Why Go Nuclear – Top 5 Reasons

Nuclear Energy – The Fuel of Tomorrow

As concerns on Global warming and depletion of Non-Renewable sources of energy mount, the quest for safe, renewable and abundant alternative source of energy has gathered momentum.

A front-runner in this energy race is Nuclear Power. Countries such as Slovakia, France, Ukraine, Hungary and Bulgaria already produce over 40% of electricity through nuclear power plants. With the available reserves, it is projected that energy needs for the entire world can be covered for hundreds of years through nuclear energy.

Top Countries by Nuclear Energy Production
Top Countries by % of Power Generation through Nuclear Energy

DATA SOURCE : IAEA – POWER REACTOR INFORMATION SYSTEM (PRIS) DATABASE; U.S. ENERGY INFORMATION ADMINISTRATION  

Here are the top five reasons to switch to Nuclear power.

Low Carbon Footprint

A clear goal of the ‘Paris Agreement’ is to limit the rise in Global temperatures to under 2 Degrees Celsius. Greenhouse gases are significant contributors to Global Warming.

Nuclear power plants, unlike conventional power plants, do not produce greenhouse gas emissions during operation.

CO2 Emissions from different Power Sources

Over the course of its life-cycle, nuclear power is equivalent to wind energy in terms of CO2 equivalent emissions per unit of electricity and one-third compared to solar energy.

It is reliable

The production of nuclear power is more reliable, consistent and more predictable than renewable sources such as Wind and Solar power which are subject to climatic variation. In some studies it has also proven to be more reliable than Hydroelectric and other power plants.

Nuclear power plants run 24/7. They are designed to operate for long operating time and refuel every 1.5 – 2 years. A study in the US has shown that Nuclear power plants have a 92.3% Capacity Factor compared to under 40% for Solar and Wind Power.

Capacity factor is a measure of what percentage of the time a power plant actually produces energy.

It is Safe

Contrary to popular belief, Nuclear power production is safer as it generates less amount of waste than other thermal electricity generation technologies. Safe and effective methods are available to dispose nuclear waste.

In fact, hydrocarbon led industries also produce radioactive material as waste product. This material from the oil and gas industry is called ‘technologically enhanced naturally occurring radioactive materials’ (Tenorm). The largest Tenorm source is coal ash of which around 280 million tonnes is produced every year globally. It contains uranium-238 and thorium-232.

Stringent guidelines to dispose radioactive waste are followed by the industry players.

Radioactive waste is classified as low-level (LLW), intermediate-level (ILW), or high-level (HLW) based on its level of radioactivity. Radioactive elements with longer half-life (time taken for half its atoms to decay and become non-radioactive) are easier to handle and emit Alpha and Beta rays. Those with short half-life emit Gamma rays which are more penetrative and need to be handled carefully. Half-life may vary from a few hours to thousands of years for different materials.

Before disposal, processes of segregation, characterisation, handling, treatment, conditioning and monitoring are done to ensure proper disposal. The methods preferred for Radioactive waste disposable in India are as follows.

Delay and Delay

Dilute and Disperse

Concentrate and Contain

Recycle and Reuse

While their safety has been well established for decades and countries like France have used it for generating a substantial portion of their overall power generation, there are reservations about their safety. A number of research projects are underway to improve this technology further. Small modular reactors are being developed to take care of the safety as well as resource aspect of Nuclear energy. Newer processes of manufacturing, better, safer and more efficient fuel types are also being developed.

Options to Recycle

Used nuclear fuel can also be used as resource for other purposes. Once uranium or thorium is used as fuel in a reactor, it can be treated and used in another reactor as fuel. Processes like Closed Fuel Cycle and Breeder Fuel Cycle allow for recycling of nuclear fuel.

Many isotopes are used for preparing radio-pharmaceuticals for diagnostic and therapeutic usage. Some like Cs -137 are used for irradiation of food, sewage sludge, blood etc as a better option to Co-60. Some by-products like Sr-90 and Ru-106 are also used in cancer treatment.

