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Negative Aspects of Nuclear Energy Production

The Chernobyl Accident
The world's worst nuclear power accident occurred at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in the Ukraine on April 25, 1986. More than 30 people were killed immediately when a nuclear reactor exploded. Many more were exposed to large amounts of radiation and suffered and/or died from resulting radiation sickness or cancers. The concrete casing that now encloses the reactor site is pictured to the left.
  • Possibility of a nuclear meltdown

    • Something goes wrong inside the reactor
    • The fission reaction goes out of control
    • The core overheats and melts
    • There is an explosion (not a nuclear explosion) which releases radioactive materials to the environment


  • Radioactive Fallout

    • the released radioactive particles are carried into the upper atmosphere by the explosion
    • The particles eventually fall back to the earth's surface contaminating the soil, water, etc


  • Nuclear reactors produce nuclear waste

    • Nuclear reactors produce waste that can be divided into two categories. High Level Waste and Low Level Waste. It is the high level waste that is the most concern, it is composed mainly of the spent fuel rods. The problem with high level waste is that it is very toxic to the environment and takes hundreds of years to decay to non-dangerous levels. The low level waste composed of clothing, tools, etc..that have been exposed to radiation are less radioactive and will decay back to non-dangerous levels in less time.
    • Nuclear waste cannot be thrown away like ordinary garbage, special storage facilities must be built to store the waste in over long periods of time

Side Effects of Radiation on Humans
  • Exposure to excessive doses of radiation may cause a variety of conditions
    • The unit used to measure radiation dosage is the rem (roentgen equivalent in man). Rems indicate the amount of radiation needed to produce a particular amount of damage to living tissue. The total dose of rems determines how much harm a person suffers.
      • 25 rems: detectable changes in blood
      • Doses near 100 rems usually have no immediate harmful effects
      • Doses above 100 rems cause the first signs of radiation sickness
        • Nausea
        • Vomiting
        • Headache
        • Some loss of white blood cells
      • 300 rems or more
        • Temporary hair loss
        • Significant internal harm, including damage to nerve cells and the cells that line the digestive tract
        • Severe loss of white blood cells
        • Victims are highly vulnerable to disease
        • Reduces production of blood platelets, which aid blood clotting
        • Victims are vulnerable to hemorrhaging
      • Half of all people exposed to 450 rems die
      • Doses of 800 rems or more are always fatal
        • Victims suffer from fever and diarrhea
        • No effective treatment
        • Death occurs within two to fourteen days
      • For survivors, diseases such as leukemia, lung cancer, thyroid cancer, breast cancer, and cancers of other organs can appear due to exposure to radiation

        Graph Chernobyl and Thyroid Cancer
        Since the Chernobyl nuclear accident, the number of cases of thyroid cancer in Ukrainian young children has increased drastically.

Myths about Nuclear Energy
  • Myth: Nuclear energy promotes nuclear weapons production

    • Fact: Nuclear weapons were built before many countries converted to nuclear power
    • Fact: The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty controls/prevents production of nuclear weapons
    • Fact: The fuel used in nuclear power plants is only 5% enriched uranium, in nuclear weapons the uranium is 95% enriched. Therefore the uranium fuel for power plants cannot be used to make nuclear weapons.

  • Myth: A nuclear power plant is a bomb waiting to explode

    • Fact: Nuclear power plants have cooling systems and back-ups to prevent the reactor from getting to meltdown temperatures
    • Fact: National regulatory agencies, a new World Association of Nuclear Operators, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) work together to publicize up-to-date knowledge concerning nuclear safety.
    • As mentioned above the fuel in the power plant cannot explode.


  • Myth: Nuclear reactions produce large quantities of waste that will be dangerous for thousands of years

    • Fact: The longest lived waste products will become stable elements within a few hundred years
    • Fact: Waste can be handled safely through standard techniques of controlled burial or storage in near-surface facilities
    • Fact: The total amount of waste material generated each year is small compared to waste produced by other types of power plants.

    Train carrying nuclear waste Transportation of Nuclear Waste
    Trains are commonly used to transport nuclear wastes. A train carrying nuclear waste to a storage site is pictured to the left.

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