Term Paper: Earthquake in Japan, Nuclear Power and Fusion

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¶ … earthquake in Japan, nuclear power and fusion have become much more controversial in terms of providing the world with power than the case have been in the past. While many still contend that this form of power and energy is the safest, cleanest, and most abundant that an increasingly needy world could hope for, others warn that the path towards nuclear power and fusion is a dangerous, murky one, filled with difficult moral and ethical issues. Today, many critics have begun to examine the issue with a much more critical eye than before, and not without good reason. Indeed, it does seem that there is reason for concern. Nuclear fusion is not only dangerous. It also seems that the government and proponents of this form of power are treading some murky ethical grounds by failing to be entirely honest with the public regarding its potential dangers.

Providing the world with energy from fusion is one of the listed Grand Challenges of it engineering. However, doing so without the necessary ethical considerations is irresponsible. Before it engineers meet this Grand Challenge, it is therefore necessary to familiarize themselves with the various ethical issues behind this form of power.

Today, as mentioned, many engineers view fusion as the solution to all the energy problems that society may face. And indeed, the abundant sources of elements required to provide such energy seems to be a dream come true. Sea water, for example contains all the hydrogen nuclei a scientist can dream of to provide this energy source. An ordinary power station of 600 MW would need a daily input of a mere 15 tonnes of ordinary water, for example, to provide its daily quota of power to the world. Furthermore, the potential for environmental problems from providing this power source appears minimal. The temptation to regard this as a near perfect form of power to the world is therefore great. However, many warn that it is not this simple, and that engineers should tread carefully.

One potential problem is created by the very high temperatures required for the fusion process. Indeed, the temperature required is as high as 50,000,000 degrees Celsius. Pressures also need to be sustained for long periods. There is, as yet, no existing material to withstand the extreme conditions that the process would create. This in itself should serve as a warning sign that the process may not be as safe as its proponents claim. One breakdown of materials, even should it be successfully created, could result in a highly toxic environment that would remain that way for tens, or even hundreds, of years.

Another potential challenge is that the energy required for nuclear plants will have to be laboriously created. This means that a large amount of energy will be required to create this apparently limitless source of energy. Most of this energy will still be required from fossil fuel… [END OF PREVIEW]

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