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NUCLEAR ENERGY IN THE 21ST CENTURY:

A CASE STUDY INTO THE OPINIONS OF HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS


Bhekuthando Sibanda, Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies Academy

Ranjith Kingston Gladstone, Research Advisor


ABSTRACT: Nuclear power has been around for over 80 years and it has advanced tremendously
through all this time although mostly for military motives. It has been a source of great potentially
untapped power but also a source of massive destruction. This paper explores the opinions of high
school students on the topic and provides insight into what they make of the phenomenon. Nuclear
energy may be the energy source of the future, therefore, it is something that must concern us in terms
of how safe it is for us as humans at such a relatively early stage. China, one of the world’s great
powers has already started some very ambitious nuclear power plant projects that they hope will pay
in the future (Ma, 2017). This is a case study that delves into the issue of nuclear energy. The study
was conducted in an international academy, as it is the perfect setting to gather international opinions,
with the subjects being the high school students of that particular academy. The results of the paper
provide very valuable insight and are quite different from what one would expect.

Keywords: Nuclear Energy, Energy, Engineering, International, Phenomenological, High School

Introduction: Nuclear technology has been nuclear energy really works and/or how viable
the cause of more worry than hope. Since its it is as an alternate energy source
very beginning humankind has exploited it for Nuclear energy may be the source of
purposes of war rather than for the progress of energy for the future, therefore, it is something
humankind, but how plausible is nuclear that must concern us in terms of how viable it
power for the human race and the may be. Nations like China already have
environment? started very ambitious nuclear power plant
projects(Ma, 2017) that they hope can give
By definition of the Merriam-Webster them an advantage in the future. In the near
dictionary (2019) nuclear means “of, relating future, it will not be just the major global
to, or powered by nuclear energy” and energy powers that possess this technology but the
means “usable power (such as heat or world as a whole. The more time that passes
electricity)”, therefore nuclear energy means the more the world seems to lean closer to
usable power powered by nuclear energy”. greener energy with nuclear energy being part
The reasons behind my choice of this of the mentioned group.
topic are because few people know how

nuclear energy is usually among politicians,


Problem Statement scientists, and the elderly with the voices of
the youth being inaudible.

The importance of Energy is very much


evident in our daily lives. As we approach a
fossil-less future we begin the search for Purpose Statement
alternative energies such as nuclear energy.
The purpose of this study is to address the
Nuclear energy is one of the alternative aforementioned problem, which is to find the
voices of the youth which are often left out in
these debates and to voice them through this
paper.

sources being considered and it is a very


divisive topic. The problem is that debate over

1
Literature Review
The sources that contributed to this paper were
chosen using the following criterion:
Credibility, Recentness,
Accuracy/Unbiasedness, Target Audience.

The reason for the first factor was that a source The second factor was considered because the
that I cite has to be credible and be of good research paper has to contain information that
standing when it comes to being a source of is as updated as possible as I am handling a
trusted news and having little to no political topic that is constantly changing. As it is a
influence.
scientific area that means it is being
continually developed making it very
inconstant.

The third factor of my criteria was selected


because in this research the author would like
to have information that is as accurate as
possible in the source of facts and not biased
opinions. The author tried as much as possible
to cite from sources that had as accurate
information as possible

achieve nuclear fission in 1934. (Murray &


The Discovery of Nuclear Energy Holbert, 2014)

One of the core elements in nuclear energy,


uranium, was discovered by Martin Heinrich
Klaproth in 1789 (Monaghan, 2016). Key Early uses of Nuclear Energy
events that succeeded the discovery of
uranium energy include: The discovery of Nuclear Energy actually started being used in
ionizing radiation by William Rontgen in the 2nd World War, it’s development and
1895; Henri Becquerel’s finding that research progress was at its peak during the
pitchblende makes a photographic plate years 1939-1945.
obscure and continuing to exhibit this was
because of electrons and helium cores being Due to the ongoing war, nuclear energy was
transmitted in. being developed for military purposes and its
first recorded use was the nuclear bomb test by
Samuel Prescott demonstrates that radiation the United States Army’s Manhattan Engineer
destroys bacteria in nourishment in the year District at Alamogordo, New Mexico, under
1898; James Chadwick discovers the the code name Manhattan Project. (Murray &
Holbert, 2014)

