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Essay/Term paper: Nuclear power: cons

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Science Research Papers

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Nuclear Power: Cons


Since the days of Franklin and his kite flying experiments, electricity
has been a topic of interest for many people and nations. Nuclear power has
been a great advance in the field of electrical production in the last fifty
years, with it's clean, efficient and cheap production, it has gained a large
share of the world's power supply. However with the wealth of safer alternative
sources of electricity, the dangers involved with nuclear reactors to humans (ie.
cancer) and past disasters such as Chernobyl there are well based reasons not to
pursue this energy source. New sources such as fusion power, new studies
concerning the health of nuclear by-products and scares of nuclear accidents
like those at Chernobyl are slowly rendering Nuclear Fission an obselete energy
source. This essay will prove that nuclear power is a dangerous technology and
with many other sources and the dangers involved, the disadvantages of nuclear
power far outweigh the benefits.

Alternative sources of energy are making their way into the highly
competitive field of electricity production. With the wealth of sources such as
solar, wind, hydro or geothermal the dangers involved with fission could be
solved by adopting these newer, safer methods. A main source of energy that
could lead the way for the near future is solar energy. It is clean efficient
and is already a large part of American and Canadian electricity production.
"Solar energy already supplies about 6% of the nation's [U.S.A] energy ... the
industry is still in an embryonic stage, and opportunity exists for increasing
this contribution by ten times from current levels." (Maidique, 92) It is
obvious that solar power will become a large part of the electricity production
around the world. With future expansion and newer solar cells, the power
production could be increased to about 60-70% of the U.S.A's needs.

Cold fusion will most surely be the newest type of energy leading us
into the 21st century, producing energy that is cheaper, safer and easier to
generate then any existing source. "Fusion fuel releases a million times more
energy then does burning a comparable weight of coal or oil; one teaspoon of
deuterium, obtained cheaply from H20, contains the equivalent of 300 gallons of
gasoline; a mere 1000 pounds of deuterium could fuel a 1000-megawatt power
station for a year." (Dean, 84) Such spectacular figures sound unbelievable.
Using a thousand pounds of a substance to supply a 1000-megawatt power station
for a year, such figures will cause plummeting electricity prices and make
fission plants far too expensive.

However, prices and efficiency are useless if the safety factor is
abandoned. All three topics are dealt with in fusion, that is why it is such a
miracle. In fact, a meltdown in a fusion reactor is impossible, which cannot be
said for fission. "Compared with fission reactors the absence of such fission
products as radioactive iodine and cesium from the fusion cycle reduces the
potential hazard by more then a thousand-fold." (Dean, 84) This is accomplished
because in a fission reactor the fuel is formed in a solid form which must be
cooled by water, and if water is unavailable then a meltdown may occur. In a
fusion reactor the fuel is a hot gas rather then a solid. Because of this even
with a complete loss of cooling the gas would cool as it hits the cold walls of
the reactor chamber. With future resources, some proven like solar others
experimental such as fusion, there is a wealth of possible energy sources.


However, new sources of energy will not reduce the risk of horrific
fission disasters such as those at Chernobyl or Three Mile Island. Past
disasters such as Three Mile Island are well- based reasons to reconsider
nuclear technology. At the Chernobyl power station at 1:00 am on April 25, 1996
reactor number 4 was running smoothly. The engineers performed a standard test
on the turbo generators (Engine that turns to produce electricity.) At 1:20am
the operator turned off the emergency cooling system. "The sharp temperature
increase in the reactor core, the rupture of the cooling channels (releasing
steam on to the red-hot graphite moderator, producing water gas) and the
chemical reaction between overheated zirconium canning and water -- (releasing
hydrogen) ignited by the fireworks of flying hot and glowing fragments produced
by the steam explosion -- resulted in the explosion." (Trainer, 116) As the two
huge steam explosions tore the core apart, the force of the blast lifted the
thousand ton cover lid above the core. Lethal radiation was being released into
the air. The explosion gave of more radiation then two atomic bombs dropped on
Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. The accident is an awful reminder that and
explosion may not be only a freak occurrence. It so happens that it may be
caused by other errors such as human blunder, low water supply or computer
glitch, any misfunction may cause horrific problems.

The Ukraine poisoned western Russia and almost all of Europe with the
nuclear explosion at Chernobyl. Within the first six days, radiation swept
across Europe. Radiation levels were higher as far west as Paris. Many people
were infected with cancer or radiation poisoning. "It was predicted that over
21,000 people of the region's infected would die within 50 years from direct
cause of the explosion, however total death will range to around 100,000 within
fifty years." (Megaw, 87) Not only is the original explosion deadly, but the
insuing radiation can leave an area useless, killing or poisoning many plants,
animals and humans. With a half-life (half-life is the period of time during
which half of the nuclei in a quantity of radioactive material undergo decay) of
millions of years the land will suffer for a period of equal time, as will
humans.

