Saturday, September 06, 2008

Green Energy? Go Nuclear.

Emissions from coal-combustion power contribute significantly to the enhanced global warming effect. Apart from carbon dioxide, other noxious gases from coal combustion are carcinogenic and threaten the public health. I am proposing the consideration of nuclear energy as an alternate source of energy. Cleaner and far more efficient as compared to coal combustion, nuclear power is becoming a viable candidate in our quest for green energy.

There are several reasons why nuclear power is greener than the coal-combustion power. Firstly, nuclear power is much more efficient in generating power: Less than a cubic inch of uranium generates enough power which is equivalent to nearly 2000 tonnes of coal. This means lesser by-product for waste management. Secondly, waste generated by nuclear power can be recycled and remade into fuel pellets. These fuel pellets can be used to generate more energy and thus yielding even more power. Thirdly, the power generating process to harness nuclear power does not produce any form of greenhouse gas, apart from water vapour. No emission of gaseous carbon compounds also means a reduction of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and indirectly, reduces the effect of enhanced global warming. Finally, modern nuclear facilities contain multiple-fortification that prevents any radioactive material from escape the facilities. Compare this to 10 years ago when much of these technologies weren’t available, modern nuclear facilities are safer and have less impact on the environment.

The problem with nuclear power has always been the public’s over-consciousness on the potential threat of a nuclear meltdown. With the Three Mile Island incident and the Chernobyl Incident, the public has developed a deeply entrenched notoriety associated with nuclear energy. Unfortunately, many of these opinions made are based on half facts or their own believes. To give nuclear power a fair chance to be considered as a form of green power, we must test the willingness of people to accept new information and replace their existing opinion on nuclear energy.

Hence, I seek to identify public’s initial attitude towards nuclear power. After providing a fundamental level understanding of nuclear power, I wish to survey my sample group if they would reconsider the usage of nuclear power.

My proposed research question is,

“Will Singaporeans consider nuclear power as a greener form of energy?”


Lyon said... @ September 6, 2008 at 4:14 PM

Hello Wei Ren,

From a scientist's point of view, nuclear power indeed provides a much better alternative to conventional methods of power generation in terms of the power and pollution it produces. I have to agree with you on that.

The problem is, no matter how safe it is, as long as there is a 1% chance of a nuclear meltdown, the consequence is just too great to bear, especially in small countries like Singapore. The radioactive waves will hit you even before you receive any news on the meltdown! And when that happens, who is going to be held responsible?

Instead of nuclear power, I really think Singapore is a very good place to kick off a major scale of solar power usage. Look at the bright sun shining throughout the year, why waste it? The only prob is the high cost to start the ball rolling. But it's really worth considering in the long run (:

Brad Blackstone said... @ September 6, 2008 at 5:28 PM

This is a very worthwhile topic of study. You provide a good overall context for the study and you clearly articulate a possible general research question. Thank you! Do you intend to survey people off campus? What sort of sample will you need to reflect a survey of all Singaporeans? Might not it be better just to gage the opinions of students?

Think about these questions!

Thanks, man!

George Carty said... @ September 6, 2008 at 10:29 PM

As a city state, Singapore cannot possibly use solar power because it requires enormous areas of land to produce worthwhile quantities of energy...

Lyon said... @ September 6, 2008 at 10:40 PM

George Carty,

I am not suggestiing that Singapore should totally rely on solar power, rather we can explore the possibilities of using it to supplement what we have now. With all the high-rised HDBs etc we can install solar panels on top of them. There are lots of private housing which are doing that now and it will sure help, even it's a little.

weiren said... @ September 6, 2008 at 11:42 PM

Hi Lyon:

Thanks for the feedback! I did consider solar power as an alternative source of energy. In fact, many bus stops and lamp post are powered by solar power. However, there are limitation to solar power: efficiency!

Cheaper silicon solar cells can only harness 6% of the the light energy captured by the sun, while more efficiency solar cells can capture more than 40% of the energy it receive, at a considerably high cost.

But the problem with solar energy is this:

Can we increase our output if our consumption increase?

The limitations of hydro-power, wind-power and solar power is that the input is constant. Hence, their output is more or less constant (unless you set up more of these energy harnessing units).

Until scientist can solve this problem, these sources of power can only remain as subsidiary form of power.

