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Is Nuclear Energy Safe Or Not Environmental Sciences Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Sciences
Wordcount: 2148 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The development of the economy and many parts of society depends on energy. The world needs more energy because the world population is steadily increasing and is now over seven billions. Society needs to build more housing, schools, hospitals, transport systems, manufacturing and other infrastructures. All of these processes of development depend on energy. If there is not enough energy, instead of development, there will be poverty, disease and death. However, fossil fuels are finite resources and oil fields have been depleted. What will happen when transport systems do not have oil for moving and industries are stuck due to the lack of fuels? The human society has been ready for the day when there is no more oil. Nuclear power has been used for many decades. On one side evidence shows that nuclear energy is safe for humanity and the environment, adequate material for millennia, and reasonable cost while the opposing side is dangerous for human lives and the environment, potential for helping people develop nuclear weapons, and preventive development from other clean forms of energy.

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Nuclear energy has become one important kind of alternative energy. Nowadays, the energy of the world from nuclear power is about 6.3 percent. In France, about 79 percent of electricity is produced from nuclear power; Belgium 60 percent; Sweden 42 percent; Switzerland 39 percent; Spain 37 percent; Japan, 24 percent; the United Kingdom 21 percent. The US has generated the largest production of nuclear power in the world which is about 20 percent of American energy (Rodes n.p). These evidences show that the developed countries are always backed up by nuclear power for security energy. Viet Nam has planned to build a power plant in Ninh Thuan from 2017 to 2020 in order to provide adequate energy for the industries of the nation. This plan has been collecting the opinions from scientists and sociologists before it will be voted in Congress in 2013.

There are opposing viewpoints as to the use of nuclear energy, and the debate is continuing by the scientists and sociologists in the world .On the proposing side the scientists affirm that nuclear power is the most secure form of energy. They also provide powerful arguments that nuclear energy reduces pollution. Nuclear power plants do not emit air pollution and ozone depletion chemicals as coal does. The nuclear industry releases some radiation, but it is not really dangerous to human health and the environment. In fact, coal produces more radiation than nuclear plants. In addition, the big issue of nuclear waste can be solved by new technology which is called reprocessing. This process divides the remaining uranium and plutonium and uses them as fuel again. Humans also do not have to wait 250,000 years for plutonium to decay. It can be used and turned into fission products immediately. After that, the lifespan of radioactivity is only 300 years. A fuel manufacturing and recycling center just opened in Northern Honshu, Japan at a cost of $30 billion (Moore n.p). Here, the plutonium is separated and recombined with uranium into mixed-oxide fuel that cannot be produced into a bomb. This is proof that nuclear waste is no longer a serious threat to human life and the environment. It can be solved by technology.

Nuclear power plants are very safe for human society. According to a survey from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2007, 35 percent of Americans wanted to advance to nuclear power. More than 80 percent of the people who live in a 10 mile radius of nuclear power plants concur to develop nuclear energy because they know that nuclear plants are safe. In contrast, six thousand people die in coal mines each year, and a huge amount of people die by car accidents in the world (Moore n.p). Until today, nobody has been publicly injured by nuclear plants in the USA even though there was a serious nuclear power plant accident in Pennsylvania in 1979. Furthermore, the nuclear power plants in the US are designed to be safe and to withstand the attack of a 747 airplane. They also are the hardest target to hit in the U.S due to the security systems. Besides that, the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership with 20 member countries and an academic group from the USA and Europe always monitor and control nuclear weapons technology, the supply of uranium and plutonium, and enrichment technology. Therefore, terrorism is not a big issue.

The supply of material for nuclear power is adequate for many millennia. That ensures the secure energy goal of all nations in the world. Coal and oil will be depleted in 30 years, but they are the main fuels for most industries in the world. The USA already has enough material to provide nuclear power plants for at least a thousand years, and that is why the mining industry actually stopped looking for uranium 30 years ago. Many new places with the largest reserve of uranium are found in Labrador, Canada, Slovakia, Australia, and Kazakhstan (Moore n.p). A new fuel for nuclear power plants was discovered is thorium. It is contained in the earth with the reserves more than many times of uranium, so we do not have to worry about the supply of fuels for nuclear power plants.

The cost for building a new nuclear power plant is more expensive than other power plants, but it is cheaper to operate than other power plants. If the cost is counted after operating 8 or 10 years, the nuclear power plants provide a huge profit. In the USA, the price of 1 KWH of electricity which is made from nuclear energy is just 1.9 cents. In contrast, 1KWH of electricity which is produced from gas cost 3.4 cents (Moore n.p).

On the opposing side the scientists present nuclear energy with its many fatal flaws. The first thing, it creates low and high levels of radioactive waste which continues to be harmful to human lives for many hundreds of thousands of years. Only 103 operating reactors in the United States produce more than 2,000 metric tons of high-level radioactive waste and 12 million cubic feet of low level radioactive waste (Miller, n.p). It is extremely harmful for human lives and pollutes the environment. Fast reactors, in combination with reprocessing and transmutation, are suggested as a solution for nuclear waste. However, they only can reduce the radioactive lifespan of nuclear waste. That is why the special places where nuclear waste is safely stored are still necessary. The fast neutron reactors still have several issues about technology, safety, and cost. The use of plutonium fuel in operating reactors is extremely difficult, and workers who make fuel are harmed. Until now, there is no country in the world which has discovered a perfect solution for nuclear waste.