After the 2nd World War, the United States


neutron in the year 1932; around the same attempted to find more peaceful uses of
time, Cockroft and Walton produce atomic nuclear energy by creating the Atomic Energy
changes by besieging particles with quickened Commission (AEC) whose responsibility was
protons; The biggest breakthrough is when the “to explore peaceful opportunities for the same
Italian scientist Enrico Fermi manages to nuclear materials the U.S. used in Japan at the
end of the war”. (“Nuclear Power History:

2
Timeline from Inception to Fukushima”, industry of nuclear energy emerged in the
2012). 1950s as a new force in the electric power
industry(“The many uses of nuclear
The Soviet Union was the first to build a technology”, 2017).
nuclear power plant that produced power for a
power grid (“ Timeline of Nuclear Power Nuclear power did not receive much support
History”, n.d). This was a major breakthrough from the public worldwide. Local oppositions
as it proved that nuclear energy could be used to this new type of power emerged as early as
for purposes that would directly benefit the the 1960s. The situation was then worsened by
average civilian. the Three-mile island accident and the
Chernobyl disaster. Furthermore, the dropping
The UK however, in 1956, was the first to prices of oil made nuclear energy even less
open a nuclear power plant for commercial attractive than it already was, this led to more
purposes, it was named Calder Hall at than ⅔ of all the nuclear plants ordered after
Windscale, England. At first it generated 1970 to be cancelled.
50MW (later upgraded to 200 MW) which is
enough to power 8200 homes today(“History The term nuclear renaissance has been used
of Nuclear Power”, 2013). since about 2001 to refer to a possible revival
of the nuclear power industry due to multiple
Other early uses of nuclear power include the factors which include the rising prices of fossil
Naval use of the technology for propelling fuels and new concerns about reaching
submarine and aircraft carrier turbines(“A greenhouse gas emission limits (Garb Paula,
brief history of nuclear power in the 1999).
U.S.”,2012).
Following the serious quake in Japan in 2011,
a 15-meter tidal wave crippled the power and
Common applications of Nuclear Energy cooling supply of the Fukushima Daiichi
reactors which had been worked during the
The single most widely known use of nuclear 60s. Every one of the three centres to a great
energy in our age is, of course, Nuclear extent liquefied in the initial three days and
weapons. These come in different sizes and accordingly, it provoked a reconsideration of
shapes which include can be categorized into nuclear safety and nuclear energy strategy in
two groups: Atomic and Hydrogen or numerous nations and brought up issues
Thermonuclear. Atomic energy is produced among some the overall population over the
through nuclear fission and eventual fate of the Renaissance.
Hydrogen/Thermonuclear energy is produced
through nuclear fusion (“Military Germany endorsed plans to close the entirety
Applications”, n.d). of its reactors by 2022, and Italy re-asserted its
prohibition on atomic power in a choice. The
Nuclear weapons have developed alongside countries China, Switzerland, Israel, Malaysia,
the technology's advancement and have Thailand, the Assembled Kingdom, and the
become smaller and lighter. The very first Philippines checked on their atomic power
nuclear weapons were delivered by aircraft, programs (“Fukushima Accident”, 2018).
but as time progressed, so did the methods of
which the payload could be delivered and now Other less common applications of nuclear
the list includes smaller strategic atomic energy can be found in the fields of
weapons, including ones for guns, mines, agriculture, consumer products, food, industry,
depth charges, torpedoes, and rockets medicine, transport, water resources and the
(“Tactical Nuclear Weapons”, 2018). environment (“The many uses of nuclear
technology”, 2017).
The second most common application of
nuclear energy is in the field of nuclear power.
As elaborated earlier, nuclear power is not
something new, it was one of the first
discovered applications of nuclear power. The

3
The Advantages of Nuclear nuclear energy can easily start creating nuclear
weapons(“The Link Between Nuclear Power
Energy and Nuclear Weapons”, 1999).