Fuel material Available in abundance

Uranium is a relatively common element found in Earth’s crust. it is a part of most rocks and found abundantly in the sea as well. It is expected that 4.5 billion tons of Uranium can be extracted from sea water at 10 times the current price of Uranium.

Thorium can also be used as nuclear fuel. It is available in much larger quantities than Uranium (around 3 times more).

Very small quantities of fissile material are needed to produce energy. One Uranium fuel pellet produces energy equivalent to one ton of coal.

While there are still concerns about cost of setting up a plant, technological challenges, cost of operating and maintenance and safety, the future seems bright for Nuclear Power. With research ranging from developing smaller, safer and more efficient reactors like the Small Modular Reactors (SMEs), to developing better fuel and manufacturing processes, it will not be long before Nuclear power becomes the first option for clean renewable energy worldwide.

References

https://world-nuclear.org/nuclear-essentials/how-can-nuclear-combat-climate-change.aspx

https://e360.yale.edu/features/why-nuclear-power-must-be-part-of-the-energy-solution-environmentalists-climate

https://world-nuclear.org/information-library/nuclear-fuel-cycle/nuclear-wastes/radioactive-waste-management.aspx

https://whatisnuclear.com/recycling.html

https://www.nei.org/resources/statistics/top-15-nuclear-generating-countries

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UFOs – Are they Real?

We humans have always been intrigued by extraordinary events unfolding in the night sky – be it eclipses, meteor showers, comets or UFO sightings. An oft explored but unexplained subject is the sighting of UFOs or Unidentified Flying Objects. As the name suggests, these are merely unidentified objects but we nearly always equate them with extra-terrestrial visitors. They are defined as any aerial phenomena that cannot immediately be identified or explained.

There are many theories and conspiracies surrounding UFO sightings. Many sky-gazers report unexplained objects and lights that fall under this category. As exciting as they may seem, many of these sightings have a perfectly scientific and earthly explanation.

Here are some of the common objects and phenomena that can be mistaken for UFOs

Low orbiting Satellites

As of 1st January, a UCS (Union of Concerned Scientists) reported 6542 satellites orbiting Earth. Of these, 3372 were active.

Satellites orbiting low enough can appear like UFOs and many such cases have been documented.

ISS captured as a hovering object on a mobile camera
Various uses of Satellites

Drones

Drones are a part of our lives now and single or multiple drones travelling across the sky can sure appear like UFOs especially at night. They are commonly used for purposes like surveillance, photography and even for recreation. As their numbers rise, the suspected UFO sightings are likely to rise.

Weather Balloons

We all know that the official answer for most UFO sightings in the past has been Weather Balloons, and rightly so. These common and harmless meteorological devices have been mistaken UFO sightings for decades. With varied shapes and sizes and carrying instruments, some of them traverse to high altitudes and stay for long periods. They can appear as strange hovering objects.

Optical Illusions

Some common illusions that appear like floating lights include Lens Flares, Parhelia and Lenticular Clouds.

Meteorites, Comets and Planets

It is not uncommon to mistake this beautiful natural phenomenon for something more sinister. A multitude of flares lighting up the night sky can be mistaken for descending UFOs by untrained observers. Occasionally Venus, that appears like an unusually bright object in the sky, can also be a source of confusion.

Falling Rocket parts, Space Debris

There are approximately 23,000 pieces of space junk of notable size orbiting the earth. According to NASA, one catalogued piece of debris on an average per day has fallen to Earth in the last 50 years.

These include dead spacecrafts, launch vehicle stages like boosters and other equipment. Although most debris burns up in the atmosphere, larger objects can reach the ground. These generally add to some of the UFO reports by observers who capture them on camera.

Some of the recent space debris cases include uncontrolled re-entry of a Long March 5B rocket over Africa in 2020 and a Falcon 9 second stage re- entry over Washington state in March 2021 producing Light Show that many people observed.

