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Charles Thornton
Ms. Caruso
UWRT 1103
October 6, 2015
Synthesis Paper
Today we live in a consumer world that is addicted to electricity and the
technology it provides. We have become increasingly reliant on these consumer
technologies to power modern day society. The technological increase along with
population increase has spiked the rate at which we consumer energy to an all time high
(World Energy Consumption Since 1820 in Charts). Present day energy needs are met
through numerous different methods of energy production. In 2014 the U.S. generated
66% of its energy needs through burning fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas (U.S.
Energy Information Administration - EIA - Independent Statistics and Analysis.). Burning
fossil fuels produces harmful greenhouse gases, which are the leading contributor to
climate change and the rising temperatures throughout the world today (Climate Change
Indicators in the United States.). Utilizing nuclear power could significantly lower these
increasing greenhouse gasses and carbon emissions. Depleting resources and high-energy
demands have the world looking towards the nuclear energy to help meet this demand.
This assessment will distinguish if nuclear power is justified and should continue to be
expanded as an energy resource.
It is important to assess climate change and the carbon footprint nuclear power
leaves compared to other hydrocarbons. Anytime something burns it is considered to be a
combustion reaction because the products of the reaction are carbon dioxide and

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dihydrogen monoxide (water). The burning of coal and natural gas release harmful
greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide and methane, into the atmosphere. Sarah Zielinski,
an award-winning science writer and editor explains in one of her articles, The burning
of natural gas produces nearly half the carbon dioxide per unit of energy compared to
coal (Zielinski). So why do we not burn more natural gas in effort to reduce carbon
emissions effecting climate change? Well, we actually have been. The EPA suggests that
around 2012 there was a drop in the burning of coal and an increase in the burning of
natural gas (Today in Energy). According to Zielinski, the recent boom in natural gas
production in the United States contributed to a 3.8% drop in carbon emissions since
2012. However, natural gas has a downside when it comes to fighting climate change.
Dr. Harlan Bengtson, a graduate of Iowa State University with B.S. and M.S. degrees and
a PhD in engineering explains in an article, Natural gas typically contains about 87 96% methane by volume, with most of the remainder being ethane (Bengtson).
Methane is a potent green house gas and is 30 times better at holding the atmospheres
heat than carbon dioxide (Zielinski). Thus natural gas has a slim advantage over other
fossil fuels in the fight against climate change.
One source explained nuclear power leaves a carbon footprint so low that less
than 1% of carbon dioxide emissions come from the actual operation of the power plant
(How Nuclear Energy Works - Conserve Energy Future). Here is why: If you have ever
taken chemistry or physics you should know that the law of conservation of mass states
matter can be converted from one form into another, but the total amount of mass remains
constant. Nearly all the mass of an atom is contained in the nucleus, which consists of
protons and neutrons. Nuclear energy, as the term states, is energy released from the

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nucleus of an atom. This is a direct result of an atoms mass being converted into energy.
Nuclear fission is the main process used to generate nuclear energy. When a large
element such as uranium -235 is hit by a slow moving neutron it becomes unstable
causing the atom to split in half releasing more neutrons, thus beginning a chain reaction.
When the nucleus breaks apart it releases extreme amounts of energy in the form of
thermal radiation (heat) (How Nuclear Energy Works Conserve Energy Future) In
other words, the self sustaining chain reaction produces enough heat to boil water and
drive the steam turbines leading to the generation of electricity. Unlike burning coal and
natural gas, there is no combustion in a fission reaction and the energy produced leaves a
carbon footprint next to nothing. In the 1970s-80s when France transitioned from
burning fossil fuels to nuclear power the fastest drop in greenhouse gas pollution for
electricity production occurred (Beillo). This evidence reported by David Beillo, a writer
for scientificamerica.com, further supports the suggestion that nuclear power is a global
warming solution.
With a direct carbon footprint so minimal, its important to question why nuclear
power does not make up a larger portion of our energy production. Despite being the one
of the cleanest energy technologies available today, nuclear energy certainly has its
disadvantages. One of the most concerning topics regarding nuclear energy is what to do
with the highly radioactive waste. The waste from a nuclear reactor, typically referred to
as spent fuel, is dangerously radioactive and remains so for thousands of years.
According to a group of nuclear engineers who run the website whatisnuclear.com,
When it first comes out of the reactor, spent fuel is so toxic that if you stood within a
few meters of it while it was unshielded, you would receive a lethal radioactive dose

