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    The Negative Effects of Nuclear Energy Essay

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    In 1950, the first commercial nuclear power plants were constructed. The public was promised a non-polluting and resourceful type of energy, but how safe was, and is, nuclear energy? Although there are fewer than 500 licensed nuclear power plants in the world, many nuclear accidents have already endangered civilian lives. More serious accidents are not just likely, but inevitable (Fairchild 29). Nuclear energy may appear to be the ideal source of energy for the future: however, there are many negative effects of nuclear energy that can lead to very dangerous situations. Energy has always been among the basic human concerns, along with food and shelter.

    It takes part in all activities, from walking to the operation of even the most complicated equipment. Mankind has been faced with the challenge of meeting its energy needs without risking human health and the environment. The many types of energy are mechanical, thermal, chemical, electrical, radiant, and atomic (Microsoft Encarta). In 1987, oil supplied 32% of the energy worldwide. Coal was next in line with 26%, then natural gas with 17%, biomass 15%, and nuclear energy with only 4% (Galperin 19). With the main sources of our energy running low, nations look to new sources to provide our society with power.

    Nuclear energy, the newest type of energy, was researched to see if it would be the most promising type of energy for the future. Surprisingly, nuclear energy was discovered by accident. In 1896, the French scientist Antoine Henri Becquerel conducted an experiment with uranium salts and found that these salts gave off their own light when exposed to sunlight. Marie and Pierre Curie were fascinated by the possibilities of Becquerel’s rays. The Curies discovered exactly what the rays were and then named the phenomenon radioactivity (Halacy 6). During World War II, many scientists from around the world came to the United States to work on nuclear reactors and weapons.

    With much success, they continued after World War II and concentrated more on nuclear energy. The scientists instantly saw that nuclear energy would be a great source of power because of the amount of power it released. Splitting an amount of uranium equal to one penny would produce as much energy as seven and a half tons of coal (Lilienthal 85). A nuclear power plant is where energy is formed when nuclear fission or fusion takes place. So far, however, only the power of fission has been controlled and used for energy.

    There are many parts of the nuclear power plant, including the reactor, generator, control room, cooling systems, and the electrical, air, and water lines. The heart of the nuclear power plant is its reactor core, which contains a few hundred fuel assemblies. The reactor core is encased in a pressurized steel tank with walls several inches thick. In most reactors, this vessel is enclosed in a containment structure, which is a steel-reinforced concrete dome that is about three feet thick and serves as the outermost barrier between the plant and the environment around it. This helps prevent radiation from escaping the plant (Galperin 42).

    There are many different types of nuclear reactors, but all the power plants in the United States and more than three-quarters of those worldwide are light-water reactors. There are two types of light-water reactors, which are boiling-water and pressurized-water reactors. Both types use ordinary water as a coolant and require enriched uranium (Microsoft Encarta). In boiling-water reactors, cooling water surrounds fuel assemblies. The heat of nuclear fission makes the water boil, and the steam produced is carried away from the core to the turbines. Once its work is done, the steam is condensed to water, and it returns to the reactor (Galperin 44). The pressurized-water reactor is more commonly used than the boiling-water reactor. This reactor seals the cooling water in a closed loop and adds a heat-exchange system. Water in the reactor core gets hot, but it does not turn to steam. The hot water is piped through a steam generator and converts a secondary water supply into steam to power the turbine. The two water supplies do not mix (Galperin 45). A gas-cooled reactor is similar to a pressurized-water reactor. The only main difference is that helium or carbon dioxide gas replaces the water in the primary loop. These reactors cost more to operate and build, but are more energy-efficient (Galperin 46).

    The last main type of reactor is a breeder-reactor. This is very different than other reactors because it produces more fissionable material than it consumes. A breeder reactor fuels with a combination of plutonium and uranium. A breeder reactor would be extremely useful if uranium was scarce. It takes about 10 to 60 years to use up the fuel from just one cycle (Galperin 46).

    Radiation is very strong in the nuclear waste of power plants. Nuclear waste exists in several forms. One form is called high-level waste, and the other is called low-level waste. High-level waste is mostly from the used fuel rods and other materials exposed to as much radiation as they are. High-level wastes can let out very large amounts of radiation for thousands of years.

    There is no place to store this waste that is safe, and it will always be radioactive. But for now, they are stored in the ground. Other proposed storing solutions are sending it to space, burying it in the core of the earth, burying it in the ocean, or burying it under the Antarctic ice. Even these ideas have the potential of severely damaging the earth. An example of low-level waste is the waste left in the reactor water. This waste is less radioactive, but is still very dangerous (Galperin 65).

    Two engineers in Connecticut have not too long ago caught the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in a dangerous game of disobeying the rules. The NRC has been regularly disobeying safety rules to let plants keep the cost down and stay open to operate (Microsoft Encarta). Two senior engineers started questioning after one of them had checked the specifications of the cooling system in a power plant. After eighteen months of operation, a nuclear power plant is temporarily shut down.