Experimental Vehicles

Many agencies across the world are developing futuristic airborne manned and unmanned vehicles that are not really disclosed to the general public. These could be anything from regular transport vehicles to military aircrafts. Owing to their futuristic designs, they could be reported as UFOs by casual watchers.

Contrails from Jets

Lines made from Contrails or vapour clouds from Jets can be mistaken for a passing UFO occasionally.

Lightening

Ball lightening is an unexplained phenomenon where luminescent spherical objects are seen during thunderstorm. They vary from pea-sized balls of lightening to those several meters in diameter. They can be a reason for some of the UFO sightings reported.

For now, there is no clear evidence that UFOs have visited us and many of the sightings can be easily explained.

However, it is more probable than not that life exists on one or many of the exoplanets dotting the universe. While there are no definitive answers yet, a recent report states that the odds of finding an intelligent extra-terrestrial life lie at a promising 50%.

Therefore, it is not wrong to assume that it is possible that some of them might visit us some day.

References

https://www.geospatialworld.net/blogs/how-many-satellites-are-orbiting-the-earth-in-2021/

https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/news/orbital_debris.html

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/05/200518162639.htm

Five inventions that will change the world

The world is changing like never before. Every change brings its own set of benefits and challenges. Here is the #TSIFUNLEARN list of inventions that will change the world for the better.

Artificial Sun

This is an attempt to recreate the nuclear fusion reactions that occur in the Sun and generate limitless clean energy in the process.

EAST, or Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak experiment is underway in China and is backed by 35 countries including India, USA, Japan and Russia.

Once fully operational, it is slated to reduce the dependence on fossil fuel and put an end to the energy crisis. Nuclear fusion using Deuterium found abundantly in the sea will be used to generate energy.

Deuterium, (D, or 2H), is also called heavy hydrogen. It is an isotope of hydrogen with a nucleus consisting of one proton and one neutron, which is double the mass of the nucleus of ordinary hydrogen (one proton). Immense amount of heat and pressure applied to Deuterium atoms initiates a fusion reaction. This results in emission of a vast amount of energy that can be harnessed.

Bio degradable plastics

Bio degradable plastics are plastics that are broken down or degraded by microbes and prevent plastic pollution. They are produced from renewable sources such as vegetable oils, corn starch, straw, woodchips, sawdust and even recycled food waste.

Around 8 million tons of plastic waste escapes into the oceans every year. Plastic production increased from 2.3 million tons in 1950 to 448 million tons by 2015 and the last two decades have seen a steep rise. The environmental impact includes production of greenhouse gases, impacting wildlife and marine ecosystem. More importantly, microplastics find their way into the human food and are a health hazard. Many studies are underway to evaluate their role in endocrine, neurological and cardiovascular disorders, cancer and even autoimmune diseases.

Biodegradable plastics, once fully scaled up will greatly help reduce plastic pollution and will be counted as one of the most impactful developments to save the environment.

Examples in use include polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs), Polylactic acids (PLAs), Starch blends and Cellulose based plastics.

The top benefits include environmental safety and lowered cost of treating waste.

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

AI is already a much in use technology and it is only going to be bettered over time. It has revolutionised nearly all industries, offering easy solutions for everything from predictive planning to process improvement to deriving avenues for profitability and most of all, an incredible customer experience.

Over time, we have started getting used to AI based personalized suggestions for what to read, what to buy, what to eat, what to watch, even whom to friend or follow on social media.This technology will revolutionize even expertise-based fields such as judiciary, healthcare, education, fashion, creative writing etc.

Hyperloop Public Transportation

This is a futuristic technology at various stages of testing and is most likely the closest to being available for public use. Many players are working on developing feasible models of this technology.

The technology is based on the principle of using a system of tubes maintained at low air pressure that reduces friction or air resistance increasing speed of the transport pods. With speeds at par with air travel will help make this a highly energy efficient and one of the fastest means of public transport.