I do agree that any risks of a nuclear meltdown is too much a risk to take. But it is also important to look at the actual risk than to hypothesis on a potential risk. The new nuclear facilities described is definitely a lot safer than the ones that were used in the 70s.

I appreciate your opinion and I am not surprised that many other share your view. My interests is to present to you another alternative to our energy problem.


weiren said... @ September 6, 2008 at 11:47 PM

Hi George:

Constricted space may be an issue, but as Lyon said, we can cover the rooftops with solar panels to harness energy.

However, my main concern, as mention previously, is when we have installed solar panels everywhere and still not be able to meet our energy consumption!

Thanks for commenting!!


weiren said... @ September 6, 2008 at 11:56 PM

Dear Brad:

My initial idea of a survey was to get to the streets and ask people to answer a questionnaire. However, as mentioned in your class, we could use online portals to get our survey done.

I was a little wary of using solely students as my sample group as it would not answer my question "Singaporeans". However, if I do reduce my scope of my question to NUS students, then it would be a different opinion. I am assuming students of NUS are more open to new ideas or maybe be better informed in this area.

Thank you for the comment, sir! I will think about it and discuss it during meeting!

Ondrej Chvala said... @ September 7, 2008 at 4:11 PM

lyon - the nuclear meltdown indeed did happen, that was the infamous Three Mile Island accident. There were no - zero - casualties, as the radioactive materials were contained by the reactor vessel and by the containment, which were designed to handle such an event.

One 'victim' was the company running the plant, which lost the billion dollar gadget. Since then the nuclear technology improved in many ways, making any such accident virtually impossible.

Using the "nuclear meltdown" FUD is on the other hand very deadly. Any nuclear plant which was not build or which was suspended due to arguments like that, was replaced by a carbon fuel burners, most often coal burning plants. Emissions from these plats kill over million people world-wide according to WHO, and perhaps you heard about effects of NOx and sulfur other oxides on environment (acid rain), and perhaps "GLobal warming" rings a bell.

Lyon said... @ September 7, 2008 at 5:46 PM

Dear ondrej chvala,

I totally agree on the disadvantages of coal burning plants and I am fully aware of the adverse environmental issues such as acid rain, global warming etc. And I am not denying the benefits of nuclear power generators as well. It's just my personal opinion on the feasibility of building one in Singapore where land is really scarce. I would think that nuclear power plants are best built not near residential area and I doubt people would love the idea of having one within 5 km radius of their house! It's the social issues which can pose as a barrier to having a nuclear power plant installed on this little red dot on the world map (Singapore), IMHO (:

Hui Xuan said... @ September 7, 2008 at 10:34 PM

Hi Lyon,
I do agree with you that we could exploit solar energy, however, like what Weiren said, its efficient is really low. And I do agree that Singapore is probably too small to allow a nuclear generator to be built here now. However, with technology developing so rapidly, probably this will be possible in the near future. I think the emphasis Weiren has on this post is to find out on if Singaporeans is willing to consider nuclear power as a greener form of energy and also to educate Singaporeans.

Hui Xuan said... @ September 7, 2008 at 10:34 PM

Hi Weiren,
This is a topic that is very debatable. I guess many people have the same concern as Lyon. But I think it is a topic that is really worth doing. And I feel that we should really educate the public on the misconception they have on nuclear power.

Ondrej Chvala said... @ September 7, 2008 at 11:49 PM

lyon - nuclear power plants are actually good neighbors. They do not smell, produce acid rain or soot, compared to most other factories. They do not need many trains of fuel every day - just one or two rail cars a year. They also do not need trucks to haul out products - just wires. People living nearby nuclear plants are actually it's most positive proponents.

Nuclear power plants score highest on energy/area ratio, while solar panels are on the other end. Nuclear plants also work in the night and cloudy weather, and when there is no wind.I presume your factories, server houses and homes need the energy 24/7.

Rod Adams said... @ September 8, 2008 at 9:01 AM


There have been hundreds of thousands of young Americans over the past 50 years who have spent many months within a few hundred feet of nuclear power plants either sealed with them on board submarines or floating with them on aircraft carriers and other surface ships.

I was lucky enough to have spent about 5 years on US nuclear submarine in a variety of engineering officer jobs. The plants are safe, clean and reliable neighbors.

You mentioned something to the effect that solar cells would "supplement what we have now". The reality is that you do not have any energy now. Like most other countries, Singapore depends on a continuous effort to find, extract, and deliver fossil fuels that temporarily supply energy.

