Nuclear power is dirty, dangerous and expensive.
1. Most nuclear reactors are based on the concept of nuclear fission. Nuclear fission occurs when uranium nuclei are bombarded with neutrons. This bombardment breaks the uranium nuclei apart, releasing heat, radiation and more neutrons. The neutrons that are released cause a chain reaction as more uranium nuclei get bombarded, releasing massive amounts of energy. This explains how nuclear power plants can create so much electricity from only a small amount of uranium. However, it also helps explain some of the concerns governments, scientists and citizens have about the ramifications of an accident within a nuclear power plant.
2. Now, it’s important to note that in a nuclear power plant, the uranium chain reaction is controlled. Therefore, a nuclear reactor cannot explode like an atomic bomb. This is because a nuclear bomb requires an uncontrolled chain reaction with highly-enriched uranium fuel. Uranium is a very heavy naturally-occurring element. Being an element, it can exist in different forms known as isotopes. Isotopes are different forms of the same element that contain different numbers of neutrons in their nucleus. The isotope U-235 is important because it can be used in the nuclear fission chain reaction to create a lot of energy.
3. Unlike the uranium used in a nuclear bomb, which is about 90% enriched with the isotope U-235, the uranium used in a nuclear reactor is only slightly enriched, to about four or five percent. This limits the amount of neutrons available for the fission chain reaction. Also, the chain reaction within the core of a nuclear reactor is controlled by control rods that absorb neutrons to control the rate of reaction. A nuclear bomb does not utilize control rods and, therefore, is an uncontrolled chain reaction.
4. A meltdown is an accident in which severe overheating of the nuclear reactor results in the melting of the reactor’s core. A meltdown could occur if there was a defect in the cooling system of the reactor that allowed one or more of the nuclear fuel elements to exceed its melting point.
5. If a meltdown occurred, a nuclear power plant could release radiation into the environment.
6. The biggest concern associated with a nuclear power accident is the negative effects that exposure to radiation can have on the human body and the environment.
7. If a person were exposed to significant amounts of radiation over a period of time, this exposure could damage body cells and lead to cancer.
8. In addition to personal health concerns, there are also environmental health concerns associated with nuclear power generation. Nuclear power plants use water from local lakes and rivers for cooling. Local water sources are used to dissipate this heat, and the excess water used to cool the reactor is often released back into the waterway at very hot temperatures. This water can also be polluted with salts and heavy metals, and these high temperatures, along with water pollutants, can disrupt the life of fish and plants within the waterway.
9. Since the World Trade Center attacks in New York City on September 11th, 2001, concerns have circulated that terrorists could target nuclear reactors with the purpose of releasing radioactive materials.
10. The nuclear industry still has no solution to the ‘waste problem, the transport of this waste poses an unacceptable risk to people and the environment. Nuclear waste is hazardous for tens of thousands of years. This clearly is unprecedented and poses a huge threat to our future generations. Even if put into a geological repository, the waste might emerge and threaten future generations.