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within a few seconds and would die of acute radiation sickness within a few days"(What
is Nuclear? / Nuclear Waste).
The disposal of the highly radioactive spent fuel and is a hot topic for debate and
often an argument against the use of nuclear power. The main objective in managing and
disposing of radioactive waste is to protect people and the environment. One of the
processes used to dispose of radioactive waste is to actually recycle it. This is a practice
mainly used in European countries. The recycling process separates the two elements
uranium and plutonium from the waste for re-use in a nuclear reactor. The second method
of disposing radioactive waste is a multiple barrier geological disposal plan. The multiple
barrier disposal plans isolate the radioactive materials from the biosphere for thousands
of years until their radioactive contents have decayed to a safe level (World Nuclear
A final question to consider is: In terms of volume, is the amount of radioactive
waste is relatively small when compared to wastes of fossil fuels? Nuclear engineer Dr.
Nick Touran has the answer to just how much nuclear waste we produce. If all the
electricity use of the USA was distributed evenly among its population, and all of it came
from nuclear power, then the amount of nuclear waste each person would generate per
year would be 39.5 grams. That's the weight of 7 U. S. quarters of waste, per year! If we
got all our electricity from coal and natural gas, expect to have over 10,000 kilograms of
carbon dioxide attributed to each person, not to mention other poisonous emissions
directly to the biosphere (Touran).
As consumers we must consider the cost of our energy to future generations.
Nuclear energy has the potential to do great good, but also do great harm, even in the

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hands of good people. Nuclear power is a great option in the effort to reduce our carbon
emissions. However, disposal and dangers from radiation should make it one of the many
sources we continue to rely on.

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Works Cited
"Advantages Of Nuclear Energy." ConserveEnergyFuture. N.p., 20 Jan. 2013. Web. 03
Oct. 2015.
Beillo, David. "How Nuclear Power Can Stop Global Warming." Scientific American
Global RSS. N.p., 12 Dec. 2013. Web. 02 Oct. 2015.
Bengtson, Harlan. "Methane Gas Facts, Properties, Uses, and Hazards." Bright Hub. Ed.
Lamar Stonecyphe. N.p., 19 Sept. 2010. Web. 03 Oct. 2015.
"Climate Change Indicators in the United States." Greenhouse Gases. N.p., n.d. Web. 03
Oct. 2015.
"How Nuclear Energy Works - Conserve Energy Future." ConserveEnergyFuture. N.p.,
20 Jan. 2013. Web. 03 Oct. 2015.
"Today in Energy." Energy Sources Have Changed throughout the History of the United
States. N.p., 3 July 2013. Web. 05 Oct. 2015.
Touran, Nick. "What Is Nuclear? / Nuclear Waste." What Is Nuclear? / Nuclear Waste.
N.p., 2008. Web. 04 Oct. 2015.
"U.S. Energy Information Administration - EIA - Independent Statistics and Analysis."
What Is U.S. Electricity Generation by Energy Source? N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Oct. 2015.
"What Is Nuclear? / Nuclear Waste." What Is Nuclear? / Nuclear Waste. N.p., n.d. Web.
04 Oct. 2015.
"World Energy Consumption Since 1820 in Charts." Our Finite World. N.p., 12 Mar.
2012. Web. 03 Oct. 2015.
"World Nuclear Association." Radioactive Waste Management. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Oct.
Zielinski, Sarah. "Natural Gas Really Is Better Than Coal." Smithsonian. N.p., 13 Feb.
2014. Web. 01 Oct. 2015.

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