ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES OF NUCLEAR ENERGY Julianna Mitchell & Elissa O'Connor

NUCLEAR POWER: YES OR NO?

ADVANTAGES OF NUCLEAR POWER

Nuclear energy is often seen as something harmful, and to be feared. But does it really deserve its bad reputation? Lets look at some of the advantages of nuclear power...

  • Nuclear power plants are in compliance with the Clean Air Act of 1970.
  • Nuclear power plants do not emit air pollution, making it have one of the lowest impacts on the environment of any other power source.
  • Nuclear energy stations do not produce air pollutants/greenhouse gasses when they produce electricity, which is comparable to wind, solar, and hydro-power (Environmental, 2017).
  • Nuclear waste is almost 1000000 times smaller than fossil fuel waste.
  • Nuclear reactors are reliable, they provide base-load power and are available over 90% of the time (Comby, 2017).

DISADVANTAGES OF NUCLEAR POWER

After seeing the good aspects of nuclear energy, it's time to look at the negative impacts/disadvantages to see if it is worthy of its less than favorable reputation...

  • Nuclear energy produces Plutonium, which is unnatural to nature. If introduced, it is extremely harmful to the environment. Plutonium is commonly used in dangerous nuclear weapons.
  • Nuclear power increases eutrophication, which is the excess of nutrients within a body of water; it causes a dense growth of plant life but death of animal life from a lack of oxygen. The waste takes over 10000 years to get back to its original form (Rinkesh, 2017).
  • Nuclear power plants are extremely expensive to build due to legality issues and challenges.
  • Since nuclear power plants are so controversial, they often generate protests from the public.
  • The large pools of used waste and increased Uranium make nuclear power plants vulnerable to terrorist attacks, causing meltdowns resulting in emissions of radioactivity (Friedland et. al, 2015).

HUMAN HEALTH AND NUCLEAR ENERGY

The risk of a nuclear meltdown greatly increases the risk of radiation sickness, caused by the release of radioactive waste. This sickness commonly results in causes acute radiation syndrome within hours of exposure. The severity of the sickness ultimately depends on the amount of radiation the individuals are exposed to, ranging from skin rashes, vomiting and diarrhea, to coma and death.

Radiation also effects an individuals DNA. The tissues with the most dividing cells, such as the gut lining, skin and bone marrow, are the most at risk for severe damage. The brain cells are also at risk for damage, which can be extremely fatal.

The release of iodine-131 and caesium can also be harmful to human health. Iodine is taken up within the thyroid gland for the production of hormones. Yet, if iodine-131 taken up, can damage DNA and cause thyroid cancer, due to the fact that it produces beta particles. This commonly affects children, since it is unknown to why it doesn't affect adults. But, this thyroid disorder can be prevented if children take pills containing the non-radioactive isotope of iodine almost immediately after exposure. These pills were unavailable after the Chernobyl disaster, resulting in 7000 cases of childhood thyroid cancer (MacKenzie, 2011).

A Greenpeace activist helps to carry several of 3,000 wooden crosses to be set up in front of the Soviet-built nuclear power plant in Bohunice to commemorate the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl five years earlier.

NUCLEAR CATASTROPHES

Since 1952, there have been 33 recorded nuclear incidents worldwide. Out of these 33, three stand out as being some of the most effective to date...

CHERNOBYL

Chernobyl is a city situated in northern Ukraine, currently abandoned due to the disaster at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant located approximately nine miles away. 30 years later, Chernobyl is withing the 30 kilometer exclusion zone surrounding the former power plant. Before April 26th, 1986, over 16000 people lived in Chernobyl. Today, it is only inhabited by Zone administrative personnel, and former citizens who refused to leave their homes following the disaster.

Chernobyl before the meltdown

What happened?

On April 26th, 1986, the plant was testing a way to cool the core of the nuclear reactor in case of an emergency. A rise of steam pressure within Reactor number 4 causes an explosion, lifting a 1000-ton lid used to contain radioactive fuel elements. This action immediately releases radiation into the air.

The oxygen in the air begins to go into the reactor, resulting in a graphite fire and a second explosion. The flaming debris lands on the lid of Reactor number 3. After this, 30 separate fires take place within the plant. Four hours later, reactor Number 3 is shut down; while Reactors 1 and 2 are shut down around 24 hours later.

During the Chernobyl disaster

What was the result?

