Nuclear Power: A Radioactive Waste of Time
For many years now, technology has strived to discover alternative energy sources that are cheap, efficient and not harmful to the environment. Nuclear power is one of the alternative energy sources that technology has discovered. There are many views on whether or not it meets the aforementioned criteria, but the major concern when it comes to nuclear power is the safety issue. Is nuclear power safe? There is sufficient evidence to prove that it is very unsafe, including past nuclear power related catastrophes, the by-product of nuclear power, and the fact that nuclear power plants are a vulnerable target for terrorists.
Firstly, the amount at risk when it comes to nuclear power is overwhelming, accidental meltdowns have the ability to cause instant death to many people, and have a life time effect on many more. On April 26th, 1986, an accident happened at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in Ukraine, and it caused a meltdown in the reactor. The results were catastrophic; the meltdown released more radioactivity than the atomic bombs that dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. During the disaster, 56 people died and about 600,000 people were exposed to high levels of radiation. The radiation spread to places as far as Scotland. _Refer to figure 1._
There are arguments that the Chernobyl meltdown was a result of old technology and mismanagement. Yet, since Chernobyl, according to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission there have been nearly 200 near misses in the US in which the fuel rods at the core of reactor came close to melting down. Nuclear power gambles with our lives, our health and the environment, an accident at work for someone can end the life of many.
The nuclear waste that comes with nuclear energy is a major concern for the environment. On average, a uranium ore contains only 0.1% uranium. The majority of the materials extracted during uranium ore mining is waste containing other hazardous radioactive and toxic substances. Most nuclear reactors require one specific form of uranium, uranium-235 (U-235). This form represents only 0.7% of natural uranium. To increase the concentration of U-235, the uranium extracted from ore goes through an enrichment process, resulting in a small quantity of usable 'enriched' uranium and huge volumes of waste. Enriched uranium is then put into fuel rods and transported to nuclear reactors where electricity is generated. Nuclear power plant operation transforms uranium fuel into a rich, highly-toxic and dangerous mixture of radioactive elements, such as plutonium. Plutonium is the manmade element used in nuclear bombs, only a small amount is needed to bring about a devastating outcome; this deadly mixture remains dangerous for about 240,000 years. Furthermore, the radioactive waste produced emits large amounts of hazardous radiation. Even a couple of minutes of exposure to high-level waste can easily result in fatal doses of radiation. Radioactive waste therefore needs to be reliably stored for 240,000 years, one should take into account that humans have been on earth for only 200,000 years! Another problem is that there is no reliable spot to store away this waste for such a long period of time. Reprocessing of nuclear waste was supposed to be a solution to the problem; however, the reprocessing plants use a process that actually leads to more hazardous waste flows. Not only is there the long term radioactive waste to worry about, but also the depleted uranium (DU). Currently there is about 1.2 million tonnes of depleted uranium stored without any foreseen use in the future. _Refer to figure 2._
The American and British governments used DU as armour for tanks and piercing tips for munitions in the Gulf War, veterans of this war have had health problems due to their exposure to DU. Even their children have suffered from their exposure to DU. Hence the process that it takes to produce nuclear power and all the waste that comes as...
Cited: Greenpeace International. (2009). Nuclear power. Retrieved January 6, 2011, from http://www.greenpeace.org/raw/content/international/press/reports/nuclear-power.pdf
Nuclear Energy. Educational Web Sites. Retrieved January 6, 2011, from http://www.phy6.org/stargaze/Snuclear.htm
Pros and cons of nuclear power | Time for change. Retrieved January 6, 2011, from http://timeforchange.org/pros-and-cons-of-nuclear-power-and-sustainability
This contamination will have an effect on several generations to come.
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