Growing research indicates that nuclear power has a wide variety of benefits and uses. It is also a safe, clean and sustainable source of energy.
“What we have to do is let people know, first of all, that we can control radiation, and the other side is that nuclear power is something that we can have for the next 1,000 years,” said James Tulenko, Professor Emeritus of Nuclear Engineering at the University of Florida.
The fission of atoms used to create nuclear power produces 50 million times more energy than the burning of one coal atom.
Christopher Gruelich, a nuclear engineering senior and research assistant at the University of Florida, provided this context, “One Coke can of uranium produces about the same energy as coal that weighs as much as the Saturn V rocket.”
The Saturn V rocket weighed roughly 6 million pounds.
“The coal will run out. The oil will run out. The gas will run out, but we will have uranium,” Tulenko said.
Uranium is a plentiful material in the ground, which releases radiation that enters our environment and homes every day.
“We are always surrounded by radiation. A little radiation seems to have a beneficial effect on people,” Tulenko said.
Nuclear power is currently responsible for 20 percent of the energy produced in America, according to Christopher Gruelich.
“Nuclear power has a large role to play in medicine. An active part of the nuclear program and biomed program [at UF] is what we call medical physics,”Tulenko said.
Medical physics is the application of radiation to diagnose and treat diseases. The most common examples are the use of Computerized Tomography scans and radiation treatments for various cancers.
“I was most surprised by the lack of connection between radiation and cancer. There isn’t really any correlation between lower levels of exposure to radiation and cancer [development],” said Kyle Vaughn, a nuclear engineering student and research assistant.
A proton accelerator recently built in Jacksonville, Fla., has granted success to doctors treating and curing patients, particularly those with prostate cancer.
“Here at the University of Florida, we use radiation very strongly in our IFAS[Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences] to understand how plants pick up particular elements, where they go, and what they do,” Tulenko said.
According to Tulenko, there are two types of nuclear energy: fission and fusion.
“Fusion will give us energy beyond 1,000 years; basically give us energy forever. The sun is a fusion device,” he said.
Nuclear energy is said to be clean due to the small amount of waste produced, which is contained and decays away over time.
“Because of the 50 million times factor [in comparison to coal burning], the amount of material we burn is very small. It doesn’t release bad gases,” he said.
“Either a plant is safe or it’s not safe. In this world of black and white with nuclear, we don’t deal with it’s only 80 percent safe or 90 percent safe. If it’s not safe, you shut it down,”Tulenko said.
Nuclear power plants use a series of 9,000-18,000 tubes filled with water to cool the reactor. Water that flows through the core can pick up radioactive material.
“If you leak one tube, you are leaking .0006 percent of the core water,” Tulenko said.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission guidelines require tubes to be plugged and removed from use after they show 40 percent wear.
“In fact, our analysis shows that you can have complete confidence that a tube has to be worn 70 percent before you have a chance of failure,”Tulenko said.
The NRC strongly enforces measures of caution to ensure the health and safety of those working with nuclear energy and those in the communities close to nuclear plants.
“I believe that nuclear is a safe and efficient way for use to produce energy and sustainable. That’s the important thing. It is sustainable,” Tulenko said.