Developing Nuclear Energy
The development of nuclear energy has not really come about weighing the pros against
the cons, but, by the sheer expanding hunger of rival economies to support their respective
country’s ever expanding energy needs. Radiation, reactor accidents, the issue of radioactive
waste have all been pushed aside in favor of reliability, marginal cost and compactness of
production in a nuclear energy plant.
Proper Risk Analysis of Nuclear Energy
Risks associated with nuclear energy have been broadly divided into environmental and
health. Health risks emerge from exposure to radiation while waste management and
transportation give rise to environmental issues.
Exposure to radiation (subatomic particles) that travel at or near the velocity of light can
have exacerbated health effects on life when they embed deep within the flesh, destroying and
knocking cells and initiating cancer. They can also cause genetic irregularities if they come in
contact with reproductive cells. While radiation exists naturally to some extent (15000 particles
per second), it is nowhere near the enhanced exposure that may occur from time to time even
during routine operation of a nuclear plant. Accidents may also initiate this contact. Likewise
transportation of fuel rods or escape of waste from the holds can also perpetrate this exposure
It has been estimated that the radiation from man-made nuclear technology will increase
our cancer risk by 0.002 percent, which translates to a decrease in life expectancy by one hour.
The reduction in life expectancy caused due to conventional fuels, however, is between 3 and 40
days. It is to be noted that no new genetic diseases or effects are reported from plant radiation as
opposed to natural radiation since the body cannot distinguish one from the other. The threats of
bionic man and end of the human race are misplaced.
Our ideas about reactor accidents have been superimposed by an already hysterical
media. While accidents like Chernobyl and the Fukushima Daiichi have managed to scar our
impressions of nuclear power, there is more to it than meets the eye. Nuclear reactors are built on
a “defense in depth” strategy. In other words, systems are assumed to fail and a lot of effort goes
into mitigating the damage that may be caused. Back up systems, therefore, one after the other,
form the line of defense.
In the Three Mile Island accident, two equipment failures compounded due to human
error still ensured that two final lines of defense were not breached. The radioactivity was still
concealed within the steel vessel of the reactor. The reinforced concrete entombment was also
not breached. The Chernobyl disaster was as pervasive because the plant design was not as safe
and there were fewer security measures. Operator errors and improper protocol aggravated the
otherwise delicate situation.
Probabilistic risk analysis techniques have yielded that a fuel melt down may be expected
only once in 20,000 years. Even then, deaths are expected in a small fraction of those
meltdowns. Conventional fuel burning causes almost 10,000 deaths per annum. Therefore,
there will need to be 25 melt-downs each year for nuclear energy to become as dangerous.
Radioactive Waste Issue
The best aspect about radioactive fuel is that it contains the crux of radioactivity in it and
occupies a very small volume in the grand scheme of things. However, contact with life can
expose it to risks associated with radioactivity. Since banning trashing of such waste in outer
space, spent fuel is compacted in rock form and buried deep underground. The life expectancy of
such a rock is estimated at about a billion years, revealing the persistent nature of the risk. This
issue is expected to cause one death every fifty years of the operation of the plant. In
comparison, from conventional sources, waste that ends up in the ground will cause thousands of
deaths for a similar measure of power generated.
Low level waste is kept at shallower depths due to the lower risk count. Additionally,
such materials are already present in the soil and water table naturally. Therefore dispersion is
not an unnatural even to any significant extent. However, scientists still estimate that this will be
blamed for 5 percent additional deaths than caused by the high level waste.
Miscellaneous problems include issues transporting the fuel, taken care of by safe
packaging. Several accidents have happened from the transport of such fuel over the last 50
years however the probability of anyone dying from radiation in this case is exceedingly low.
Mill tailings from mining Uranium and other radioactive substances may also cause the
population to be exposed to radons. On the other hand, coal burning and resulting ashes may also
cause future radon exposure.
Given the lower amount of pollution, minimal amount of raw material required to
produce power, easy transportation of such small quantities, cheap electric power produced and
the small quantity of waste produced, my opinion is strongly in favor of nuclear energy.
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