Ever wonder what makes the lights in your house turn on? What powers your computer or charges your cell phone at night? We all know its called electricity but do you know where it comes from? Well some percent of the electricity comes from nuclear power. When you split an atom enormous amounts of heat are released. Nuclear power is the splitting of atoms and using the heat provided to boil water to a torrent of steam. This steam is then used to turn a turbine (Giant magnet) which produces electricity. At the end of the process you are left with electricity, steam that turned back into water, and nuclear waste. Nuclear power is cleaner for the environment than the burning of fossil fuels but you do wind up with a radioactive waste at the end of the cycle.
Like everything, Nuclear power has its advantages and disadvantages. The advantages are that some of its waste products are less damaging to the ecosystem than that of fossil fuels. It is a big contender for the future leading power of the world and it creates jobs and investment opportunities. The disadvantages are the radioactive waste produced. What do you do with this decaying material? You can't just through it away or into a lake and hope nothing happens. Another disadvantage is that nuclear power plants provide many security issues. Using technology from these plants, states and even people with basic knowledge, can create nuclear weapons. This provides a real danger to the regular every day citizen. Another security issue is that nuclear power plants require constant maintenance and supervision. There have been many imprints in history of nuclear meltdowns, such as Chernobyl, that resulted in cataclysms.
A viable alternative to Nuclear Power is solar power. Solar power is harnessing the power of the sun using Photovoltaic Cells to make electricity. These cells are thin, fragile, and some what effective. I have 14 3x6 inch solar cells that each produces .5 volts. That's 7 volts in total which is the equivalent of 5 AA batteries. These cells cost me about 20 US dollars online. In the middle of the Nevada dessert, the US navy has a field of Solar Panels that produce electricity. These Panels can be attached to motors in order for them to follow the sun and increase their effectiveness. Think of how much electricity will be produced if each of these gets 12 hours of sunlight a day.
There are some advantages and disadvantages to solar power. Some of the disadvantages are that these solar cells are extremely fragile and thin. Unless coupled with many others, solar cells won't produce enough electricity. Another serious and harmful disadvantage is that if one cell gets damaged or has a stain on it, it WILL limit the output of the rest of the cells. So if you have 72 3x6 cells, which produce about 60 watts, and one is damaged or stained then you significantly cut the output of the WHOLE panel because of one tiny cell. Some advantages are that they produce electricity for 12 hours just by being in the sun. Completely free energy with often little or no maintenance. They are silent and you can be in the middle of a dessert and still produce electricity. Solar Panels allow people to become less dependant on the use fossil fuels. An advantages and disadvantage is the cost. They are expensive at first, but since it is free electricity, they pay for themselves over time. One of the best advantages is that it is an autonomous system and requires virtually no user intervention.
Another viable alternative is wind power. When wind blows strong enough it spins a propeller and this intern spins a generator. The generator then produces electricity. This requires strong winds and is not effective in every area of the world, but can you imagine a wind turbine spinning during a hurricane? Obviously the speed would be limited as to not overload the generator, but it would produce tremendous amounts of electricity.
Some of the advantages of wind power are that some are silent, can be used in most places, and is FREE. Some disadvantages are that if the wind is too strong they can be damaged, some produce noise, can be struck by lightning, birds can fly into them and damage them. Some people also dislike the design and how wind turbines look.
Another source of electricity is bio diesel. This is much like diesel fuel, except with less of the emissions and it can be made from foods. Bio diesel can come from corn, sugar, and even algae. The bio diesel that comes from algae is called Algal oil and the by-product is algae powder, which can be ingested by humans and is very health.
Cars already use a blend of alcohol and gasoline called E85. This is 85 parts gas and 15 parts ethanol. Ethanol is alcohol and can be made out of corn, sugar, and yeast. Some people may refer to homemade ethanol as moonshine, and can even be ingested is distilled properly. Some cars have been modified to run on 100% ethanol. Ethanol is cleaner than gasoline but you do get a few less miles to the gallon than gasoline. Ethanol can be produced at home but does have the disadvantages of being flammable and you risk explosions.
Hydrogen is one of the newer and most popular alternative fuel choices. The process in getting hydrogen is called electrolysis. Electrolysis is basically passing electricity through water that has Sodium Chloride (salt), Sodium Bicarbonate (Baking Soda), or any other product that will make the water conductive, added to it. Through the negative electric lead you get Oxygen and through the positive lead you get Hydrogen. This gas is very flammable and burns slower than gasoline. This causes an increase in miles per gallon. Hydrogen Fuel Cells are still being tested but people have built homemade ones and are using them in their cars. One of the draw backs of hydrogen is that it isn't as efficient as people would like it to be. It is only about 30-50% efficient; meaning that out of all the energy put into the process; only 30-50% of the energy comes back as hydrogen. Some of the advantages of this product are that it is silent, can be made at home, can be used to weld metals, can be powered by solar panels for uses such as welding, and the by product is WATER. That's right! You get hydrogen from water, and when you burn the hydrogen it turns back into water. Link to my HHO Generator article.
Hydro power is using power to spin a turbine and produce electricity. People used this long ago to spin water wheels which would then do some sort of work. Hydro power is very useful and is one of the best ways to produce energy. Dams have spill ways that allow water in. This water is in the form of a torrent and then pushes past the turbine and creates electricity. The power of water is incredible and very dangerous. One of the disadvantages is that this can damage wildlife environments. By changing the amount of water you can hurt the fish and other animals that rely on the water.
My opponents might argue that we should remain with Nuclear power and not search for alternative energy sources. By using alternative fuels we can reduce fuel uses, reduce dependency on foreign oil, reduce fuel emissions which would reduce greenhouse gases, and by using alternative fuels we would also reduce costs of everyday life. Nuclear power gives off radiation, can cause mutations, and produces wastes which lasts decades. Nuclear power is also extremely dangerous and this was proven in Chernobyl, where a nuclear power plant had a meltdown and there was a minor nuclear explosion. This land is still uninhabitable today because of radiation and the explosion occurred in 1986, two decades ago. We can't stop progress because people have gotten used to one way of life.
There are many forms of alternative fuels that can produce electricity and help power man kind. Nuclear power is not the only thing we need to rely on. We need to experiment and come up with viable and more efficient ways to produce electricity. Wind, solar, and hydro power are all "free" energy just waiting to be used. They offer little repercussions and can be used in a variety of ways. Ethanol and hydrogen can be used as sources of heat or to help power your car and reduce emissions. These alternatives just need some "fine tuning" but with some work they can revolutionize the way we live our daily lives.