Nuclear Power Issues and Concerns
What is nuclear energy?
Nuclear energy is the process of using the natural decay of certain elements to produce heat that can be converted into usable mechanical energy.
Why is nuclear energy often used instead of traditional fossil fuel burning plants?
Traditional energy production processes and methods of burning fossil fuel plants are limited by the natural reserves of those resources. Fossil fuels are, as the name suggests, a product of the fossilization process that converts organic matter such as prehistoric plants and vegetation into hydrocarbons. That process requires millions of years to occur; unfortunately, that means that the available reserves are finite and not capable of being increased. In addition, burning fossil fuels produces pollutants that can negatively affect the environment and seriously endanger life on earth. Conversely, nuclear energy is not dependent on scarce resources and does not generate pollution.
What are the pros of nuclear energy? Cons?
The most substantial benefits of nuclear energy are that it does contribute directly to polluting the environment and that it eliminates any reliance on foreign nations for their oil. The most substantial risks associated with nuclear energy were recently illustrated by in Japan: when nuclear reactors in nuclear energy plants break down, they may threaten human life and welfare in their vicinity by releasing radioactive materials into the environment.
4. Where should nuclear plants be located?
Nuclear plants should, ideally, be located far away from population centers, and should never be located anywhere near earthquake fault lines or other known threats to their ability to operate safely.
5. What natural features that would be handy to have around a nuclear reactor?
Space between nuclear reactor and human populations would be the most important natural feature to have around a nuclear reactor to minimize threats to human beings in the event of emergencies. Likewise, proximity to large bodies of water would also be handy because they provide a source of water to combat the types of situations currently facing the Japanese situation.
6. What caused the Chernobyl incidents?
At Chernobyl, poor reactor design and human error caused uncontrolled heating of the nuclear core that boiled off enough cooling water to allow the graphite moderator control rods to be exposed to air igniting them. That ignition spread to the radioactive rods and caused large volumes of radioactive smoke to be released into the atmosphere.
7. What is the cause of the Japan incident?
In Japan, a combination of natural disasters was responsible: a major earthquake triggered a Tsunami that interrupted the electric power supply to the plant. Because the plant’s emergency backup generator was not built on high ground, the flood waters also wiped it out. Without electrical power, the plant could not maintain the water supply necessary to cool the control rods or the spent control rods stored in pools in the reactor and they all ignited when they became exposed to the air.
8. What are the potential or actual effects to humans and the environment?
The immediate consequences include radiation poisoning of anybody exposed to the radioactive material released into the air and to the radioactive environment at the plant. The longer-term effects include radioactive contamination through absorption of radioactivity, mainly through consumption of foods (especially milk) from animals bred for human consumption because they absorb radioactive particles on the ground when they graze.
9. What could be done in the future to keep this from happening again?
To prevent Chernobyl-types of disasters, nuclear reactor cooling systems must be better designed and nuclear plant personnel better trained. To prevent the type of situation ongoing in Japan, nuclear reactors should never be built anywhere near earthquake faults or known high-risk flood zones. Additionally, backup power generators must be better located and protected from the same types of risks that could disable primary power systems.
Attfield, R. (2003). Environmental Ethics: An Overview for the Twenty-First Century.
Cambridge, UK: Polity.
Rennie, R. (2003). The Facts on File Dictionary of Atomic and Nuclear Physics. New York: Checkmark Books.
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