Nuclear Disasters Essay, Research Paper
Today in our energy hungry world, the reliance on nuclear power is getting larger
and larger. Nuclear power is on top of the list of forms of power available to
generate electricity in the quantities, forms and reliability needed as we head
towards the 21st century. Current operating nuclear plants number approximately
430 through out 26 countries .
Nuclear energy production will grow an average of 3.3 to 4.2% Per Year
worldwide from 1988-2005 (IAEA News briefs, Sept.1989). Though we have
experienced if not the worst techno genic environmental disaster of the 20th century
fourteen years ago – Chernobyl, together with the partial meltdown at Three Mile
Island twenty-one years ago, most people today give only passing thoughts to the
issue of nuclear safety worldwide. These two cases are only mere examples of the
ominous potential for accidents of great magnitude within such nuclear plants
worldwide. It is vital that we understand both the logic and outcomes of such
disasters. Today fourteen years later, effects of Chernobyl are still hazardous and
have been detected all over the world. Belarus, a country most affected by history’s
worst nuclear disaster does not even have a nuclear plant. The radiation released
from Chernobyl was 200 times more than that of the combined releases of the
atom bombs that annihilated Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Due to prevailing
winds, 25 percent of the land in Belarus is uninhabitable. All normal life has stopped
there, people are afraid to move, stay, marry and afraid to have families. The costs
of the accidents after-effects are monumental; resettlement of people affected,
medical and clean-up costs are just a few on the priority list.
The problem lies in ignorance of interactions between human, engineering,
organizational and managerial factors of such a system. In most cases human error is
customarily cited as a major cause of the problem. Sometimes in my mind I cannot
blame the operators involved, reason being that the control rooms of such plants are
a maze of complex displays and controls spread over an array of many rooms. In
the case of an emergency, due to the mere size and complexity of such rooms,
errors are just begging to occur. Error is also a combination of many factors such as
ineffective training, intricate operating procedures, and natural disasters. Usually the
direction taken to ensure safety at such nuclear plants is one of tending to find an
engineering solution. If the above mentioned factors together with the use of safety
and human factors in the engineering education for such large-scale technological
systems are used, then we would be heading the right direction; a safer, productive
life not only for us but for our environment as well. Nuclear regulation is the public’s
Politics, resource and structural problems are another major cause. For example here
in the US, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) was set up as the major
regulatory agency. Under staffed and under skilled employees are just one of their
obstacles. Relying on the fact that the industry itself is responsible for safety tests on
plants, the NRC has over looked many issues while tending to focus on matters with
greatest safety importance. We should all know that system failures can be traced to
all those small components that make up this human/machine interface. Whenever
we have such components fitted together and are in interaction it is crucial to give
weight not only to the human and technological factors but also to how they operate
together. The NRC’s relationship with the industry has been suspect since its
creation in 1974. Operations of such regulatory agencies worldwide is greatly
influenced by the member states (IAEA) who have such nuclear operating plants.
The power of money in hand and foreign relation policies of these states control the
acts and decisions of such agencies. Structural troubles include the fact that it is
only optional for member states to comply with or use safety principles set by the
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 1986 . Thus there is no clear cut
accord by IAEA member states on the issue of complying with safety standards.
Lack of Safety is yet another obstacle. Many nuclear plants in Central and
Eastern Europe (e.g. Ukraine) are just time bombs waiting to blow. Many of these
plants have not yet collapsed probably due the fact that combination of events
needed for failure has not yet occurred or that they have just not been given enough
time. Hence it is high time that the international community and the G-7 get
involved. The problem(s) in this industry needs to be tackled collectively, no one
is in a position today to solve this complex field of science and practice individually,
irrespective of depth of education or dedication. Political, economic and cultural
barriers have to be crushed if we are to achieve this. A collaborative effort
worldwide, especially from the West is needed to form, support a research team, to
counter and unravel studies, develop universal policies and to staff such nuclear
plants if we are to avoid any more Chernobyl’s in the future. Future Chernobyl’s can
be avoided but it is up to us. Firstly we must make space for reality to take
precedence over public relations for any successful technology, as we cannot fool
nature . Secondly much greater guarantees, co-operation and communication is
needed between the industry, the regulatory agencies and the member states. Safety
will only be achieved if ALL those involved play their part whole heartedly and
honestly right down from the plant workers through the manufacturers and
regulatory agencies right up to the financial institutions that control this whole
Overall, I?m trying to convey that safety is key in the nuclear power plants. A major
nuclear meltdown would be a global concern. To prevent this we need to form,
support and research teams, to develop universal policies and to staff nuclear plants
if we are to avoid any more Chernobyl’s or TMI?s in the future. Human error was
the root of the problem in these two catastrophes, so to prevent this from happening
again the government needs to put trained and licenced nuclear engineers to work
who know what they are doing, especially if a problem is to arise.
1. N. Meshkati. ?Los Angeles Herald Examiner?, March 28, 1989.
2. M. Specter ?New York Times?, March 31, 1996.
3. E. Pooley ?Time Magazine?, March 4, 1996.
4. N.Meshkati. ?Foreign Policy Journal?; U.N. 50th Anniversary, The Critical Role of The U.N.
Ensuring the Safety of Nuclear Power Plants Around The World”.
5. Pringle, Laurence. Nucular Energy Troubled Past Uncertain Future. New York: Macmillan
Publishing Company, 1989.
6. Lampton, Christopher. Nuclear Accident. Brookfield, CT: The Millbrook Press, 1992