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About Me

Darren Winters is a self made investment multi-millionaire and successful entrepreneur. Amongst
his many businesses he owns the number 1 investment training company in the UK and Europe.
This company provides training courses in stock market, forex and property investing and since
the year 2000 has successfully trained over 250,000 people.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Energy Series: Nuclear Power

Nuclear energy began its history in Germany where a scientist named Roentgen started experimenting with cathode rays in a test tube from which he had removed all the air. He noticed that when the device was energised the photographic plates beside it lit up.  Following further experimentation with the rays over the next 2 weeks he took the first x-ray photo of his wife’s hand. In 1896 a scientist in France named Becquerel noticed that energy was coming from inside uranium salts sitting on photographic plates causing them to expose even though no cathode ray tube was energized. From there Marie Curie and her husband Pierre discovered 2 new elements that also exhibited spontaneous energy production, Polonium and Radium, which they named “radioactivity”.

In 1899 Ernest Rutherford began studying radioactivity and discovered 2 different types of rays and named them alpha and beta radiation. He also discovered the atomic nucleus and gamma radiation. For his research he is widely regarded as the father of nuclear physics.

In 1932 the neutron was discovered and in 1938 fission was discovered once it was established that it was possible to split uranium atoms using neutrons.  In 1939 following research into neutron multiplication it was concluded that a nuclear chain reaction was possible and a warning letter was sent to President Roosevelt in America warning him of the possibility of the production of nuclear weapons.  Despite this warning the possibilities of a weapon based on this reaction was too tempting and the news that Germany was developing such a weapon lead President Roosevelt to commit the US to the Manhattan Project designed to produce a viable atomic bomb. More than two billion dollars was spent on a project lead by Robert Oppenheimer and, in the July of 1945, the first nuclear weapon test occurred and this was closely followed in August by their use in the Second World War when the United States dropped 2 atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, causing the Japanese to unconditionally surrender. This lead to the end of the Second World War and changed global politics for ever.

In 2011 nuclear energy provided 10% of the world’s electricity. Commercial nuclear energy began in the middle of the 1950s and at least one nuclear power plant became connected to the grid every year since until 2008. The country producing the most nuclear power is the United States where 19% of the electricity consumed is nuclear power. France produces 80% of its electrical energy from nuclear power having implemented a huge nuclear power programme in response to the oil crisis in 1974. There are more than 430 commercial nuclear power reactors in over 30 countries providing 13.5% of the world’s electricity.
In order to generate nuclear energy uranium needs to be mined and then enriched before being manufactured into rods which are then placed inside nuclear reactors where they will be used, usually for 6 years. Uranium is a common element found in the earth’s core.  It is a very heavy metal with a melting point of 1132 degrees Celsius.

Nuclear power involves the use of exothermic nuclear processes to generate useful heat and electricity. Nuclear energy is derived from the burning of nuclear fuel by a process known as nuclear fusion.  There is a large volume of waste produced in the production process and although this has a relatively low radiation level it is one of the major concerns for opponents of this form of energy production. Most of this waste is stored at the reactor sites and will remain hazardous for many years. Much thought has gone into safe ways of storing the waste.

It is estimated that there will be a huge increase in demand for cleanly generated electricity over the next 20 years. Nuclear energy is considered to be a low carbon method of producing power and is seen as a sustainable energy source and potential answer to reducing carbon emissions in the future.  It produces virtually no air pollution.  Opponents to the use of nuclear fuel cite problems regarding the processing, transport and storage of nuclear waste, the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the environmental damage and health risks associated with uranium mining.  There is also the massive cost associated with de-commissioning old reactors at the end of their life.

Nuclear fuel is also used to power around 150 ships (both military and icebreakers) and submarines, enabling the vessels to stay at sea for long periods without having to make refuelling stops. The first submarine to be powered by nuclear energy, the USS Nautilus, was launched in 1954.  In the same year the first commercial nuclear power plant was established in the Soviet Union.  Some space vehicles also utilise nuclear reactors.

Nuclear power plant accidents thankfully are rare but when they do occur they have a devastating and long lasting impact.  The most recent accident happened in Japan at Fukushima in 2011 following an earthquake and resulting tsunami. Prior to that there was a disaster at Chernobyl in Russia in 1986 and Three Mile Island in The United States in 1979. In Fukushima the reactor which suffered damage had been designed and built in the 1960s and this prompted other countries with nuclear facilities to re-examine the safety of their reactors and their nuclear policies in general.  As a result Germany made the decision to close all their reactors by 2022 and Italy banned nuclear power completely.

Despite these accidents nuclear power has caused fewer fatalities per unit of energy generated than any of the other major energy sources, however the economic costs associated with nuclear power accidents are high and will probably take many decades to recover. Not to mention the tragic impact on lives and livelihoods.

Nuclear energy can be traded through Exchange Traded Funds such as the Market Vectors Uranium and Nuclear Energy ETF and the I-Shares S&P Global Nuclear Index Fund, or through investing in the shares of general miners that also produce uranium such as Anglo American, BHP Biliton and Rio Tinto. A specialist uranium miner such as Ur-Energy in North America would be a more direct form of investment in nuclear energy.


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