The ability to communicate around the globe through the use of radio signals was an unprecedented technological development, and the transfer of information has become relatively limitless.
Our predecessors yearned for a time containing unimaginable technology through unlimited levels of energy. Shows and movies like “The Jetsons,” “Star Trek” and Back to the Future all fantasized about a time where energy was cheap, clean and limitless.
Fifty years later, we still — for the most part — utilize the same generic form of creating energy.
With fossil fuels providing 80% of the world’s energy, it is fairly effective in meeting current energy demands. However, the future dictates we move away from this archaic method and toward something more foolproof.
One that not only has a much higher production cap, but that is more efficient, reliable and near limitless in capacity. Thus, another commonly forgotten solution, and relatively old technology, is needed: nuclear power.
We have, ironically, been at the technological level where we can phase out fossil fuels and replace them with something more efficient.
That’s not to say that the use of fossil fuels is an entirely inefficient practice, nor am I claiming that the commonly referred to renewable “alternatives” are better.
Solar power has negative effects on the environment just like fossil fuels.
Not only are precious metals, like silver and copper, used to produce the panels, but they can leak waste as they age. Cadmium, an extremely toxic chemical element, has the strong potential to leach from broken or old solar panels during their limited lifetime of 25 to 30 years.
Furthermore, the process of refining quartz needed to produce solar panels includes the use of aluminum, copper and other materials. To produce efficient solar panels, vast quantities of up-front energy is needed.
Traditional fossil fuels, on the other hand, are extracted, processed and burned at massive scales, typically in a single location. That makes them much cheaper and much more convenient to produce.
Simply, we currently don't have the energy production from renewable sources needed to replace fossil fuels.
Nuclear power plants, in concept, are extremely simple machines. Their only job is to heat water, which then boils, to produce steam. This steam physically turns generators to produce electricity. It is clean, efficient and reliable, contrary to popular belief.
The use of nuclear fission as a source of energy is most notably argued because of its extreme efficiency. A 6-gram pellet of nuclear fuel produces equivalent energy to that of a ton of coal, 120 gallons of oil or 17,000 cubic feet of natural gas.
To reiterate, it is multiple times more efficient than any other form of energy.
Nuclear power plants are also, as previously stated, much more reliable than other forms of energy, working at full capacity 92% of the time. For comparison, coal plants are at 54%, natural gas plants at 55%, wind generators at 37% and solar plants at 27%.
While technological development is desperately needed to increase the efficiency of other forms of energy, the only development required for nuclear power is related to the disposal of waste and decreasing the chances of an accident.
The downside of those accidents is they can emit dangerous levels of radioactive material. With the average age of a U.S. nuclear plant at 39 years, it's no surprise that accidents can and do occur.
A possible solution would be relatively simple: constant maintenance and remote locating of these plants. Regarding their normal waste, we have yet to develop an efficient solution for disposal or repurposing.
Radioactivity of nuclear waste decreases to 1/1000th of its original radioactivity within 40 years. Ninety-seven percent of the initially produced waste is categorized as low or intermediate level in terms of radioactivity.
Most of the waste is transported and buried within the Earth, but it has adverse effects on the environment.
One of the current promising solutions that I subscribe to is the initial reuse of nuclear waste followed by the use of transmutation to convert the waste to much less harmful and radioactive levels.
It would then be placed into deep geological tombs, most likely in a desert, where then the dramatic increase in radioactive decay would cause the material to eventually reincorporate with the surrounding crust.
By utilizing transmutation, radioactive elements can be modified into an element with a much lower half life, thus decreasing the time of radioactivity. We double up use of the fuel, then transmute and finally store it to be recycled within the planet.
Though these technologies are still unproven, the science is not far off. Rather than delegating our resources to study methods with diminishing returns, we can focus on developing nuclear technology.
Rather than utilizing dozens of different techniques to create energy, through renewable or nonrenewable methods, we can focus our efforts to create new, safe and efficient nuclear power plants.
In today’s world of high energy demands, the old methods are proving lackluster. Working in conjunction with other sources of energy, until sufficient plants are created, demands can be met and surplus can be present.
Perhaps, as our predecessors dreamt, we can utilize this untapped potential to achieve free and limitless levels of clean energy. With this technology, we can then pave the way for humanity’s next chapter, the space age.