Nuclear power contributing to global warming?

Is not the premise behind nuclear power the idea that matter is converted into tremendous amounts of energy? (according to the formula E=mc^2) If this is the case, by converting matter into energy are we not totally destroying the idea of conservation of energy? Doesn't all that extra energy we are bringing into existance have to express itself somehow? Why not as heat? Please correct me if I'm wrong (as I probably am).



11 Answers

  • 1 decade ago
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    I understand your thinking: the law of conservation of energy is ironclad. You cannot create or destroy energy, and yet, that's what nuclear reactors (and bombs) seem to be doing.

    Well, you're right and wrong. You can't just create energy...but you CAN turn mass into energy. As it turns out, mass is really just a super-compact form of energy. And when I say super-compact, I mean super-duper-ultra-extreme-compact. 1 kilogram of matter (2.2 lbs, on Earth) is equivalent to 9.00x10^16 Joules of energy, or 21.5 Megatons of TNT. That's more than 1400 times the energy released by the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945. And all from one kilogram of matter.

    In nuclear reactors, the entire mass of the nuclear fuel is NOT converted to energy. In fact, most of the mass that goes IN to a nuclear reactor also comes back out.

    In a reactor, neutrons are used to strike and break apart heavy nuclei like uranium-235. The mass of the U-235 atom and the neutron that splits it is just a tiny bit more than the mass of the two resulting nuclei and any neutrons that they spit out. That loss in mass represents the portion that became energy. Remember, MOST of the particles' mass remains intact in a nuclear change like fission.

    So nuclear reactions don't really violate any laws of physics (if they did, we'd have to seriously investigate the laws or conclude that they're not really happening!). Your original question, however, was if the heat produced by nuclear reactions contributes to global warming.

    The answer is: not very much. Global warming is caused by more sunlight (particularly infrared, or IR, light) getting trapped close to the Earth's surface by an increase in "greenhouse gases", such as CO2. The vehicles that mine and transport nuclear materials produce CO2, but on the whole, nuclear power is much less carbon-intensive than coal-based power. Also, while some heat escapes the plant and raises the temperature of the plant's surroundings, the amount of heat added to the atmosphere by nuclear power plants pales in comparison to that added by the Sun.

    So, again...nuclear reactions don't violate the law of conservation of matter/energy, and I do not believe that nuclear power plants contribute significantly to global warming.

    I hope that helps. Good luck!

  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    As a previous respondent indicated, global warming isn't caused by humans creating heat energy.

    It's been estimated that if we could effectively harness just 1% of the solar energy available to us, we could meet ALL of our energy needs, with plenty of leftover 'juice'.

    You see, the sun's heat energy bounces off of the Earth, back into space. Our atmosphere traps some of it, keeping the surface warm. The issue with global warming is that CO2 in the air traps more of this heat, keeping the Earth warmer than we need it to be.

    However, nuclear energy doesn't create CO2. Any extra energy will be radiated out into space (for the most part). For an example of how easily heat energy is radiated into space, take the planet Mercury:

    Mercury's surface is an estimated -180 degrees K on the night side, and an estimated 430 degrees K on the day side. That's how quickly a planet can cool down with no atomsphere. So, the extra heat radiated by burning fossil fuels or running a nuclear plant is almost incedental. It's TRAPPING the heat with a dense CO2 atmosphere that makes things messy...

  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    Heat does not equal global warming. Otherwise, everything I breath or work-up a sweat or shiver then I would be continuing to global warming.

    Energy does not equal global warming. the earth gives off a lot of energy as it travels through space and that energy is just left behind.

    Finally, as matter is interchanged with energy, what will be lost. Depending on what is done with that escaping heat it might or might not contribute to global warming (an orbital nuclear plant would not contribute to global warming. A nuclear plant venting fumes converted to steam to spin some old Chinese turbine may be contributing.

  • 1 decade ago

    Global warming is not just taking taking in the production of heat, but also the retention of heat. The surface temperature of Venus is actually hotter than the surface temperature of Mercury due to the fact that the greenhouse gases of Venus retains so much heat.

    Both combustion based energy production and nuclear energy are based on harnessing energy from heat. So in order to harness the same amount of energy, you actually have to produce pretty much the same amount of heat. Nuclear power is just energy in a tighter package from this perspective, the main difference is in their waste products.

    Combustion based energy not only releases heat (burning things increase temperature) but also greenhouse gases that prevents the heat for escaping into space.

    On the other hand nuclear power does not produce any significant quantities of greenhouse gases. (Although the solid waste is a significant problem)

    Thus nuclear power is the better option (at least in the case of global warming). Of course one major slip-up could result in an environmental disaster. XD

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  • 1 decade ago

    The issue of global warming is not that of producing heat energy on the earth. It is claimed, rather, that it is the production of greenhouse gases that trap the radiant energy of the sun. This IS the reason that Venus, with a dense atmosphere of water vapor and CO2, is very hot while Mars, with little atmosphere at all, is cold. The CLAIM is that the balance of greenhouse gases is disturbed by the production of CO2 ( although water is 50X more potent as a greenhouse gas ). Burning fossil fuels produces CO2 but a nuclear power plant produces none.

    Thus, the effect on global warming ( even assuming the AlGorian belief ) is nil for nuclear power.

    {Of course, the issue is far from decided, despite what Gore, a pseudo-scientist, claims. At the moment, the evidence is that the earth is warming, as it does periodically, but not clearly due primarily to human productio of CO2. }

  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    Yeah generally you are right. Though it is matter/energy that must be conserved, not just energy by itself, since matter and energy are part of the same thing.

    You are right that nuke plants will give off heat, and in that sense they do contribute to global warming. But the amount is tiny. The problem with fossil fuels that it releases CO2, which collects in the sky and trap's the sun's heat in. This is a much, much larger contributor to global warming.

  • 1 decade ago

    Global warming is caused by the green house effect, where heat is trapped in the atmosphere by greenhouse gases. (mainly carbon dioxide) To reduce the green house effect we need to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide (co2) in the atmosphere. How do we do this? Plant more trees which turn co2 in to oxygen, and/or burn less carbon dioxide producing fuel.

    Coal power stations burn coal which produces huge amounts of carbon dioxide and releases it to the atmosphere. The burning coal is used to produce steam, to turn turbines to run electricity generators. The excess steam is also released into the atmosphere but it is not as bad as the co2 being released.

    In a nuclear power plant the process is similar except there is no co2 released because the heat to make the steam is produced by nuclear fission rather than burning coal. So the only thing that is released is steam. The only waste is the used fuel rods (plutonium) which are still radioactive and dangerous to us living organisms so it needs to be disposed of properly and safely.

    In my opinion, the nuclear power stations are a far more cheaper and efficient way for producing power because there is much less waste released into the atmosphere.

  • 1 decade ago

    Well, to answer this question u must understand how the nuclear plant works. It does not convert matter into energy, but it converts matter from one form to another and energy is released in this process.

    For example, uranium (raw material used in nuclear power plants to generate energy) is converted to other susbstances through nuclear fission and energy is generated as a by-product.

    Yes, nuclear power plants can be deterimental to the environment as the substances uranium is converted into are radioactive and highly toxic and their imporper disposal leads to various environmental problems.

  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago are simply misunderstanding the scale involved.

    If you turn on a flashlight in the middle of a football field, it also adds energy to the system of the football field. But it will never be enough to effect the temperature there. It's insignificantly small.

  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    no i don't think it dose. i don't think global warming is as bad as every body is saying

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