Many other routes around the world are planned in India, USA and Europe.

Malaria Vaccine

Nearly 50% of the world’s population lives in areas at risk of malaria. In 2019, malaria caused an estimated 229 million cases and 409,000 deaths.

We are in the midst of a Covid 19 pandemic and the current priority is to get over it. However, malaria has continued to cause significant morbidity and mortality for thousands of years and we are yet to find a suitable and sustainable preventive measure. The earliest fossil evidence of the parasite is 30 million years old. However, significant human infestation is known to have occured about 10,000 years ago coinciding with the start of agriculture.

The only approved vaccine as of now is Mosquirix (RTS,S). It needs four shots and is of relatively low efficacy. A new trial with a vaccine called R21, underway with 450 children aged 5–17 months. This vaccine has shown up to 77% efficacy at preventing malaria over the course of one year in preliminary trials — Higher than the 75% effectiveness target set by the World Health Organization. Both the vaccines include a protein secreted by the malaria parasite at the sporozoite stage when it enters the human body along with an adjuvant to stimulate a sufficient antibody response.

We are nowhere near eradicating Malaria yet but a multipronged approach targeting the parasite and mosquitoes will get us there in the near future.

Read more about eradication of Malaria in our previous edition –

Simple Steps to Save Water

97% of water on earth is not potable. Only 3% of the world’s water is fresh water and even from that, only one third is available for use.

Currently one in ten people have no access to clean water. People, mostly women, spend 200 million hours every day to fetch water for daily use. Over 800 children under 5 years of age die every day across the world from diarrhoea due to contaminated water and poor sanitation.Fifty percent of world’s population could be living in areas with scarcity of water by 2025.

World bodies and governments are working on plans to conserve water and provide safe water to all. But what can we, as average citizens, do to make a difference and save this precious resource?

Around 30% of water we use in our households can be saved by just taking small steps in our day-to-day life. Some of the direct benefits are –

  • Direct saving on water bills.
  • Prevents greenhouse gas emissions involved in water treatment and distribution.
  • Reduction on soil saturation and thus extending the life of septic systems.
  • Makes available incremental water for use by society as a whole

Easy steps to conserve water at home.

  1. Leaks – This is one of the unnoticed losses which can be easily addressed by maintenance of household plumbing and taps
  2. Overflow – This needs some difficult changes in habits but the effort is well worth it. Loss during brushing, shaving, washing utensils and vegetables a can be prevented by not keeping the tap running during these activities
  3. Optimise quantity – Installation of Dual Flush modes for low and high water need, choosing water conserving washing machines and dishwashers also helps.
  4. Water saving equipment – Water saving low flow aerator in shower heads and taps.
  5. Recycling water – Watering plants with water used for washing vegetables or grains.
  6. Water from RO purifier can be used to flush toilets.
  7. Water harvesting – Rainwater can be harvested to build up soil reserves.

So armed with these simple but effective measures, everyone can contribute in saving the environment and be a Hero.

Durum Wheat – Uses and Importance

Dr. Amit Gautham

When we relish the upma or pasta in our plates, we seldom think about how the ingredients make their way into these sumptuous dishes.

One of the most used cereals worldwide is wheat. It is one of the most durable and dependable crops after rice and maize and is grown under diverse Agro-Climatic conditions.

We will take a look at a variety called Durum wheat that is the raw material that goes into our daily food items. Durum wheat is used to prepare numerous food products such as macaroni, pasta products and semolina and plays a part in the nourishment of the world’s population including India.

Durum wheat (Triticum durum L.) is an economically important crop grown worldwide including India. It is being cultivated in 10 to 11% of world area and accounts about 8% of the total wheat production.

In central India it is being cultivated in Malva regions, Sourastra and Kathiaward in Gujarat and Kota, Bundi, Jhalaward and Udaipur regions of Rajasthan, Bundalkhand region and west Maharastara from a long time and its traditional food products like Bati, Bafla, Dalia, Churma, Lapsi, Upma etc. are being consumed as staple food.