Two workers within the facility were killed instantly, and 197 citizens were hospitalized with radiation sickness. To date, almost 5000 cases of thyroid cancer have been identified in children up to 18 years of age. 28 workers died as a result of ARS (acute radiation sickness) within the same year as the disaster (What, 2017).

Chernobyl today

THREE MILE ISLAND

Though this was the most serious accident in U.S. commercial nuclear power plant operating history, the incident had no detectable health effects on plant workers or the public. This reactor in Middletown, Pennsylvania melted down on March 28th, 1979 due to equipment malfunctions, design problems, and worker errors.

Three Mile Island before the accident

What happened?

At 4 A.M. on March 28th, 1979, the plant experienced failure in one of the two reactors on the plant. A mechanical-or electrical- issue prevented the main feed-water pumps from bringing water to the steam generator, which removes heat from the reactors core. Because of this, both the turbine-generator and the reactor shut down, resulting in the rise of pressure in the nuclear section of the plant. The valve on the top of the pressurizer became stuck open and the cooling water was pouring out.

Matters were made worse when the workers decided to reduce the amounts of cooling water being poured into the primary system. The water began to overheat, causing the nuclear fuel to so the same.

Significant amounts of radiation were released from the plant's auxiliary building. Chemical reactions in the melting fuel caused the creation of a large hydrogen bubble within the dome of the pressure vessel (where the reactor core is held). If the bubble were to explode, the core would fall into the containment building. Fortunately, this did not happen, and the bubble eventually dissipated.

What was the result?

Thankfully, there were no fatalities within the Three Mile Island Catastrophe. However, this incident made the United States Nuclear regulatory Commission much more aware of protocol, to make sure something like this never happens again.

Here's just a few things they've done to ensure that:

  • Upgrading/strengthening of plant design and equipment requirements.INCLUDING :fire protection, piping systems, auxiliary feed-water systems, containment building isolation, reliability of individual components,and the ability of plants to shut down automatically
  • Creating new and more effective operator training and staffing requirements, improved instrumentation and controls for operating the plant, and establishment of programs for plant workers to protect against alcohol/drug abuse
  • Emergency drills and response plans tested by licensees several times a year, state and local agencies participate in drills along with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and NRC.

CURRENTLY... the TMI-2 reactor is shut down and all fuel has been removed. FirstEnergy contracted to Exelon the right to monitor TMI-2. Both companies plan to keep the facilities in monitored storage until the TMI-1 reactor's licsense expires. Then, both plants will be recalled (Backgrounder, 2014).

Three Mile Island post-accident

FUKUSHIMA

Six years ago, a devestating earthquake damaged the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant in Japan. To this day, the area is still a hotspot for radioactivity and is not stable.

Fukushima before the meltdown

What happened?

At approximately 2 P.M (EST), the fifth largest earthquake hit northern Japan, sparking a major tsunami. A wall of water 30 feet high hits Japan, resulting in the damage of anything within its path: including the Tokyo Electric Power Company's Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant. The flood water reacts with the plants generators, resulting in their failure as the reactors heat up.

The Japanese government issues an emergency message for the plant,and the cooling systems begin to fail. Then, it is discovered the radiation levels within reactor Number 1 are rising, and the possibility of a radiation leak is rising. Within a matter of hours, the radiation levels are eight times more than its usual level.

Then, at 6:22 P.M., a hydrogen explosion at reactor Number 3 occurs, resulting in the injuries of four people. Those who live within 20 kilometers of the plant are told to evacuate. Authorities begin to distribute iodine tablets to prevent radiation poisoning. Three days later, a second explosion takes place at reactor Number 3 and 2, injuring 11 people. The next day, one more explosion takes place at reactor Number 2, followed by a fire at reactor Number 4. At this point, radiation levels at the plant are 167 times the average level. Though the levels have decreased greatly, Fukushima is still unstable (Jones, 2011).

Fukushima as the explosions took place

What was the result?

Since 2011, 173 children/young adults in Fukushima have been suspected or confirmed for thyroid cancer. According to the World Health Organization, the risk of thyroid cancer in females exposed as infants is as high as 70% (Global, 2013). Over 21,000 residents within the Fukushima exclusion zone were forced to abandon their homes as a result of the nuclear alert. Many have not returned home, as the area is still unstable (Japanese, 2016).

Fukushima today

IS NUCLEAR SAFE FOR US?

Yes.