Nuclear plants do not work forever without new fuel, but we do have some designs that can run for several decades on a volume of fuel that can fit under an office desk. That seems like the right kind of energy source for a land poor city state like Singapore.

weiren said... @ September 8, 2008 at 2:57 PM

Hi Hui Xuan:

I certainly do agree! I certainly would love to hear about what the rest of the class, campus or the society have to say on this issue.

We live in a time where technology are coming up so fast that we barely have time to fully explore its potential. Maybe, this can be one of those research topics that set our peers' (and certainly our) thinking cap on.

However, I am concerned in some areas, especially since this project is already so opinionated. Will our data be an accurate reflection of our society's willingness to embrace this novel idea? There are a lot of details we need to fine tune in order to retrieve the best results.

I look forward to presenting you the research I have found.


weiren said... @ September 8, 2008 at 3:04 PM

Dear readers:

Let me start by expressing my deep felt gratitude to all the valuable feedback you have provided on this issue.

Clearly, this issue is highly debatable and highly contested. However, I believe the differences the two parties can largely be accounted by the amount of exposure we have on nuclear issues.

For Mr. Chevala and Mr. Adams who probably have a lot more exposure to the benefits of nuclear power and understands the potential of nuclear power to be green, would probably be a proponent to the issue.

As for Lyon and many of my friends who oppose to the issue, I believe they each hold their own reservations. I think growing up with limited access to information regarding nuclear power certainly do affect our perceptions on nuclear power. I, for one, never realize that nuclear power can be advantageous to the environment. It is after stumbling on an article describing nuclear power's potential and after much research, did I convince myself that nuclear power certainly have the potential to be classified green.

The idea is how willing are we to explore the this potential that nuclear power can bring. This is, as stated in my entry, my proposed research topic. I believe with sufficient information, people can make formulate ideas, weigh the risks and benefits, and make informed decisions.

I do not think disagreeing with nuclear power is wrong in any sense. I believe there are certain boundaries that must be conquered before one embraces a new idea. These boundaries are deeply entrenched in the firm believes each of us hold. I do not question it, but I invite you to explore the topic with me.

Thank you once again for your feedback.


Lyon said... @ September 8, 2008 at 7:18 PM
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lyon said... @ September 8, 2008 at 7:35 PM

Dear Rod Adam and Ondrej Chvala,

I would like to clarify my stand again as I believe there is some miscommunication here.

I am neither for nor against the idea of nuclear power plants. I am pretty sure that the technology now is much more advanced compared to when Chernobyl accident took place too.

What we are discussing here is whether it is socially viable and possible to install a nuclear power plant in Singapore rather than its technological limitations. Just like GM food, there are people who are against it for moral, social and personal reasons. The technology itself might be safe, but that does not mean the people are ready to accept it. While it might be totally normal in US to be living beside a nuclear power plant, it does not necessary mean that Singaporeans in general will agree to having one beside their home. New technology need to be educated to the public and I am sure after some time, it will ultimately be accepted by the mass. But as of now, I personally do not think that most Singaporeans are ready, be it due to cultural or social differences from US.

xin yi said... @ September 8, 2008 at 9:02 PM

Hey Wei Ren,

I really like your choice of research topic. Due to Singapore's small land space, I never thought that it's possible to use nuclear power as an alternative form of energy. Should a nuclear disaster like the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl disaster occur again, it would be quite a nightmare.

Before reading your post, my ignorance on this issue only tells me that nuclear has more banes than boons. However, reading the comments by your blog readers gave me a totally different view on this matter. I think it would be interesting to find out if nuclear power is really a viable form of energy in Singapore!

I'm looking forward to this research project!

Ondrej Chvala said... @ September 8, 2008 at 10:06 PM

"Should a nuclear disaster like the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl disaster occur again, it would be quite a nightmare."

Actually, Chernobyl type of accident can only occur in Chernobyl style of reactors, that is old style weapon grade plutonium factories for warheads (with electricity as an afterthought). As long as you stay away from those, as everyone besides the USSR did, you have nothing to worry about.

TMI (which was in principle very similar to modern reactors, though 40 years older technology) accident came with zero - nada - null - casualties, so to call in a "nightmare" is not exactly descriptive. Especially considering that accidents related to (fossil) energy industry which take dozens of casualties happen sadly often - so often that one barely remembers the last gas explosion, coal mine cave in etc.