Student discusses pros of nuclear engineering
Deciding between using nuclear power or conventional fossil fuels should be simple, said Christopher Poresky, a School of Engineering senior.
Nuclear power is one of the most promising sources of energy in the coming decades, he said. Nuclear plants use fewer resources, have no emissions and are far more sustainable than other types of power plants.
Poresky discussed the benefits of nuclear power at an Engineers Without Borders meeting last Tuesday at the Busch Student Center.
Poresky, who studied nuclear engineering while abroad in Germany, said nuclear plants produce more than 50 percent of New Jersey’s power today.
Nuclear sources only supply 20 percent of the United States’ power, he said.
Nuclear power, which operates similarly to thermal-based power plants, has advantages over alternate sources, including its consistency and lack of emissions, he said.
Solar or wind farms depend on elemental factors and cannot consistently provide a base load of power, he said. They also take up large amounts of space for a relatively smaller return on power.
“You’re not going to build a solar farm the size of a nuclear power plant and get the same amount of power,” he said.
Geothermal power is also restricted, he said.
Nuclear power has no emissions, making it more environmentally friendly than coal power plants, he said. The “smoke” coming out of the large towers at a plant is water vapor.
These plants do not need to be refueled often, Poresky said. Plants use nuclear pellets to allow plants to run for years before they need to be refueled. Modern technology also allows these plants to be mostly autonomous.
Power plants also have more flexibility in where they can be built, he said. Because they produce no byproducts besides nuclear waste and no physical requirements or restrictions on their location, a nuclear power plant could be constructed anywhere, including near cities.
Modern nuclear power plants are built solidly to withstand large stresses, such as earthquakes, he said.
“Safety is one of the biggest concerns,” he said. “Everything is about safety. That’s first and foremost.”
Two main types of nuclear power plants are boiling water reactors and pressurized water reactors, Poresky said. A BWR plant uses a single loop, where nuclear reactions heats water that turns a turbine. A PWR plant uses two loops, where the water turning the turbine is not exposed to the nuclear reactions.
BWR plants are easier to build but require more maintenance because the turbine wears out, he said. PWR plants are less efficient but their turbines last longer.
Nuclear plants operate by utilizing the energy released through nuclear fission, he said. Small pellets of radioactive material serve as the “fuel” in this process.
Other fast-moving particles hit the nuclei within the pellets, which causes them to split, he said. This process repeats itself, releasing large amounts of energy at controllable levels.
A single pellet contains as much energy as one ton of coal or 50 barrels of oil, Poresky said. Inside one is a solid powder mixed with glue.
In addition to liberating power, a nuclear plant may be used to desalinate water and produce hydrogen, he said. Hydrogen may be used to power cars and other vehicles in the future as an effective alternative to fossil fuels.
A small or medium-sized plant on a coast could also produce clean water, he said. Two processes, reverse osmosis and multi-stage flash distillation, remove salt and other sediments from water.
Reverse osmosis is a simple and cheap process where water is filtered through a porous material that does not allow larger sediments through, he said.
MSF distillation is a more expensive and complicated process, where water is turned to steam repeatedly to remove salt, he said. This process is more effective than reverse osmosis.
Both processes are already used today, Poresky said.
Anthony Yang, a junior in the School of Engineering, said a nuclear engineering program at Rutgers would be beneficial to prepare students for the jobs of the future.
Educating people on the benefits of nuclear engineering would also help with its popularity, said Neha Sikka, a School of Engineering junior.
“If this is where the future’s going, and it sounds like it’s where it should go, then Rutgers would only benefit from having a program for it,” she said.
Editor's note: Several changes were made to this article to more accurately reflect the difference between using nuclear power and conventional fossil fuels.