The Recent Nuclear Power Disaster Environmental Sciences

Essay add: 28-10-2015, 17:46   /   Views: 201

There have been numerous nuclear power accidents in the past, the three most famous ones being: Three Mile Island accident in 1979, Chernobyl disaster in 1986, and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident in 2011. These accidents occurred because proper safety measures were not taken. As a result of the Fukushima Daiichi accident last year, many countries are taking actions to avoid further nuclear accidents. For example, the US has taken serious consideration into building further reactors. Also, Italy and Switzerland made the decision to stopped further construction of nuclear power plants (The Economist 2011). Germany took it a step further, and decided to slowly close all reactors (The Economist 2011). On the other hand, China and India desire to push more nuclear power plant constructions (The Economist 2011). Even though countries that have decided to continue building more nuclear power plants demands for "the most safety-conscious generation 3 plants", a Paris-based advisor in the nuclear industry believes that "it will be cheap generation 3 [plants that are built], perhaps… by China" in order to cut down the cost (The Economist 2011). It would appear that the new power plants built that are supposedly safer, are actually not, resulting in higher probability of nuclear accidents in the future.

Approximately five years ago, people around the world were educated on global warming and the greenhouse effect. One of the things they also learned is that the largest source of air pollution is electricity generation (Portney 2005). Nuclear power begun to seem desirable because of its environmental friendly quality, as that it creates no air pollutants, as opposed to coal and natural gas electricity generations (Wald 2012). It was not until recent years that concerns with nuclear wastes are brought up. It came to realization that there is no method to ridding of nuclear waste without affecting the environment. Currently, nuclear wastes are mainly stored inside each nuclear plant site; however, it is without a doubt that these limited storage space will not be enough for the constant production of nuclear wastes (Portney 2005). Also, the stored nuclear wastes poses more risk to the environment and the people when natural disaster occurs at plant site. On top of securing the electric generator fuel, the workers at the nuclear plants must also take extra precaution with the stored nuclear wastes. Not only it can contaminate the ecosystems, there are terrorists who steal spent fuel to make "dirty bombs" (Portney 2005). The more things that need to be taken care of at each plant increases the probability of something going wrong.

The government also preferred nuclear power plants as electricity generators because once they are build and ready to go, they are utterly inexpensive to operate, having an incremental cost of 1.5cents per kwh (Portney 2005). On the other hand, incremental cost of electricity generation by coal is approximately 2 cents per kwh, while 3.5 cents per kwh for natural gas (Portney 2005). Of course, the economical downside of nuclear power plants is that it is extremely expensive to build, and takes quite a long time, in reference to other types of power plants (Portney 2005). To keep a nuclear power plant safely running and operating also will require a lot of maintenance and different kinds of technologies, also. Therefore, after the math, economically, choosing nuclear power plants makes little differences other than more risks for the people by having potential danger so close to homes.

Because of the strong conflict the United States had with the Middle Eastern countries, where majority of petroleum are imported, many felt that nuclear power provides "energy security" to the country a few years ago (Maize 2012). Due to the fact that there are plenty uranium and coal reserves, this meant that the country will no longer need to be dependent on oil as an energy source (Portney 2005). With the history of nuclear disaster, it is no longer about "energy security" from the terrorists the people need, but security from nuclear accidents (Maize 2012). Instead of threatening the economy of the country, nuclear accidents can cause direct harm to individuals. For examples, exposure from radiations may cause skin rashes, vomiting, coma, or even death (MacKenzie 2011). In the long run, radiation can damage DNA cells and cause cancer (MacKenzie 2011). The contaminations of reacting nuclear fuel or nuclear waste into the soil or the water are long-lived, due to the long half-lives of the chemicals (Pollution Issues 2013). Some nuclear substances became airborne at accident site, making the area inhabitable (Pollution Issues 2013). Most times, the nuclear substances will be carried around the world by wind, or by water in the ocean, impacting ecosystems around the world. Compare to "energy security" from Middle Eastern countries and terrorists, the concern nowadays have been shifted to whether nuclear power plants are safe.

