can be stored in photovoltaic cells. Photovoltaics have been used for many years on satellites, remote telecommunications, cathodic protection, and signaling systems. Today the sun is also capable of powering cars and calculators all. With the price of the technology coming down and with the price of conventional fuels with environmental effects rising, PhotoVoltaics are entering a new era for the world. PV cells work like batteries, storing the solar energy for a length of time. They are only 10 to 15% efficient, all they need is money because they have an endless supply of the sun.
Solar energy can be used in two ways: A solar thermal system convert solar energy into heat (a solar trough is an example of this), and a solar electric system converts the solar energy immediately into electricity. This is done when sunlight strikes the panels, causing electron movement between different types of materials within them producing electricity. On average, each kW of installed PV capacity can generate 150 kWh of electricity each month. Technology needs to create a more efficient way to collect solar power to make solar power more effective. This is what Japan is doing; they are spending more money on alternative energy studies than any other country. Hence, where there is a will, there is a way. Yasuo Kishi, now Managing Director of Sanyo Solar Industries and inventor of the solar powered calculator, envisions an explosion in solar power over the next ten years as countries the world over battle rising greenhouse gas emissions in the 21st century (www.eusa.ed.ac.uk).
Nuclear energy is a risk that people are not willing to take. Three Mile Island was contained, Chernobyl killed thousands and Tokia but many lives in danger. The environment has been critically effected by the use of coal, oil, natural gas, methane, and biomass, but they are all fairly inexpensive. The use of geothermal is too dangerous for Japan. Wind is not very practical and it is very expensive. Solar energy is the least polluting of all known energy sources. It is expensive, but there is a lot of research and support for solar power. Today we are just beginning to touch its potential. It could very well become the energy source of the future.
(1) Nuclear fusion is also a potential source of unlimited electrical power, but controlled nuclear fusion has remained an elusive target for high-energy physicists.
(2) The term China Syndrome describes a hypothetical nuclear accident in which uncontrolled fission causes the fuel rods to become so hot that they and the containment vessel around them, and the earth below melts, with the entire molten mass figuratively sinking through the planet. That, of course, would not occur literally; however, such an accident would be a global disaster of the first magnitude.
(3) The sievert is a semi-empirical measure of the biological destructiveness of various forms of ionizing radiation, whose definition is rather involved and beyond the scope of this paper. The Encyclopedia Britannica defines the sievert as:
The unit of radiation dose equivalent in the International System of Units. The sievert (Sv) has been recommended by the International Commission on Radiation Units and Measurements (ICRU) as a substitute for the rem, the long-standing special unit of biologic dose of ionizing radiation. Like the rem, the sievert takes into account the relative biologic effectiveness (RBE) of ionizing radiation, since each form of such radiation–e.g., X rays, gamma rays, neutrons–has a slightly different effect on living tissue. Accordingly, one sievert is generally defined as the amount of radiation roughly equivalent in biologic effectiveness to one gray (or 100 rads) of gamma radiation. The sievert is inconveniently large for various applications, and so the millisievert (mSv), which equals 1/1000 sievert, is frequently used instead. One millisievert corresponds to 10 ergs of energy of gamma radiation transferred to one gram of living tissue.
(4) The reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel rods is an indispensable part of any nuclear reactor, and so must be considered as an integral unavoidable component of the reactor.