Currently, there is only one nuclear power plant in Beaver County. Located in Shippingsport, the FirstEnergy Beaver County Nuclear Power Station has been generating safe, nuclear power since 1957. 25 years later, the plant is still producing electricity safely (Beaver, 2015).

In the entire history of nuclear power, only 3 major disasters have taken place; and one of these resulted in no fatalities whatsoever. These three nuclear meltdowns are the only ones to occur in 16,000 cumulative reactor-years of commercial nuclear power operation in 33 countries. According to the World Nuclear Association, the approximate deaths within a nuclear power facility between 1969-2000 is 31; whereas the number of fatalities in a hydropower facility is about 1,000 times that, meaning 30,000 deaths.

The risk of radiation from a nuclear plant is low as well. We, as humans, receive almost half (42%) of radiation from Radon. This is found in everyday things, such as spas, indigenous rocks and soil, and well water (Radon, 2017). In contrast, humans only receive 1% of radiation from nuclear plants, which are rapidly being built around the world.

World Nuclear Association's depiction of where we receive radiation.

HOW CAN WE BE SAFE FROM NUCLEAR CATASTROPHES?

Since 1990, the nuclear industry has been coming up with new reactor designs to ensure the safety of the plant and those around it (Safety, 2016). After the Fukushima disaster in 2011, The Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan have implemented many safety precautions to keep nuclear plants as safe as possible. Here's a few things that they've done:

  • installation of additional emergency power source vehicles and fire engines
  • upgrading procedure manuals and conducting drills
  • reinforcing the on-site communication system
  • preparing high-dose resistant protective clothing
  • installing additional permanent emergency power supply units on high ground
  • constructing coastal levees
  • modifying watertight facilities
  • installation of large-capacity temporary seawater pumps (Safety, 2017).

WORKS CITED

Backgrounder on the Three Mile Island Accident. (2014). U.S. NRC. Retrieved from https://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/fact-sheets/3mile-isle.html#summary

Beaver Valley. (2015). First Energy. Retrieved from https://firstenergycorp.com/content/fecorp/about/generation_system/FENOC/beaver_valley.html

Comby, B. (2017). The benefits of nuclear energy. Retrieved March 16, 2017 from ecolo.org/documents/documents-in-english/BENEFITS-of-NUCLEAR.pdf

Environmental Advantages and Disadvantages. (2017). Nuclear Energy Institute. Retrieved from http://www.nei.org/issues-Policy/Protesting-the-Environment

Friedland, A.J., Relyea, R., & Courard-Hauri, D. (2015). Environmental Science for AP*. New York, NY: W.H. Freeman.

Global report on Fukushima nuclear accident details health risks. (2013). World Health Organization. Retrieved from www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2013/Fukushima_report_20130228/en/

Japanese woman breaks silence on Fukushima-related cancer. (2016). CBS News. Retrieved from www.cbsnews.com/news/japan-fukushima-thyroid-cancer-patient-is-first-to-speak-out/

Jones, B. (2011). Timeline- How Japan’s Nuclear Crisis unfolded. Retrieved March 16, 2017 from www.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/asiapcf/03/15/japan.nuclear.disaster.timeline/index.html

Mackenzie, D. (2011). Briefing: How Nuclear Accidents Damage Human Health. Retrieved March 16, 2017 from https://newscientist.com/article/dn20244-briefing-how-nuclear-accidents-damage-human-health/

Radon Fact Sheet. (2017). Air Chek. Retrieved from http://www.radon.com/radon_facts/

Rinkesh. (2017). Nuclear Energy. Retrieved March 16, 2017 from www.conserve-energy-future.com/disadvantages_nuclearenergy.php

Safety Measures at Nuclear Power Plants. (2017). FEPC (The Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan). Retrieved from http://www.fepc.or.jp/english/nuclear/power_generation/safety_measures/

Safety of Nuclear Power Reactors. (2016). World Nuclear Association. Retrieved from www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/safety-and-security/safety-of-plants/safety-of-nuclear-power-reactors.aspx

What is Chernobyl? (2017). The Chernobyl Gallery. Retrieved from chernobylgallery.com/chernobyl-disaster/what-is-chernobyl/

Credits:

Created with images by WikimediaImages - "philippsburg nuclear power plant steam" • rapidtravelchai - "Chernobyl 19" • AnkieNieuwkerk - "architecture nuclear power plant company"

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