In addition, the process of mining and enriching to form fuels for nuclear reactors produce radioactive materials that are dangerous for human health and environment. Two methods of mining uranium are physically removing uranium ore (tradition method) and extracting the uranium in a new process (in-situ leaching). Both methods of mining have made groundwater pollution a serious problem. When uranium is produced in a traditional method, it is divided from rock in a milling process which makes vast amounts of radon-contaminated materials. These materials which are called “tailings” are usually left on the surface of the ground. For example, about 12 million tons of “tailings” are piled along the Colorado River that affects the life of the community downstream (Miller n.p). The traditional method also causes high rates of lung cancer and other respiratory diseases because it creates dust and radon emission which is dangerous for workers. The process of uranium enrichment creates hazardous hydrogen fluoride gas that threatens public health, too.

One way in which nuclear industries also damage human lives and environment is that it leaks tritium, which is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen into the groundwater of areas near nuclear plants. For example, Braidwood, Byron, and Dresden reactors in Illinois, the Palo Verde reactors in Arizona, and the Indian Point nuclear plant near New York have been reported to leak Tritium (Miller n.p). It is very hard to separate them from water, and it needs 250 years to decay to insignificant levels, which are not dangerous for human. Tritium can come into the human body through digestion, drinking, and inhalation. If there is a long time exposure, it causes an increase of cancer, birth defects, and genetic damage. A most recent study from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) confirms that radiation exposure always harms human lives at any level, and even the smallest dose of ionizing radiation can encourage the development of cancer.

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Moreover, the solution for safety of nuclear power is very hard. The lack of management where nuclear plants are concerned will cause big trouble for humans and the environment. For example, Davis-Besse nuclear plant in Oak Harbor, Ohio, which was not attended until March 2003, was found with mere three-eighths of an inch of metal to cover the essential coolant pressure boundary of the reactor vessel (Miller n.p). It is an extremely serious situation that could have easily led to a reactor breach, subsequent loss of coolant, and a potential meltdown. To develop an environment in which everyone is willing to increase nuclear safety concern takes a long time and great efforts.

Today, in the US, there are 64 nuclear power plants in 31 states while there are a lot of nuclear plants that have been established in the world (Miller n.p). The security in the US is better than other countries. However, according to Dr. Ed Lyman of the Union of Concerned Scientists, in cases of the worst accidents or attacks occurring to the Indian Point nuclear plant (35 mile from New York), there will be 43,000 dead people immediately and 518,000 long-term cancer deaths. The cost could be $2.1 trillion and will replace 11.1 million people. The security for nuclear plants is extremely significant.

Nuclear plants also easily lead to the growth of a nuclear weapons program, and that has happened in many countries in history. The technology of uranium enrichment and nuclear fuel reprocessing is easy to adapt to nuclear weapons. It is impossible to separate nuclear technology for peaceful purposes or nuclear weapons because only one technology can be used for nuclear weapons or nuclear power plants. Terrorism has grown in recent years, and so the development of nuclear power in the world should be considered carefully.

The cost of nuclear power is expensive, and so nuclear power continues to be dependent on the finance of governments to survive. From 1947 to 1999 in the US, more than $115 billion from taxpayers was invested in nuclear power. In the same period, there was only $5.7 billion given to wind and solar power programs (Miller n.p). The expensive cost of nuclear power means the wasting of money because that has taken away the chances for cheaper and cleaner energy resources, which are the solution for improved climate change.

There are two opposing views about nuclear power plants which have made the national leaders of Viet Nam to consider carefully the strategies to develop nuclear power. The proposing side advances scientists who present that nuclear power is clean energy because nuclear power does not emit air pollution and ozone depleting chemicals. Moreover, radiation which is produced by nuclear power plants is not dangerous for human lives and the environment. The lifespan of nuclear waste can be reduced from a hundred thousand years to hundreds of years. The opportunity of accidents and attacks at nuclear plants is very little, and so it is safe. The supply material for nuclear plants is good for more than thousands of years. The cost is expensive when nuclear plants are established, but it shows a huge profit after operating. On the opposing side scientists provide evidence that nuclear plants produce radioactive waste that harms human lives and the environment for thousands of years. The process of mining and enrichment of fuel for nuclear plants is also creating radiation. Ground water around nuclear plants is radioactive because tritium leaks from nuclear power plants. Nuclear power gives more chances to nuclear weapons and terrorism sources. A lot of money has been spent on nuclear power, and this prevents a change from other clean forms of energy. The secure energy is very imperative, but the health of the next generation is more significant. The scientists, sociologists, and politicians of Viet Nam have to research and study experience from the countries which have had the strongest technology of nuclear power plants before making the final decisions.


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