The explosion at Three Mile Island was a shock to people who said an
accident could never happen in the U.S.A. Three Mile Island was located on an
island near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on the Susquehanna River. At around 4am on
March 28, 1979, an accident involving reactor number 2 occurred at Three Mile
Island. Although Public health was not so much threatened, an inquiry done
revealed such operator incompetence that it affected the whole of American
Policy on Nuclear Power. When a water pressurizer, designed to keep water at a
325oC burst causing insufficient cooling. Due to this some nuclear waste from
the station had to be vented to reduce steam. This was done successfully and the
hazard was controlled. "Ground level gamma dose rated at the site boundary
reached levels of 25 millirem per hour during the morning, as compared to the
regular 0.2 millirem per hour measured regularly." (Zipko, 90) Since the
accident the American Nuclear Council (ANC) as well as many other countries have
installed a second emergency pressurizer, it is feared however that in an
extreme water pressurizer burst the emergency reaction system would not activate.
The workers at Three Mile Island, were lucky. Although never in risk of a core
meltdown, as in Chernobyl, a more serious water leak could have caused
instability and may have called for much more venting then occurred. More
venting may have caused incurable pollution to the surrounding area. The
accident that occurred on Three Mile Island proves that a nuclear accident does
not only occur in the "safety impaired" Russian reactors.

Nuclear power is on whole a clean and efficient source of power, however
the aftereffects of already used materials are much more deadly then the process
of fission itself. There are many issues brought to life by nuclear fission
reactors, probably the most important is its detrimental effect on humans,
plants and animals. It has been known for many years the nuclear waste causes
many sicknesses including cancer. This effect however, does not form during the
process of fission itself. Rather it is a slow release of poisonous radioactive
waste into the environment over periods up to 7 billion years. In small
quantities, the body can absorb radioactive waste, but with ever- growing share
of world power production being fission based it may be responsible for a
dramatic rise in cancer since the dawn of the nuclear age. Some "scientists
believe that nuclear industry by the year 2000 could increase the level of
radiation by up to 3 percent, which would add about 7000 fatal cancers per year
to a world population of 4 billion." (Kaku, 82) Considering 7000 deaths out of 4
billion people, it seems like a very high price to pay for what can be currently
done safely. Even coal, a very dirty fuel does not contribute to cancer as much
as radioactive waste produced by fission. In fact, a child living in close
proximity to a fission reactor is fifty times as likely of forming a type of
cancer such as leukemia or glaucoma, as opposed to one living close to a coal
burning power plant. These numbers are blinding, coal power produces many more
immediate deaths due to illnesses such as chronic bronchitis or emphysema. These
sicknesses do occur and should be looked at, (in another essay) however they
cannot be compared to a serious disease such as cancer, which may be passed
genetically and for which there is no immediate cure. "She [a mother] probably
is very unhappy to learn that her child living near a fission power plant is at
a 0.5 percent chance of dying of cancer over a periodic exposure." (Taylor, 155)
A 0.5 percent exposure is equal to a 1 in 200 chance of developing the disease.
The thought of a nuclear power reactor located near a large city such as
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (site of Three Mile Island) where the exposure is
released to thousands of people is unthinkable but does occur due to company
profit needs.

Radiation is not only spread through the air we breathe. It is also
passed from plants we eat and water we drink. In areas such as Chernobyl that
have had even the mildest nuclear problems (obviously Chernobyl was not a mild
problem) we see an area in diameter around Chernobyl reaching as far as Kiev
(400km) to have plants that are permanently inedible due to enormous radiation
levels. Unfortunately the radiation is not in the plants, it is in the soil, a
layer of soil that will spread harmful radiation for the next 7 billion years.
These plants should not be eaten, however many poor families have no choice and
may not be aware they are poisoning themselves. Neither the animals nor the
people eating them know that they are being poisoned. It is more surprising that
areas in the U.S.A have to measured with abnormally higher radiation, it must be
mentioned these areas are located in relatively close proximity to a fission
power plant. In addition, "wind and rain erosion wash nuclear waste into streams
and rivers, poisoning the waters, killing the fish and eventually threatening
humans throughout the water they drink." (Kronenwetter, 48) The passage of
nuclear waste directly from the power plant to the soil, (which poisons plants)
run- offs from the land which go into the water affecting both the poisoned
water we drink and the contaminated food we eat, not to mention the air that we
breathe. These are scary facts that must no longer be overlooked in the name of
profit. Nuclear power is a major pollutant and must be recognized as one.

In the 1990's we have many alternatives to Nuclear Power. Solar, wind,
hydro and geothermal are all great sources that should be used to limit the use
of nuclear power. Although nuclear power on the whole is a clean and efficient,
it has many unnecessary drawbacks such as the waste it produces, this will
continue to poison humans, plants and animals. With all the choices available to
people, why not choose a clean or renewable source of energy, one without the
dangers of radioactive waste and possible core meltdowns. New sources can
already today replace fission power, it is unsafe, unwarranted and pointless to
peruse something that can literally blow up in out face and kill us. In the
future use of solar or wind power and maybe someday fusion power will cause
nuclear fission power to become obsolete.


 

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