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There are many different types of power sources across the world that produce electricity in many different ways. There are methods that use the power of nature, such as: hydroelectric power which uses the power of water to spin a turbine, windmills that use the power of the wind to spin a generator, and solar power which uses the heat from the sun. There are also man-made methods such as: power plants that burn coal, generators that burn gasoline, and plants that burn wood to use the heat from the fires to produce electricity. There is also nuclear power, which uses the heat from a radioactive isotope to produce electricity.
Nuclear power is formed by energy harnessed from a natural resource. It is produced in power plants or power houses. Nuclear power is efficient, uses fewer natural resources, and adds a minimal amount of pollution to the atmosphere (Wilcox 1996). In the same respects, nuclear power can be very dangerous and produce long term negative effects to the environment. Radioactivity is extremely harmful, not only to the environment, but also to the people who come in contact with it. This has long made it feared by people who live around nuclear power plants and made these power plants a target for terrorists.
The are at least two incidents involving nuclear power plants that had gone wrong within recent history. On April 26, 1987, Chernobyl nuclear facility’s number four reactor sustained catastrophic damage when a routine safety test went wrong. An explosion in the number four reactor spewed radioactive material miles into the air creating a radioactive situation 100 times worse than Hiroshima. The immediate death toll was 31, while thousands will have to live with the long term effects of the radioactivity (Chernobyl accident..2011). On March 28, 1979, Three Mile Island nuclear facility experienced an overheat condition in one of their nuclear reactors when operators noticed an increase in water flow to the reactor exceeding normal levels. They attempted to correct the problem, but only succeeded in making it worse. The incident was contained with minor exposure of radioactivity to the environment but not until after the radioactive fuel rods melted through the bottom of their HYPERLINK “../../../../../../../bio/Jennifer-Rosenberg-7900.htm”containers. During the process some radioactivity escaped into the atmosphere (Three mile..2010).
The examples of the disasters above show both the instability and destructive nature of the uranium used in nuclear power plants. Uranium and plutonium, the byproduct of nuclear fission, which is the process used to create nuclear energy, and are extremely unstable if not maintained perfectly in the correct conditions. The instability of these two radioactive elements can lead to both dangerous and destructive outcomes. As witnessed in the Three Mile Island disaster, when uranium is not properly cooled it can reach temperatures high enough to allow it to melt through it’s container causing the possible release of radioactive material into the environment. The outcome from the accidental release of radioactive material from a nuclear power plant into the environment is far more destructive and long term than the release of other energy producing materials, such as coal, oil, or other fossil fuels. Clean up is also a lot more difficult and hazardous. The effects of the release of radioactive material can last several billion years and can forever change the environment where it occurred. The after effects of an accidental release of fossil fuels, such as oil, from a typical power plant is far less dangerous (Diehl 2004). The wildlife repopulates and regrows quicker from the accidental release of fossil fuels than from the accidental release of nuclear energy. This shows how nuclear energy is dangerous to the health of the environment.
The mining process of uranium for a nuclear power plant causes the same environmental effects as the mining of coal, on a smaller scale. The mining process also produces lead, a hazardous material known to cause cancer, birth defects, and other human and environmental problems. Uranium, unlike many other sources of energy, such as wind, water, and sun, is a non renewable resource. During mining, to keep ground water from entering the underground mine, uranium contaminated water is often pumped into local rivers and lakes, polluting that water as well. After the mine is shut down, there is a great risk of ground water becoming contaminated. “Waste rock” which is rock removed from the mines that does not have enough usable material in it is removed from the mine and piled above the surface. This material usually contains higher than normal amounts of radiation. This waste rock is often turned into gravel used for cement and paving roads, spreading radioactive material across large areas (Diehl 2004). This shows how even the mining process is very destructive and dangerous to the environment.
While producing fewer greenhouse gases, nuclear power can hardly be considered an efficient, effective, cleaner alternative to the production of electricity. When compared to the amount of energy produced from the burning of fossil fuels, we see that the amount of power from a nuclear power plant is lower than that created from the burning of fossil fuels. It takes far more time and resources for nuclear power to equal the production from other sources such as fossil fuels (Linnerud 2011). In the increase in demand for energy from the nuclear power plants, the green house emissions also rise with the increase in production. This shows the inefficiency of nuclear power and the increase of greenhouse pollution. This proves that the increase of nuclear power in place of fossil fuels does not provide a reduction in climate changing effects during the production of energy (Lloyd 2006).
Chernobyl Nuclear Accident [homepage on the Internet]. World Nuclear Association; 2011 Mar..[cited 2011 Mar. 21]. Available from http://www.world-nuclear.org
Diehl P. Uranium Mining and Milling Wastes: An Introduction. [homepage on the Internet]. 2004 Aug.15..[cited 2011 Mar. 21]. Available from http://www.wise-uranium.org
Linnerud K. The Impact of Climate Change on Nuclear Power Supply, Energy Journal 2011; 32 (1): 149-168.
Lloyd B. Nuclear Power and the Greenhouse Effect [homepage on the Internet]. Darwin (NT): Parlamentary Library Service; 2006. [cited 2011 Mar. 21]. Available from http://www.ntl.nt.gov.au.
Three Mile Island Accident [homepage on the Internet]. World Nuclear Association; 2011 Mar..[cited 2010 Jan.]. Available from http://www.world-nuclear.org
Wilcox C. Powerhouse. Minneapolis (MN): Carolrhoda Books, Inc. 1996. 48p.
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