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Meltdown: The Horrific Price of Nuclear Power Israel Levy Ashford University


Meltdown: The Horrific Price of Nuclear Power Nuclear energy; for some, the term brings to mind mushroom clouds and unparalleled destruction. For others, it conjures images of disastrous incidents, such as Chernobyl and Fukushima Daiichi. For still others, nuclear energy is not a thing of dread, but a beacon of light pointing to a future of clean, renewable power. What is the truth behind nuclear power? Is it indeed the key to weaning the world from fossil fuels, or do the risks outweigh the rewards? While it may seem like the answer to many of our ills, the risks seem to greatly outweigh the rewards. For the sake of contrast, let us weigh the potential drawbacks of another clean energy sourcehydropoweragainst those of nuclear power. Hydropower, though it does not produce any pollution, has several negative aspects. First, the cost of building a hydroelectric dam and plant can be discouraging for many. Once construction is complete, there is the problem of the dams physical presence. Damming water sources can lead to a change in fish populations and migration patterns, and the portion of the plant on land can cause similar disturbances with land organisms. It may also cause said populations to displace to other areas, upsetting the delicate ecological balance. Finally, hydropower is ultimately dependent on a factor which humans cannot immediately and directly impact: weather. Without precipitation to feed the water supply, hydroelectric dams cannot function. (Turk & Bensel, 2011) When properly managed, nuclear power, like hydropower, is incredibly clean. However, it still poses many of the same economic and physical problems (interference with habitats, populations, etc.) and as hydropower, and comes with one very grave possibility entirely its own.

Meltdown In the case of nuclear fissions reactors, which make up the majority of nuclear power, even the smallest error can prove catastrophic.

While (ideally) no pollutants are intentionally released into the environment, the problem is that the process does produce massively irradiated waste products, ranging from contaminated rags and clothing to barrels of spent radioactive fuel. These waste products must be disposed of somehow, and methods of disposalincluding storage and burialare not foolproof. In addition to these risks, there is the ominous, ever-looming specter of potential nuclear meltdown. Meltdowns occur when the heat generated by a nuclear reactor exceeds the heat removed from it by cooling systems. This can lead to a breach of containment, resulting in leaks of both radioactive materials and other toxic products used to induce fusion, wreaking havoc on the environment and all organisms within it. The unavoidable eventuality of human error, coupled with the high risks associated with nuclear wastes, can lead to great tragedy. There is no finer example of this than the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. On April 26, 1986 one of Chernobyls reactors experienced a catastrophic power increase, causing multiple explosions in the reactors core. Occurring, ironically, during the testing of a potential emergency core-cooling feature, the explosions also ignited the reactors graphite moderator, resulting in heavy smoke which, along with the lack of any hard containment shell, aided the dispersal of toxic and radioactive particles into the air. The aftermath was horrific. People in a large radius surrounding ground zero had to be evacuated, and Chernobyl has been a ghost town ever since. Health problems from the incident were experienced over a very large area as the cloud of fallout spread through the atmosphere. The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates global excess cancer deaths resulting from the Chernobyl disaster at about 27000. (Gronlund)


But perhaps if we can put stricter policies in place regarding nuclear power and waste disposal, such disasters may be averted. However, it is impossible to account for all possible natural disasters, as the world learned with the 2011 earthquake and subsequent tsunami that ripped through Japan and, coupled with yet more mistakes on the part of the people in charge, triggered a nuclear disaster comparable to Chernobyl. Following the earthquake, all operational reactors at nuclear power plant Fukushima Daiichi were shut down. After shutdown, nuclear reactors still require constant cooling to disperse the remaining heat and prevent meltdown. However, the following tsunami flooded the basements which housed generators powering the coolant pumps. The generators failed, and reactors 1-3 began overheating. While flooding the reactors with seawater would have cooled them sufficiently to prevent a disaster, those in charge delayed doing so because the expensive reactors would have been ruined in the process. They did not commence flooding until orders came from the government to do so, and by then it was already too late. Over the following days, all three reactors experienced meltdown. Melting metals combined with water to produce massive hydrogen explosions, ripping the facility apart and releasing deadly radiation and contaminants into the air as well as into the ground and seawater. Estimates put the amount of radiation released at about 1/10th of the Chernobyl incident, which is still an incredibly large amount. Given the spread of radiation and how recently the Fukushima disaster occurred, it is difficult to predict the long-term effects it will have. However, there is no denying that it was a monumental catastrophe. So while nuclear power can be very clean and very efficient for a very long time, there are tremendous risks associated with it that make any benefits pale in comparison. With many other avenues of alternative energy to consider and the memory of incidents like Chernobyl and

Meltdown Fukushima, it is time to put those 1950s dreams of a nuclear world aside and move boldly into the future with other clean sustainable alternatives that dont come with such great potential for disaster.

Meltdown References Gronlund, Lisbeth. "How Many Cancers Did Chernobyl Really Cause?Updated Version." All Things Nuclears--Insights on Science and Security. Union of Concerned Scientists, 17 2011. Web. 7 Jan 2013. <>.Smith, M. (2001).

Turk, J., & Bensel, J. (2011). Contemprary environmental issues. San Diego: Bridgpoint Education.