Eco-friendliness of nuclear energy Radioactive Waste

Nuclear energy is relatively eco-friendly as it Nuclear waste is one of the big factors
releases little greenhouse gases and is preventing nations from considering using
renewable energy, therefore, it does not nuclear energy. According to the Merriam-
require much exploitation of the natural world Webster dictionary(2019), nuclear waste is
unlike the other forms of power. Nuclear “radioactive waste material, for example from
energy also requires very little fuel for it to the use or reprocessing of nuclear fuel".
operate, as such, it lessens the environmental
impact(Dillon & Schmidt, 2013). The reason nuclear waste is such an issue is
that high-level radioactive chemicals such as
Renewability of Nuclear Energy plutonium and uranium act as nuclear fuel for
reactors in a nuclear power station but after
Nuclear energy is regarded as a renewable they have been used they will produce high
form of power although this is still an area of levels of radiation that is dangerous when
major debate in the scientific world because of exposed to (Rinkesh, n.d).
its multiple different setbacks such as
radioactive waste, finiteness of uranium, etc. Nuclear waste is a problem not only for
(Chowdhury, 2012) countries thinking about using nuclear energy
Nuclear energy is still genuinely renewable, to but those that already do. Nations like the US
some extent. and its allies foresaw this problem early on
and have been making deals with smaller
nations to pay them for storing their nuclear
Sustainability of Nuclear Energy waste. Other methods of taking care of nuclear
waste include encasing it in glass and putting
Nuclear Power is a sustainable form of energy it deep underground and also storing it in
as it is generated through a process that does specially made storage facilities for nuclear
not need much intervention as it can go up to a waste. High-level nuclear waste usually takes
year without much interaction. It also is a very 40 to 50 years before its radiation levels have
uncostly source of energy since the costs of gone down to low (“The Link Between
running a power plant are not high, although Nuclear Power and Nuclear Weapons”, 1999).
setting it up can be moderately expensive.
Nuclear power plants can last for 40-60 years
depending on how they are used(Rinkesh, n.d). The Fragility of Nuclear Power Plants

Nuclear power plants are highly ‘fragile’ and


The Downsides of Nuclear this cannot be expressed better than when you
look at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear
Energy Disaster. The disaster was caused by a tsunami
which was caused by the famed earthquake in
Weaponizability of Nuclear Energy northern Japan in 2011. All three cores melted
within the first three days. (“Fukushima
The uranium and plutonium used in the Accident”, 2018)
making of nuclear energy are, according to an Other possible scenarios that can be used as
article, the same as military grade uranium and examples of a nuclear powerplant’s fragility
plutonium with the only difference being that include terrorism, human error, etc.
one is used for producing weapons and the
other is used for producing energy. This means
that nations that pursue ‘peaceful’ use of Nuclear energy and climate change

4
The 2016 Paris Agreement that was signed by and is one of the most viable futures of energy
over 175 countries was a turning point when it in the future, unlike the depleting fossil fuels.
comes to the future of nuclear power and that
of climate change. The agreement required its
signers to cut down on their carbon emissions, Literature Gap
nuclear energy was proposed to be the optimal
energy alternative and the nations that signed The literature on this topic is lacking or
the agreement were expected to switch over insufficient in the areas of public opinion,
‘green’ alternatives by the end of the 21st especially with the younger generation. The
century. (Nuclear power and Climate Change, literature tends to focus much on the nature of
n.d) nuclear energy rather than whether the public
is ready to accept it or not.

