August 11, 2022

Nuclear Energy Strives to make a Comeback

One of the world’s most famous scientists and figureheads knew that the solutions to our power issues would always come from mankind rather than resources. But it is one of the hardest tasks to change the human mind once a decision has been made, be it everything from politics to favorite colors. One of the biggest ongoing debates is the global power source of the future. 

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“The release of atomic power has changed everything except our way of thinking … the solution to this problem lies in the heart of mankind. If only I had known, I should have become a watchmaker.” – Albert Einstein.

   One of the world’s most famous scientists and figureheads knew that the solutions to our power issues would always come from mankind rather than resources. But it is one of the hardest tasks to change the human mind once a decision has been made, be it everything from politics to favorite colors. One of the biggest ongoing debates is the global power source of the future. 

     I was born in the heart of coal country where my father, his father, friends, sister, and nearly the entire county was economically driven by the coal industry. Hell, my high school and county are named Carbon after the primary element forming coal. 

    While I support coal to the fullest extent, I know that coal will never last. My grandkids, kids, and maybe even myself may see the end of coal mining in Utah. Utah Geological Survey experts estimate that remaining recoverable coal left  in the Book Cliffs, and Wasatch Plateau fields are nearly 2 billion tons. This will allow for 30-50 years of production before coal in Utah sees its end. 

     Utah is a state with its own ideas on new energy alternatives. The future of power does not lie on the Wasatch front, not in the capital, but in Green River in the middle of the desert. It’s the place to stop for gasoline, or maybe if you’re from Southeastern Utah, you go to Ray’s Tavern for a burger.

    Blue Castle Holdings (BCH) is an energy infrastructure development company based in Utah looking to install a nuclear power plant in the coming years. BCH’s site selection criteria include energy market access, available transmission capacity and new corridors, water resources availability, appropriate physical and geological site characteristics, supportive local and regional communities, and attractive overall site realization potential.

     What will nuclear energy mean for the interest groups involved? It has the highest energy capacity factor, which means nuclear plants produce the maximum power more than 93% of the time throughout the year. That is 1.5-2 times more than natural gas and coal, and 2.5-3.5 times more reliable than wind and solar. 

    However, the capital costs of installing the average 1,100 megawatt nuclear plant ranges from $6 billion – $9 billion,  significantly more expensive than coal and gas fueled plants, but produces cheaper power and is sustainable for far longer compared to the ongoing costs of alternative energy sources.  

      Just like any workforce industry, there are safety hazards, accidents, and injuries. There have been three  major reactor accidents in the history of civil nuclear power, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima Daiichi. Three Mile Island experienced a partial meltdown. Chernobyl involved an intense fire without provision for containment, and Fukushima Daiichi severely tested the containment, allowing some release of radioactivity. But overall, nuclear energy is safer for the workers than coal, natural gas, and installation of solar and wind energies. 

Farmers and ranchers: 

While those who choose to provide the United States with food and fiber make up less than 4% of the population, over 75% of the population in developing nations deal directly with food and fiber production. However with such a fast growing population, energy demand will continue to grow and farmers and ranchers are worried about possible effects on stock, rangelands, water quality and much more. It is important to remember that radiation exposure is not new to earth nor to man as we experience and grow in radiation from cosmic waves for millennia. 

Low level radiation effects on small animals in excess of 100 rads per year were found to show small increases in chromosome aberrations, meaning a change in the structure or number of chromosomes. However, no adverse effects on the sperm of male mice were found, nor on their offspring’s health. The study of male mice was continued for 44 generations of mice at the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory. No  negative health issues were discovered. 

Water Quality: 

Water is an essential part of all lives, and the life of nuclear power plants is no different. Water is essential in cooling down the heat generating cores. The drawbacks of using water include contamination with radionuclides, which are unstable atoms with excess energy which must then be heavily filtered to remove particles. For large amounts of water this process to release in small amounts can take several years, adding to a stockpile of contaminated water to be released. While nobody knows the exact effects it will have on marine or human life, The Conservation Journal held independent research on returned waste water on marine life and the damaging effects on DNA from extended exposure. It is important to note the amount of radionuclides and nuclear accidents will follow in human safety and biological assessments will take place following the original event. 

While it may be scary, the future of energy can be bright, but it will take the help of everybody. The time we have left in fossil fuel extraction will aid scientists to further develop nuclear energy, the safety of ecosystems, animals, and humans, as well as the return process and effects of many stakeholders including, but not limited to those listed above.

Others with a stake include wildlife, homeowners, fisheries, air quality, and more. Further research and education to the general public can brighten the possibilities of clean, cheap, and large amounts of energy for the entire world. Blue Castle developments will be a revolutionary project for Southeastern Utah that can move us from a leading source of coal to another energy sector as time continues. 

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