What are the implications of finite mineral supplies?
Minerals are in limited supplies. The existence of humanity, both in the present times and in the future depends on the availability of minerals. Minerals such as copper, iron and aluminum are necessary nutrients for the growth of crops, and are used in making tilling and harvesting machines. The alarming rate of exploitation of these minerals poses a threat to the survival of humankind and other life forms. Other than threatening life, limited mineral resources lead to conflict between countries.
Most developed countries have exhausted their mineral reserves, unlike the less developed countries. Developed countries start encroaching on the reserves of less developed countries, while the latter try to protect these reserves. The result is conflict or even war between the two groups. The key to solving this is to harness energy from other sources like the wind, sun and hydroelectric power, which are readily available and do not face the threat of exhaustion.
What is your opinion regarding the use of nuclear power as a source of energy?
Nuclear power has its pros and cons, and should be used only where it is needed, such as in running heavy machinery. Its generation should be limited to few specific sites to reduce the risk of causing harm to man. Nuclear weapon development and testing should be designated to authorized organizations while the use of these weapons should be banned. Where relatively low power is required, other energy sources should be considered.
Describe the process involved in the nuclear reaction and justify your position, citing advantages and disadvantages of the use of nuclear power.
Nuclear power is commonly produced because of fusion of uranium. It can also be produced by plutonium, or fusion of hydrogen to helium (Alternative Energy Institute & Smith, 2005). Uranium consists of two isotopes namely U-235 and U-238. The former isotope undergoes fission while the latter does not. In nuclear fission, the nucleus of an atom divides into several parts, resulting into neutrons and photons. The exothermic reaction of fussing uranium, plutonium and other heavy elements results in production of electromagnetic radiation and kinetic energy. This energy is used to power nuclear weapons.
Nuclear power has the advantage of being environmentally friendly; it is the safest and cleanest way of producing electricity. Generation of nuclear power results in very low quantities of carbon dioxide unlike other sources of energy. Nuclear plants therefore do not accelerate global warming. In addition, uranium, the main component in nuclear power, is in more abundant supply compared to fossil fuels. Another advantage is that it is possible to produce a lot of energy from one nuclear plant. The other advantage is that it produces low-cost fuel (Alternative Energy Institute & Smith, 2005).
Nuclear power has its disadvantages too. It produces radioactive waste, which is dangerous to humans. There are high levels of risks involved while generating nuclear power. No plant can be completely risk free; the possibility of accidents is a threat to human life and the environment. Nuclear power generation plants and nuclear waste are favorite targets for terrorists, putting the whole world in danger. The same knowledge used in generating nuclear power for the benefit of man can be used to produce nuclear weapons to harm man (Chamley, 2003). Though uranium is in more abundant supply than fossil fuels, its reserves are also limited and may exist only for the next 30-60 years. Lastly, construction of nuclear power plants is a long-term expensive venture. In developed countries, it requires 20-30 years. Coupled with the expenses involved, this may never be a reality for developing countries.
If we continue to use fossil fuels at the rate we are currently using them, we will need to open areas like Alaska’s Artic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and additional sites in the Gulf of Mexico.
In 1968, oil reserves were discovered in Alaska, and a pipeline was developed for transporting the oil. Similarly, in 2006, 470 barrels of oil and natural gas was discovered in the Gulf of Mexico. Exhaustion of the current fossil fuel reserves will lead to the opening up of these areas as the main sources of fuel. Focus should be towards developing other sources of energy like solar power and leaving those reserves for the future generation. Fossil fuels take years and years to form and if not careful, the current generation will exploit energy reserves meant for the future.
Which of the alternative/ renewable energy sources do you think is the most viable for a country like the United States and India?
Being a developed country with a lot of capital, the United States can afford to invest in nuclear energy plants. In addition, because its demand for energy ranks top in the world, nuclear energy is the most suitable to meet this need as large quantities of energy can be generated from a single plant. Moreover, the US operates a lot of heavy machinery requiring high power energy that comes from nuclear energy. India, a third world nation, has one of the highest populations in the world. To supply energy, the best option would be solar energy. Supplying energy to homes for basic functions as lighting and cooking will be a huge leap towards development for the country.
Using the four scientific principles of sustainability, describe how Iceland’s pursuit of a renewable energy economy applies.
The first scientific principle of sustainability is reliance on solar energy. The sun provides energy for photosynthesis, and in turn, food for animals. The second principle is bio-diversity. The variety and complexity of organisms and the ecosystem contribute to adaptation to the environment. The third principle is population control. The competition among organisms for a limited resource base limits their population. Finally, the fourth principle is on nutrient cycling. Nature recycles the nutrients needed by plants and animals; no waste occurs (Miller & Spoolman, 2008). Iceland is on a quest to develop the generation of geothermal power. Using this energy does not jeopardize the existence and well-being of the environment, man, plants and animals. Geothermal energy draws its power from solar energy trapped in the earth’s crust.
Alternative Energy Institute & Smith, K. (2005). Powering Our Future: An Energy Sourcebook for Sustainable Living. Indiana: iUniverse.
Chamley, H. (2003). Geosciences, Environment and Man. Amsterdam: Elsevier.
Miller, G.T. & Spoolman, S. (2008). Sustaining the Earth: An Integrated Approach. Kentucky: Cengage Learning.