Nuclear Energy and Fossil Fuels The author has attempted to find adequate
literature on public opinion about nuclear
As fossil fuel reserves are on a decline, nuclear energy but has achieved little success. He
energy is gaining popularity. According to one would like to make a call for future research to
article (Sen, 2018) nuclear energy is better be centred on this area as it will ultimately be
than traditional fossil fuels since: it emits less the deciding variable if whether or not nuclear
greenhouse, is more efficient, it is cheaper, energy has a foreseeable future.

of potential participants representing more


than 15 different nations from all 6 inhabited
continents of the world.
Methodology
Sampling
Research Design
The researcher will seeked participants that
This research seeks to study the case of how
share a lot with the general population while at
nuclear energy will persevere in the 21st
the same time being familiar with nuclear
century and therefore qualifies as a case study.
energy, in other words, the researcher
attempted to find people who were as
The researcher does this by interviewing
“normal” as possible as this would attempt to
participants either face-to-face or through
ensure as much as possible that the research
online surveys which require brief essay-like
finds the opinions of the population as a whole
answers.
while at the same time the participants
wouldn’t be unfamiliar with the topic as that
might render their responses of little value.

All of the respondents were high school


students with the reason being that the high
Research Setting
school had the younger generation which was
required for the addressing of the problem and
The research was conducted in an international
they were in the perfect age range to provide
academy located in an international institute of
answers that voiced out the opinions of the
higher studies in Silang, Cavite, Philippines.
average private citizen while not sounding too
childish at the same time.
The reasoning behind the choice of the setting
was that: First, as the researcher is a student in
The researcher tried as much as possible to
the aforementioned academy, he finds it most
have a diverse pool of respondents that was
convenient to conduct the research there.
spread throughout grades 8-12 and also tried to
Second, the location was a choice selection as
have two representatives from each class one
it boasts a diverse pool
male and one female but failed to locate a

5
male in grade 8 and a female in grade 9 that
had adequate familiarity with the topic. Data analysis was done over a prolonged
period of time which was around 3-4 weeks.
The encoding of the data was done as soon as
Data Collection possible in order to give time for revision that
would limit room for error.
The methods used for collecting data were, as
aforementioned, through face-to-face As with most research papers, this paper was
interviews and online surveys that required also written using the method of coding.
participants to write brief essays in their The first level coding method applied was In-
responses. Vivo coding. The reasoning behind this choice
of coding method was that it is a beginner-
Half the data was collected in face-to-face friendly method of coding which proved to be
interviews with the other half collected online convenient for the author as he is an amateur
in order to be perfectly balanced, as all things researcher himself.
should be.
There was no selected second level coding
The data collected through face-to-face method as the author went directly into the
interviews was collected in a closed setting categorizing of the codes from which there
that ensured the privacy of the information that emerged 7 different categories: Biohazard,
the interviewee provided. The interviews Military, Process, Public, Futurism, Alternate
would last no longer than 15 minutes and they Energy Sources, and Waste.
would be recorded using two audio recording
devices. From these 7 categories, the author went on to
draw 8 themes which are: Prolonged
The other half of the data was collected online Environmental Threat, Futurism, Public
through google forms and this proved to be a Dissent, Unparalleled Efficiency, More Harm
convenient method of collecting data as the Than Good, Toxic Process and Public
participant would have all the time to answer Misinformation.
the interview which meant they would sit
down and put answers that they had very The final 2 phases of the Data analysis were
deeply thought of. The respondents also done over one week.
seemed to be very much more open on the
online survey rather than they would be face-
to-face; the author believes this might be due Ethical Considerations
to the fact that they might have felt more alone
and therefore secure and comfortable without The researcher behind this paper made effort
anyone taking their answers in front of them. to ensure the minimization of harm, mental or
physical, that this study may inflict. The
In the online survey, the respondents would methods used for ensuring a participant’s
answer the questions with essays with the safety include, but are not limited to: gathering
length depending on how much the respondent consent through the signing of forms from the
wished to express. participants parents of the participants, if
underage; background checks to determine
The data collection occurred over a period of whether or not one is mentally stable to handle
about one month and involved collecting data the questions that they will face; and ensuring
from 7 participants. the privacy of the data collected by using
encrypted web services for recording and
storing all data collected.
Data Analysis

In the writing of this paper, the author always


took an objective view and attempted as much
Researcher’s Reflexivity as possible not to let any bias to be smeared
into the study and ultimately the paper by

6
using various methods such as, a) writing the The selected quotation for this particular point
paper only was “even though human causes destruction
when clear-headed and awake as not to make toward to environment, nuclear
leave room for error and distorted writing. b) energy is one of [the] destruction factor[s]
The author attempted as much as possible to from human[s]”
stay true to facts and not add or remove certain -Line 33
aspects of a point in order to make it more
appealing or other similar reasons. c) the This quotation represented the opinions of the
author peer-reviewed their writings multiple majority of the research participants when they
times before putting them on paper to make were asked whether or not nuclear energy is a
sure that it was good. viable energy source for the 21st century?

