The Fear Of Nuclear Power Essay, Research Paper
I wrote this paper for English, but it may go under social issues because it reflects upon the unnecessary fear of nuclear power. ———————PAPER FOLLOWS——————— During the beginning of the 1980s, the United States had approximately 100 nuclear power generators nationwide. Unfortunately, that number remains about the same today. The growth of nuclear power as a viable energy source has been largely hindered due to the catastrophic risks many people associate with it. The thoughts of nuclear war, radiation leakage, and nuclear explosions are just too overwhelming. Originally, I was also entrenched in this mindset. However throughout the years, I have come to realize that this fear is unjustified and that nuclear power is a completely safe and reliable source of energy.The causes of irrational fear in general are not clearly understood, but they have been linked to many factors: such as being raised by someone with a similar fear, undergoing a traumatic experience, and the thought of severe negative consequences if something goes wrong (Phobias). Nuclear power fits all of these categories. Today’s generation is bombarded with images of the Hiroshima bombing, raised by adults who survived Chernobyl, and live with the consequences of both disasters. In that sense, as we move from generation to generation, the fear of nuclear power moves along with it, even if it is unjustified.On August 6, 1945 the first nuclear weapon was detonated to destroy the city of Hiroshima, Japan. The world was immediately flung into the nuclear age and suddenly everybody was horrified as the destruction of just one bomb was demonstrated. Looking back on this incident, I believe that nuclear power started off on the wrong foot entirely. This bombing created the traumatic experience necessary to trigger a fearful response as 67,000 people died instantly. Today, many conclude that nuclear power is what allows nuclear weapons to be manufactured, and that it should be stopped at all costs. The previous statement, however, is just not true. The terms nuclear power and nuclear weapons are distinct and should be viewed completely separate of each other. A simple test of this can be whether or not the two can exist independently of one another. Nuclear weapons can exist without the use of nuclear power, and vice versa. Keeping this in mind, it is clear that nuclear power should not be used to scapegoat nuclear weapons. Weapons stockpiles in the United States have been reduced significantly, even though the number of nuclear plants has been relatively unchanged. This is proof that nuclear weapons would exist even without nuclear power.The argument that nuclear power doesn’t affect the spread of nuclear weapons is indisputable. However there are numerous safeguards against that possibility. One is the abandonment of reprocessing. Reprocessing is a technique used by nuclear facilities to reduce environmental damage. It does so by separating the plutonium from the nuclear plant’s waste. Unfortunately, reprocessing has a severe implication. Reprocessing allows a country to stockpile the separated plutonium. To make matters worse, the separated plutonium can be used in the construction of nuclear weapons. For this reason, alone, the United States has embarked on a policy not to reprocess. Another safeguard against the spread of nuclear materials is vitrification as a means of disposing the nuclear waste. Vitrification seals the waste in a ten by ten foot block of glass and buries it within the ground at a proper disposal site. Such sites include the Savannah River, and the proposed Yucca Mountain in Nevada. Vitrification prevents the spread of nuclear weapons for three reasons. The first is that the waste is so radioactive that it is self-protecting. Any attempt to handle the waste would result in near certain death. The second reason is that the sites are closely monitored. Lastly, the third reason is that in order to separate the plutonium from the rest of the waste, very complex technology would have to be used to reverse the process.The explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Northern Ukraine is undoubtedly the worst nuclear disaster in history. Hundreds of thousands of lives were affected either directly, or indirectly. Approximately 600,000 were involved in the cleanup operation. Additionally, 200,000 more civilians were evacuated from the area. Still more, about 75,000, people are still feeling the effects of the April, 1986 disaster. The amount of radiation emitted equaled about ten times the amount of radiation levels given off by the bombing of Hiroshima. In fact, the radiation was so high that it set off alarms in Sweden. The biggest impact of all this radiation was the multiplying risks of obtaining cancer. Soon after the Chernobyl disaster, thyroid cancers in many children were observed throughout the Soviet Union. Coincidence is hardly unlikely. Moreover, the problem is exacerbated after the intake of foods containing large quantities of radiation. In relation to these horrifying effects of radiation exposure, one might say that the fear of nuclear power is definitely justified. However, before we can make such an assertion, a closer look into the causes of the Chernobyl disaster, and the steps taken to correct them must be done. The entire disaster actually consisted of a number of small explosions. After the first explosion engineers were dispatched to free jammed plutonium rods, the fuel that powers the reactors, by hand. The heat and radiation were so intense that it was not only impossible to do so, but there were no longer any rods to free up. Reporting that the reactor was destroyed, their superiors refused to believe them. Keep in mind that this was during the cold war, and that any failure to keep up with the Americans was immediately rejected. Soon after, another engineer was sent to survey the reactor and he too reported the same information as the previous engineers. His notion was rejected as well, even though the “radiation monitors’ needles were registering radioactivity off the scale.” (Barringer). Incompetence of the Soviets can definitely be linked to being one of the major causes of the Chernobyl disaster.Another reason for the explosion was the actual design of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor. Known as the RBMK design, the reactor used a positive void coefficient technique. As heat rises in a positive void coefficient reactor, the contained nuclear reaction is sped up (illus. 1). This shortcut was developed during the earlier years of the cold war in order to allow easier startup of the reactor. Minutes before the first explosion, the reactor had a coolant system failure. That is, the equipment to keep the reaction cool failed. With nothing to cool down the reaction, more and more heat rose and that, in turn, forced the reaction to increase tremendously. At that point, the Chernobyl reactor was destined to explode. (Easterbrook, 496).
