In "Nuclear power: The meltdown of our imaginations," the importance of continued development in other forms of energy outside of shale, such as nuclear energy, was discussed. Nuclear power has tremendous energy potential and a limited effect on the environment, but also carries significant and real safety concerns. However, recent developments could mean an end to both greenhouse gas emissions and the threat of radioactive meltdowns of nuclear power plants.
Current nuclear reactors use nuclear fission technology. Fission reactors break apart the nuclei of atoms to create energy. Not only do we use fission in today’s nuclear reactors, but also in today’s nuclear bombs. Nuclear fusion does just the opposite, where it combines the nuclei of atoms together to create a source of energy. We are most familiar with nuclear fusion because of our sun, which uses nuclear fusion to produce its gleaming glow and provide light for our everyday use.
Scientists claim that nuclear fusion is much safer than nuclear fission, both environmentally and in terms of radioactivity. But it has failed to take the platform as the premiere nuclear reactor technology because it is cost ineffective. Projected prototypes that would be capable of producing the same amount of energy as coal-fired plants, and do so at the same cost effectiveness, have used more energy than they produce – until now.
First, engineers from the University of Washington claim they have created a nuclear fusion model that when implemented on a large scale may compete with coal-fired plants in productivity and cost. In the case of these engineers, what started out as a class project has instead turned into a potential medicine for the world’s energy ills.
Second, Russia is developing a hybrid nuclear reactor that uses both nuclear fusion technology and nuclear fission technology. The design uses nuclear fusion technology to create the neutrons needed to begin the nuclear fission process. This design will benefit the world’s use of nuclear energy by being safer and more cost effective than purely nuclear fission reactors.
And last, Lockheed Martin Corp., one of the largest defense contractors in the country, claims to have made a “technological breakthrough” in developing a nuclear fusion reactor that is small enough to fit on the back of a truck and still power a United States Naval warship. Although facing much criticism over this claim, Lockheed Martin’s willingness to publicly disclose its research of nuclear fusion is at least encouraging in the hopes that we may soon have a viable design for nuclear fusion technology.
So, while the shale revolution continues to grab headlines, it is not the only exciting energy option. And while shale will eventually run out, even if one hundred years down the road, nuclear power has the capability of literally lasting forever.