Rose Kivi from sciencing.com also agrees on


this point by writing that although nuclear
Results power plants emit little greenhouse gases, the
The results of this study were quite surprising nuclear waste from the powerplants is very
and different from what the author had been dangerous as it will continue to emit a harmful
expecting and anticipating. dose of radiation for thousands of years (Kivi,
2019)

Weaponization

This second theme is one to come naturally


when one thinks of anything nuclear and it is
concerned with the weaponizable-ness of
nuclear energy.

The author decided to highlight two quotations


for this theme as he felt that it was necessary.
The quotations chosen were:

“Nuclear bomb”
-Line 67

“Instead of using it for weapons, they should


use it for hydropower and other renewable
energy.”
-Line 80

The first quotation was chosen because it has a


very symbolic meaning as it represents the
public stigma invoked through the memory of
how nuclear energy was introduced to the
world.
Prolonged Environmental Threat
The second quotation stood solely significant
This was the first theme observed by the among a pool of diverse responses. The reason
author, most of the participants touched on this being that it was the only one that took a less
particular point stating that Nuclear Energy is extreme stance when responding to the I.Q.4
not only a threat to the environment but a How do you think nuclear energy can be made
prolonged one at that. more practical?

Physicist Ted Taylor says that the best way to


stop the weaponization of nuclear energy is to

7
ban nuclear technology itself, although, he technology is already too widespread to be
says there are multiple arguments against such possible to ban.
a move with the one being that nuclear (Nuclear Power and Nuclear Weapons, 2013)
energy forms available, according to the
website of the company Energy Services
Futuristic Group International, beating natural gas coal,
and wind power.(“Nuclear Power Efficiency”,
The third theme which the author found was 2017)
Futuristic or Futurism, in the sense that
nuclear energy is not meant for our time as we The quote selected for this theme was:
have neither the answers nor the technology to
answer the many questions that nuclear energy “Far more efficient and clean compared to
poses. other sources”
-Line 39
The quote selected for this theme is:
Most of the participants did not show much in
“Should exist in the 22nd century” depth knowledge about nuclear energy but
-Line 59 those who did tried as much as possible to
stress on the point of the unparalleled
This quote was one among many others to be efficiency of Nuclear Energy.
chosen. The reason the author picked this
particular quote is that it was the most direct
and it pretty much summed up all the other More Harm Than Good
potential quotations while also summing up all
the responses on this particular theme
This theme was another which was
particularly stressed by most of the
Public Stigma participants and they talked heavily about how
the bad outweighs the good when it comes to
The fourth theme is public stigma which has nuclear energy.
been generated by a number of factors.
The quote that was chosen is this:
This theme can be represented by the quote:
“No matter how helpful it is, [Nuclear Energy]
“[People] are going to know about the won’t outweigh its environmental setbacks.”
-Line 31

This is another quote that represented the


general consensus on whether or not the good
[danger] of [Nuclear Energy] in an appropriate outweighed the bad or vice versa.
way so I think they will not accept [Nuclear
Energy] generally.” The New York Times reporter Bob Herbert
-Line 23 seems to agree with the general consensus of
the participants as he writes that nuclear
energy seems to be not a very economical
The public is the one that ultimately decides
decision addressed to energy demands due to
whether or not nuclear energy will be used.
its shortcomings and it is a price too high for
Thus, their matters the most when it comes to
any nation to pay.(Herbert, 2011)
the viability of nuclear energy in the 21st
century.
Toxic Process

Unparalleled Efficiency This theme means toxic process in the sense


that the process that nuclear energy goes
Nuclear energy, is one of the most efficient through is not very clean/safe.