    They have to get rid of the used fuel rods and replace them with new ones. The old rods are very hot and radioactive. Places to store the old fuel rods are rather limited, especially since the federal government has never designated an official storage place for this high-level waste. So where do your used fuel rods go? Used fuel rods are kept at a fuel pool at the plant until they can find a storage place for them.

    Fuel pools were created to keep the fuel rods for short periods of time. The fuel pool is not supposed to be filled to capacity. This is only to be a last resort. In the fuel pool, a cooling system cools the used, hot, radioactive fuel rods. The more fuel rods that are stored, the more heat. This, in turn, causes more danger. If the cooling system fails, the pool could boil, turning the plant into a lethal sauna filled with radioactive steam (Microsoft Encarta). George Galatis, an employee at Millstone-1 Nuclear Facility, had been checking specifications and realized that the reports of safety in the fuel pool had not been kept. He did some checking of his own on this and discovered that the plant had been putting almost three times as many fuel rods in the fuel pool as they were supposed to.

    He wanted to report this to the NRC right away, but he knew that some nuclear facilities, like this one, were known to harass and even fire employees who raised safety concerns. Therefore, he teamed up with another employee at the plant, George Betancourt, and brought the issue up to the supervisors of the plant. They completely denied the problem. Galatis and Betancourt then took the problem to the NRC themselves and found that the NRC had been ignoring the problem for over a decade. Nuclear facility scandals have not just been happening recently. They have been going on since the very beginning of nuclear energy.

    The nuclear accident of Chelyabinsk-40 is one of the earliest-known disasters. The Chelyabinsk-40 reactor was located near the Ural Mountains in the city of Kyshtym, Russia. A tank holding radioactive gases exploded, contaminating land thousands of miles around the plant. Until 1988, Russian officials dared not admit that this event took place. Many things are still unknown about this disaster.

    What we do know, however, is that the region around the reactor is sealed, and more than 30 towns in the area around it have disappeared from the Soviet map (Galperin 74). In a town several miles north of Liverpool, England, there was a nuclear reprocessing plant called Windscale. In 1957, the plant’s graphite moderator overheated. The temperature indicators did not recognize the problem in time, so a large amount of radiation escaped, contaminating two hundred miles of countryside.

    This accident is said to have caused birth defects, cancer, and leukemia in many people who were near the site (Schneider 4). In 1975, at Brown’s Ferry Nuclear Plant in Decatur, Alabama, there was another nuclear accident. A maintenance worker was checking air leaks with a candle. This was against regulations and caused the plant to catch on fire. A meltdown was luckily prevented, but a worse disaster certainly could have happened (Galperin 75).

    The worst nuclear accident in the United States occurred in 1979 at Three Mile Island. This reactor was located in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Many of these reactors had poor safety records, and an NRC inspector suggested that they be evaluated. Despite this inspector’s suggestion, nothing was done.

    During the cleaning of a sector of the plant, one pump failed, which caused the temperatures to rise in the cooling circuit. The safety devices had turned on and started to work properly. However, after they cooled the circuit, the safety devices never turned off. They eventually used all the coolant, and the temperatures began to rise.

    A meltdown began, and citizens started evacuating. It is uncertain how much radiation escaped into the air from it. The plant then had to be cleaned up and sealed off. Part of this process is still ongoing, and the estimated cost upon completion is around two billion dollars (Stephens 174). The Chernobyl nuclear disaster in Russia was the worst accident in nuclear history. It took three days of meltdown for the nuclear plant officials to even realize there was a problem.

    The problem was discovered when technicians in countries bordering Russia noticed high radiation levels and decided it was coming from Chernobyl. Explosions were shooting radiation into the air because Chernobyl was not built with a containment structure. The radiation was carried great distances by the air currents. The radiation that escaped into the atmosphere was more radioactive than the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Fires also raged throughout the complex, which made it hard to control the situation. It was stated that five million people were exposed to the radioactive fallout in Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia.

    Predictions were made that 40,000 cases of cancer are going to be linked directly to the Chernobyl accident (Galperin 82). Chernobyl and other accidents help create a growing resistance to nuclear energy. This is because radiation sickness and other harmful effects from over-exposure to radiation have occurred. Every person in the world is exposed to radiation. It comes from things such as potassium in food, radon gases, and uranium decay. The amount of radiation one is exposed to depends on location, eating habits, as well as many other things. Yet, too much radiation exposure is definitely fatal. How can nuclear power plants be trusted when they are more concerned with saving money than protecting lives? They are violating safety standards, and the government is just watching them do it.

    There are probably many other violations that are taking place to let the plants continue to operate and compete as a source of power. If the NRC suddenly decided to enforce all of its rules, then a majority of nuclear power plants would have to be shut down. What do you believe holds more importance: saving money or saving lives? Nuclear energy displays both the brilliance of man and the devastating destruction that mankind can cause. The potential of nuclear energy has caused great excitement. However, the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as the many nuclear power plant accidents and the many dangers of radioactivity, have given the world reason to pause and consider the dangerous possibilities of a nuclear disaster.

    This essay was written by a fellow student. You may use it as a guide or sample for writing your own paper, but remember to cite it correctly. Don’t submit it as your own as it will be considered plagiarism.

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