Nuclear Energy: Problems And Solutions

Modified: 9th May 2017
Wordcount: 1864 words

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Nuclear energy is a divisive issue that many people have mixed feelings about. Nuclear power has many dangerous effects to the environment and the people living near a power plant. Many countries use nuclear power as an alternate source of electrical energy from fossil fuels. Nuclear energy has to be handled with extreme care or it could lead to disastrous damages. These problems included radiation, disposing of nuclear waste, and high costs of building and maintaining power plants. But while it is extremely dangerous to use nuclear energy, it does provide an alternate source of energy that does not pollute the air. Let us look at what nuclear energy is and where it came from.

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Most early atomic research was focused on developing effective weapons for use in World War II. After World War II, the government allowed nuclear energy to be developed for citizen use. We generated our first electricity from nuclear energy in 1951. According to the European Nuclear Society, as of end 2011 the total electricity production since 1951 amounts to 69,760 billion kWh and the cumulative operating experience amounted to 15,080 years by end of 2012. Because of accidents and public reluctance for them a new nuclear power plant has not been ordered in the U.S. since 1973.

So, what is nuclear energy? According to the EPA, nuclear energy originates from the splitting of uranium atoms in a process called fission. Fission releases energy that can be used to make steam, which is used in a turbine to generate electricity. Nuclear energy is generally used in a combine mixture with Uranium and Plutonium. EPA further states, in the plant’s nuclear reactor, neutrons from uranium atoms collide with each other, releasing heat and neutrons in a chain reaction. This heat is used to generate steam, which powers a turbine to generate electricity. Unfortunately, nuclear energy also generates some nasty by-products like tritium, cesium, krypton, neptunium and iodine.

Let us talk about what is it that makes nuclear energy so bad for the environment and to people living near power plants. Let us start with the dangerous information and knowledge of this process. Knowledge of how to create power plants is shared among many nations. The problems with sharing this knowledge, is that countries will have access to the knowledge of how to make nuclear weapons, which could be bad for some nations. The International Energy Agency or IEA is responsible for energy in many countries, but some have criticizes them for not being able to keep the knowledge from hostile countries.

There have been many accidents with nuclear power plants. On April 26, 1986, a reactor at the Chernobyl power plant exploded. According to Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, 30 people were killed instantly, including 28 from radiation exposure, and a further 209 on site were treated for acute radiation poisoning. 985,000 deaths can be attributed to the Chernobyl accident between 1986 and 2004. The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation also states, the accident cost the former Soviet Union more than three times the economic benefits accrued from the operation of every other Soviet nuclear power plant operated between 1954 and 1990.

Another accident happened recently in Japan. On March 11, 2011, an earthquake and tsunami crippled the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. The plant suffered major damage from the 9.0 earthquake and the tsunami. The earthquake and tsunami destroyed the reactor cooling systems, leading to leaks of radioactivity. Radiation leaks caused large evacuations, concern for plant employees and basic supplies. A few of the plant’s workers were severely injured or killed by the disaster resulting from the earthquake, but no deaths were due to radiation exposure. Predicted future cancer deaths due to accumulated radiation exposures in the population living near Fukushima have ranged from none to 100.

There are also many environmental problems with using nuclear energy as well. The problem with mining uranium and the use of plutonium leads to contamination of the area around it. Humans become affected by this contamination as well as ecosystems. Some of these contaminations last for thousands of years, leaving toxic chemicals in our ecosystems for many years. This is only the beginning affects shown by nuclear energy, there could be many more we have not discovered yet.

According to the World Nuclear Waste Association, All parts of the nuclear fuel cycle produce some radioactive waste and the cost of managing and disposing of this is part of the electricity cost. At each stage of the fuel cycle there are proven technologies to dispose of the radioactive wastes safely. Wastes from the nuclear fuel cycle are categorized as high-, medium- or low-level wastes by the amount of radiation that they emit. These wastes come from a number of sources and include: Low-level waste produced at all stages of the fuel cycle, intermediate-level waste produced during reactor operation, from reprocessing and from decommissioning old plants, and high-level waste, which contains fission products from reprocessing, and in many countries, the used fuel itself. Let us look at each process of waste disposal. Low-level wastes are usually created at hospitals, laboratories and industry. Low- level waste is most of the time is not dangerous to handle, but has to be a bit more careful to throw away then garbage. Low-level wastes account for about 90% of all waste disposals according to the World Nuclear Association. Disposal for these wastes are commonly found in many countries and are usually place in shallow landfill.

Intermediate-level wastes contain higher radioactivity levels then low-level waste and require careful protection when handling. These wastes usually come from dismantled internal structures of a reactor core and the control rods from nuclear plants. Intermediate- level waste is treated with cement or a different solid and place in special containers for sealing. These type of waste is usually buried deeper in a landfill. There are two types of high-level waste, according to the World Nuclear Association, fission products and transuranics. Both have to be treated before removal. High-level waste is usually liquid when it first is created and is shipped in containers with cooling equipment before being transformed into a solid for disposal. They also put glass around it before putting it into a container. Most of these wastes take around 50 years of cooling before being disposed. The radioactivity of the waste doesn’t fall to a safe percent until around that time.

Currently, there are no deep geological disposal places or facilities. It seems that most people view that since the amount of waste is so small there is no need for it and that the longer it is stored the easier it is to handle. Some countries also recycle their waste to use again but that also has many problems that go with that method. There have been proposals for these sites in countries like Finland and Sweden, but none have been created yet. The United States considered setting a site in Nevada to dump nuclear waste.

People thought of an idea to dump the nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. The idea was to dump all the nuclear waste produced in the United States at that location, but people were quick to point out that it will be completely fill and would not support for more nuclear waste. Transporting waste is also risky. Vehicles and trains can have accidents that can pose great problems for the environment and people. Some countries recycle their nuclear waste by using it again, but this policy is not used in the United States as it can be dangerous and it also produces more nuclear waste.

There are many different energy sources that we can use that pose little threat to the environment as nuclear energy. These other sources include: wind, solar, tidal, geothermal, and bioenergy. Let us look at each one individually. Bioenergy is a fuel that comes from living things and their byproducts and is a renewable energy source. Geothermal energy is energy from natural heated areas of the Earth pumped with water to create energy. Wind energy is created from wind turbines that harness wind power to create electricity and is considered a renewable resource. Solar energy is created from the sun’s rays. Solar cells can capture solar rays and create electricity from them. Tidal energy is created from the rise and fall of the oceans and is considered a renewable resource. Many more resources can be discovered if more funding was put into these programs by the government.

There are many different alternative sources that are safer for the environment and human health then nuclear energy. Those who support nuclear enegy make the case that it is a solution to global warming as it doesn’t burn fossil fuel and add more carbon dioxide to the air. But this claim ignores the dangers of nuclear waste and the threats it poses to the environment. For now, because of the devastating incident of Chernobyl and many other factors, nuclear power growth has slowed, but still is a problem that needs to be address and hopefully fix.

Also, nuclear energy carries the risk of terrorist attack on the plants. Power plant employees can easily make mistakes and cause meltdowns of the power plant and other various problem. While it may help the climate change, there are so many more problems associated with it. There is always a chance for a horrible incident like Chernobyl. Nuclear energy is not really a solution. It is just a different method with different equally bad problems.


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