8
The author chose this quotation for the theme: Conclusion
“Dangerous because of use of chemicals”
This study set out to answer 3 research
-Line 56 questions and in the next few paragraphs the
author shall reason and deem as to whether or
This theme is very irrational as there is no
not each of the research questions have been
chemicals used during the process of making
answered.
nuclear energy. (“How a Nuclear Reactor
Works”, n.d.)
What do high school students think of
nuclear power as an energy source in
the 21st century?
Public Misinformation
On this research question there was a lot of
Nuclear energy is a fairly advanced concept material that provided adequate insight into
that most people may not have the interest nor what high school students make of the
time to understand it in-depth. It is therefore, question.
to the average layman, shrouded in mystery
and its most well known application is in the It turns out that the outlook for nuclear as
military through the making of nuclear perceived by high school students is mostly
weapons. negative with some of the participants stating
that they don’t feel comfortable and one even
The quote for this particular theme is: going as far as saying “I think it might
explode”(Line 11).
“A good amount people who might oppose
nuclear energy might not even be properly A slightly larger portion of the participants
informed” believed that nuclear energy will never be
-Line 19 generally accepted stating that it is dangerous
and it is a threat to health and it is therefore
not safe for use. Those participants who so a
The participant from whom this quote was
future of general acceptance for nuclear
drawn continued on to say that most private
energy defended their position by stating that
citizens who opposed nuclear energy were
nations which use nuclear energy will continue
usually victims of negligence.
using and promoting nuclear energy “As they
have seen it very effective”(Line 25). Other
In an article on the Princeton University
points raised were that a way to make it safer
website, an author that goes by the alias
will eventually come by and also that most
“admin” writes that most of the American
people can agree that nuclear energy is a great
public has been influenced by media that
form of energy.
oftenly does not portray the topic in a just
way. (“Nuclear Energy and the Power of
Most of the participants agreed that the
Misinformation in American Policy | Nuclear
benefits nuclear energy brings does not
Futures Laboratory”, n.d. )
outweigh the cost that has to be paid with one
of the participants going as far as to say that
In summary, most of the responses weren’t too
“It is a destruction factor toward the
apart from each other. The participants all
environment by humans”(Line 34). Those
would have answers that were fairly when
participants that were on the contrary were
answering the interview questions.
divided with one saying that the benefits of
nuclear energy were “Absolutely”(Line 28)
worth the cost and the other saying that it can
but the risks it came with might be a bit too
much.

9
The participants were very much divided when Among high school students there seems to be
they were asked to compare nuclear to other a negative attitude toward nuclear energy
energy forms. The responses were a mix of “I about how it will fare in the 21st century and it
don’t know”, “Have no preference”, seems to have been driven in by lack of
“Absolutely”, and “No”. adequate information to understand and the
topic.
Many of the participants were surprisingly
okay with nuclear power plants but they It is quite alarming to see how little
stressed a bit on its dangers and hazards. tomorrow's leaders know about this topic and
how much misconception is associated with it.
The author believes that the first research
question was answered.

Further Research
What is the level of awareness among high
school students about nuclear The author would like to make a call for
energy? further research into the opinions of the public
about nuclear energy in the 21st century as this
seems to be an area that is under-researched
Most of the participants showed some level of and therefore is lacking information.
familiarity with nuclear energy but the rest
were more familiar with nuclear weapons.
The level of awareness was generally low with
a lot of misconceptions into how nuclear
energy actually worked.

What are some ways in which students


think nuclear energy could be made a more
popular energy source?

The participants also had vastly different


opinions when asked some ways in which
nuclear energy could be made a more practical
form of energy.

One response of significance found stated that


mastering fusion would be the next phase in
the evolution of nuclear energy. Other
responses included less weaponization and
having advanced technology.

The participants also pointed out that some


issues which would have to be dealt with to
further the use and advancement of nuclear
technology are the costs of researching,
building, and running nuclear technology;
Public stigma toward nuclear technology; The
overwhelming dangers that come with nuclear
technology and public misinformation.

Major Findings

10
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