October 31, 2020

Set the record straight double feature


This archived article was written by: Nathaniel Woodward

“It was a masterful and incommunicable wisdom of eternity laughing at the futility of life and the effort of life… But there was life.”- Jack London. Every second the existence of life seems to be in contrast to the will of the universe, constantly life defends itself from peril. Life went on with this struggle, until a Herculean effort on the part of life during the 1940’s in Oak Ridge Tenn. Ironically this effort was to destroy other life in such a way as to prevent the loss of more life.
As life conquered the atom, its building block, a new age dawned, terrible and wondrous all at once. The events at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 demonstrated man’s unintelligible capacity to take the divine sacred power of science and turn it against itself. So, understandably, as those who looked to turn this wretched atrocity into something beautiful the public looks on in passionate ignorance.
Today’s standard nuclear powered facility relies on cool-water reactors run by uranium-rod technology, an obviously outdated and potential hazardous process which creates unsettling amounts of waste products. These waste products are a difficult problem and debate rages far and wide on what to do about them. One extreme seeks to ban nuclear energy all together, while another doesn’t believe the environmental implications of transporting radioactive waste amounts to much danger. In the following paragraphs, I hope to set the record straight on both ends.
The answer, I believe, does not rest in deciding whether to continue nuclear programs or in finding suitable locations to store its dangerous progeny, but in updating the technology used in producing nuclear power altogether. The typical uranium rod will last well under a decade before its contents are spent and it becomes unusable, but after the events of Oak Ridge and the Manhattan Project, a new method was tested, proven highly successful, then oddly abandoned. The advancement known as Uranium Salt Reactions provided decades of use for a single cycle, greatly cutting down on waste. Today some small labs are beginning to produced nuclear reactions for energy using salt reactors with exhilarating results.
Another issue lies in the tragedies at Chernobyl, Ukraine, and Fukushima, Japan, where the nuclear reaction was left unchecked resulting in a “meltdown”, releasing huge amounts of toxic radiation into the surrounding ecosystems. As scary as they were, it was due to lack of oversight and common sense in construction that led to these cataclysms, while salt reactors have built in fail-safes which can prevent such “meltdowns” from occurring. In fact, the worst disaster related to nuclear power production in the United States released the equivalent of one chest X-ray into its surroundings, far less than could ever do any harm.
Our cult of the imagination strives to unite the warring ideals on both sides of the issue by presenting evidence of the reality of our situation. We are burning through fossil fuels at an irresponsible rate, all the while destroying the climate of our planet. If we could provide a sustainable, reliable and profitable way to produce the electricity we need all the while producing desirable careers for our energy sector, we may in the end, triumph over the futility existence and truly live.

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