On March 28, 1979, a nuclear reactor in the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant exploded, causing a partial nuclear meltdown. The accident started with a small problem that raised the temperature of the primary coolant of the reactor that caused actions to be taken (Pollution Issues 2013). However, because of a valve that was not closed, and the faulty system design that did not warn the plant workers of the unclosed valve, the situation escalated and resulted in a small scale hydrogen explosion inside the reactor (Pollution Issues 2013). Even though the accident did little damage to the people, or the environment, it was a psychological stress to many around the world (Pollution Issues 2013). This impacted the nuclear industry and the Nuclear Regulation Commission in terms of improving safety and management of nuclear power plants in North America, and the operating record improved drastically (Pollution Issues 2013).

Another nuclear disaster that will always be remembered is the Chernobyl Disaster that occurred on April 25, 1986 in the Soviet Union, present day Ukraine. The Chernobyl Disaster happened on a significantly larger scale the Three Mile Island Accident, its radiation release being "[30-40] times that of the atomic bombs dropped on Japan during World War II" (Pollution Issues 2013). The accident killed at least 30 people, and caused nuclear contamination over Europe and parts of Asia and over a million of people affected by nuclear radiation (World Nuclear Association 2012). The accident was caused by the poorly designed nuclear reactor and the untrained workers performing a test on one of the reactors improperly (World Nuclear Association 2012). Up until present time, people are still being resettled from the Chernobyl area, and proper closure of the reactor that suffered the meltdown is due in 2016 (World Nuclear Association 2012). While the Three Miles Island accident triggered the improvement in Western nuclear power plant design and safety measurement, Chernobyl Disaster was the wake-up call for European countries. On top of that, another wonderful turn out is that Chernobyl Disaster also initiated many "international programmes… to focus on safety improvements", making nuclear power plants around the world better managed (World Nuclear Association 2012).

Finally, the Fukushima Daiichi Disaster, a nuclear accident that was caused by similar human misjudgement in the situation. The nuclear power plant workers under-estimated the damage that was done to the reactor fuel cells (Maize 2012). The hydrogen explosions inside the nuclear reactors resulted in a leakage of radioactive cesium into the ecosystems, which contaminated the water, the soil, the plants, and the animal (Starr 2012). A large portion of the land surrounding the nuclear power plant was declared to be inhabitable by the government, and some regions declared to be "permanently exclusive zones" (Starr 2012). The people were evacuated from the surrounding areas; business, farms, homes, and so much more were lost (Starr 2012). It is known that it will take many more years until all the spent fuel and nuclear waste that leaked out can be all safely removed, and that it will cost the government approximately $120 billion at least for the clean-up (Starr 2012). Unlike the Chernobyl Disaster, the Fukushima Daiichi Disaster was broadcasted world-wide as it happened, making people around the world see what how easily nuclear meltdowns can happen, and how much damage it can do. Because of this, there are countries that decided to ultimately start closing down all of their nuclear power plants, some that decided to stop building more, and some that has stopped giving licensing to new nuclear power plants (The Economist 2011). From this catastrophic nuclear accident, the world has stopped to re-think about nuclear energy, weighing its pros and cons and see which one wins.

Nuclear energy is without a doubt a very clean and sustainable energy; however, with the unsolved problem with nuclear waste, can we still consider nuclear energy clean? Nuclear power is produced efficiently at a low cost. With the demands for electricity rises, nuclear power seems like a perfect solution. But, with recent nuclear disaster in Fukushima, we are reminded that "low probability" is not "no probability" - nuclear power plants still are potentially deadly (Maize 2012). The combined value of the lost properties around the power plant and the cost to shut down the nuclear power plant after a nuclear meltdown may just as well be the same amount of money the government saved from generating electricity with nuclear power plants. Even though nuclear power provides energy independence for Western countries, it does not for the rest of the world. Uranium mines are not present in many parts of the world; in fact, many uranium mines are in Middle East and Africa, where it is politically unstable. Perhaps, from the recent the mistakes made during the Fukushima Daiichi Disaster, safety regulations will be better implemented, but with each nuclear reactor more powerful than an atomic bomb, are we willing to risk more lives to see if similar mistakes will be made again? Because of how far the nuclear contamination can spread, a global nuclear power plant regulation law needs to be in place in order to ensure the existing power plants are well maintained and regulated. Despite of many benefits if nuclear power, one cannot deny its potential to cause formidable problems. Therefore, it would be best to rethink building new nuclear power plants.

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