Due to susceptibility to rust and limited production in 1960s the cultivation in mid India declined and farmers stopped growing Durum wheat varieties. Now, due to the development of highly tolerant and high yielding varieties the area, production and productivity of Durum wheat has increased day by day and central India is now called a hub for Durum wheat.

Durum Wheat 1 kernel copyPic: Durum Wheat kernel

Advantages of durum wheat cultivation

More Production in less irrigation

Durum (Malvi) wheat needs less irrigation as compared to bread wheat. Some varieties like Malav Ratan and Malav Karti can give 35-40 quintals/ha. in one or two irrigations, depending upon the availability of water. Varieties like Malav Shakti and Poshan gives around 50-60 quintals/ha. in three to four irrigations.

Durum Wheat 2 crop stages copy

Pic: Durum Wheat crop stages

Durum Wheat 3 crop stages

Nutrient security:

It is found that as compared to rice and aestivum (variety of wheat) nutrient value of Durum wheat is more, because it contains protein, micronutrients like iron, copper and zinc in large amount comparatively.

Table 1: Comparison between quality characters of popular Bread wheat (Lok-1) and Durum wheat (HI 8627)

Varieties Hectolitre weight (kg) Protein (%) Total carotene (ppm) Iron (ppm) Zinc (ppm) Copper (ppm)
Malav Karti (durum) 82.3 11.0 5.7 49.6 42.1 6.0
Lok-1 (aestivum) 80.1 10.6 2.3 35.5 27.2 4.5

From the above table, it is clear that, as compared to the most popular bread wheat (Lok-1) in central India durum wheat (Malav Karti) contains more values of total carotene (two and half % more), protein and micro nutrients. In addition, it contains vitamin B complex i.e., Riboflavin, Lysine and Thiamine in good amounts. It contains folic acid, calcium, vitamin E and antioxidants in good amounts as compared to bread wheat. Total carotene which is a precursor of vitamin A, helps to keeps eyes healthy and is useful in the development of immune system.

Security to rust and other disease:

Research showed that Durum wheat has different levels of rust resistance as compared to common bread wheat. Many Durum wheat varieties are resistant to brown rust, which is very prominent in bread wheat in India. Durum wheat can protect wheat cultivators not only in central India but also all over India where wheat is cultivated. It is also resistant to black rust (Ug 99) so it avoids the dispersion of Ug 99 race in India. Durum wheat is also resistant to seed borne disease like Karnal blunt and Kayama (Loose Smut) which gives seed born disease free wheat varieties.

Durum Wheat 3A rust copy

Pic: Field view of Brown rust on Wheat

Job Orienting:

Durum wheat is mostly used in fast food like noodles, spaghetti, lasagna, vermicelli, macaroni, pasta and many other products.

Keeping in view the increasing demands of these products, many fast food production plants can be set up , providing jobs to many people.

Durum Wheat 4 products

Possibility of International business:

There is a wide competition in the export of bread wheat as compared to the Durum wheat. Since Durum wheat is a more profitable crop as compared to bread wheat, farmers can make good money by supplying disease free nutrient filled Durum wheat. In addition, they can get good market of processed food manufacturing in India.

New developed varieties of Durum wheat:

There are many Durum wheat varieties developed for different irrigation conditions, India Agriculture Research Institute, Regional station is working in very effective way for the development of many Durum wheat varieties for different irrigation conditions and improving its quality level. All the developed varieties are rust resistant, have high level of water use efficiency, drought and heat tolerable and contain high level of quality nutrients.

Therefore, the cultivation of Durum wheat makes great economic sense today as compared to other crops.

It surely is an opportunity for farmers in India to make use of indigenous technologies and crop varieties available for increased profitability and a fulfilling farming career!

Author :

Dr. Amit Gautham RA

Indian Agricultural Research Institute

Regional station Indore