Many steps have been taken to correct the problems that were experienced at Chernobyl. First and foremost, the book A Moment on the Earth, by Gregg Easterbrook, states that:No reactor or other than the RBMK has ever been designed with a positive coefficient. Subsequent Soviet models, and every Western reactor, employ a negative coefficient, which means that rising heat causes the chain reaction to damp out. (Easterbrook, 496).Taking a look at the incident at Three Mile Island, one can see the benefits of this reactor design. The coolant system at the TMI plant failed in 1979, similar to that at Chernobyl. Even though it used an older design than that of Chernobyl, the reaction got nowhere and literally put itself out because it used a positive void coefficient in order to adhere to US safety standards. (Easterbrook 496). Human attitudes and incompetence pose a new type of problem that must be dealt with. Fortunately, the impacts of the Chernobyl disaster seem to have been enough to spark a movement to change attitudes. In fact, Francis X. Clines points out that:The prosecutor’s office said officials would be charged with negligence and abuse of authority for having failed to evacuate people from contaminated areas and ignoring “objective data about radiation levels.”The officials, who were not specified by name or in number, where also accused of violating health norms in hurriedly burying radiation debris. (Clines)In the United States, even further action is being taken to avoid any unnecessary damages. For example, today the nuclear industry discloses every mishap, big or small, to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The industry’s compulsive reaction to make up excuses has just about disappeared. This attitude is overwhelmingly beneficial because now all the nuclear plants nationwide can communicate instantaneously with any problem. They are no longer left to fend for themselves in time of a crisis. Additionally, a more stringent attitude towards safety has been expressed as well. Massive containment fields, radiation suits, and showers are now mandatory components of any nuclear plant in the United States.Unfortunately, it is the current generation that has to deal with the mistakes of the past. The long-term consequences of both the Hiroshima bombing and the Chernobyl disaster are still felt by many. The spread of radiation takes many routes, direct and indirect, to affect an individual. Direct exposure to radiation, such as from a bomb or leakage, can have very severe implications. At Chernobyl, for example, the engineers examining the reactor experienced a slow agonizing death shortly after their exposure (Barringer). The idea of direct exposure shouldn’t be feared. With today’s stringent safety standards, however, the risk of actually coming into close contact with pure radiation is extremely low. In addition to that, distance plays an important role too. The intensity of the radiation declines rapidly over distance. The engineers at Chernobyl received a direct exposure to radiation from approximately three feet away. Standing 300 feet away from direct exposure to radiation would mean that. ” over the course of an hour you would receive about the same as the natural annual background radiation in Denver,” (Easterbrook 495). Considering that the average nuclear power plant is approximately twelve miles away from any residential areas, that would mean a civilian would be about 63360 feet away from direct exposure; much less than any natural radiation in the world.Indirect exposure is much harder to track than direct exposure. After radiation is released after an explosion, it enters the atmosphere and settles on anything in its path; most importantly, food and water. After the direct effects of the Chernobyl disaster were declining, the number of cancer rates continued to remain constant, or spread throughout the rest of the Soviet states. The biggest factor was the radiation levels in agriculture. Over time, as more and more people consumed the contaminated food, one’s dosage of radiation may become quite close to being considered direct exposure. Unfortunately, distance doesn’t play a role here. The only prevention is early detection, and prevention (Brody). As with direct exposure, however, the chances of indirect exposure to radiation are significantly low considering today’s reactor designs, and shouldn’t be feared.In conclusion, each point of nuclear fear has been addressed. The numerous enhancements to the safety policies of the United States, and fundamental attitudes towards nuclear power have resulted in a safe clean energy source whose only negative risks are minimal. In fact even without today’s safety standards, one can see that only one disaster has ever occurred since the dawn of the nuclear age five decades ago. With this in mind, the fear of nuclear power should in fact be rejected. Bibliography Barringer, Felicity. “Chernobyl: Five Years Later the Danger Persists.” The New York Times, 14 April 1991, p. 6:28 Brody, Jane E.. “Personal Health; No, the Food You Eat Will Not be Radioactive.” The New York Times, 12 October 1994, p. C11 Clines, Francis X.. “Chernobyl Cleanup Leads to Charges. The New York Times, 8 February 1991, p. A3 Easterbrook, Gregg. A Moment on the Earth. New York: Penguin Books, 1995 Lifton, Robert J.. The Future of Immortality and Other Essays for a Nuclear Age, New York: Basic Books Inc., 1987 Lohr, Steve. “Texas Dome: Haven or Hazard? – A Special Report; Site for Toxic – Waste Cave Stirs Texas Political Fight.” The New York Times, 6 May 1991, p. 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