There is a rumor that nuclear power plants as energy providers will make a comeback to replace diminishing supplies of fossil fuel. Not necessarily because alternative renewable methods for energy increased approximately 53 % in 2009 (The End, 2012).
A report by the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) states that unplanned reactor shutdowns (accidents) have decreased to almost zero over the last thirty years (Heiser, 2009). Probably that won’t change the negative attitudes towards nuclear power especially after the Japanese melt downs.
The Fukushima, Japan disaster demonstrates the danger from the combination of natural disasters and poor nuclear plant design. Radioactivity is the big danger to living plants and animals. The half life of the radioactive isotope a substance contains varies depending on the source.
Nuclear waste has accumulated over decades because of the problem of developing or finding reliable storage sites. An example given by U.S. National Academy of Sciences in 1983 is that 3 million years are needed before the radioactive waste in the United States will decay to concentrations equal to the background levels in the environment (Nuclear Waste, n.d.).
Radioactivity can reach the environment from the cooling waters of nuclear power plants which are located on riverbanks. But radioactive waste also travels through the groundwater from leaks through the earth around a reactor site. Ground water is our major drinking water reservoir. A person’s body can become contaminated by eating contaminated fish, or breathing radiation from the air or eating agricultural produce that has been contaminated.
Although only one small niche in a river may be the area that is first contaminated, radioactivity spreads. Predators that eat the fish in that niche become the next victims. The water cycle is also an effective way radioactivity enters local ecosystems and then spreads throughout the global environment. When contaminated water evaporates or is transpired by plants then the clouds hold that water until it falls as rain.
The largest source of radioactivity is from nuclear power plant waste (Nuclear Waste Storage, 1998). The problem of waste makes running power plants an expensive business. Three strategies have been used in the U.S. to deal with the problem of nuclear waste, unfortunately none of them are worry free The spent fuel rods are only supposed to be kept for six months after the fuel rods have been used but more and more of them are kept on site.
Spent fuel rods are the worst part of the radioactive wastes because 99% of all radioactive waste is from the spent fuel rods (Nuclear Waste Storage, 1998). . The storage of spent fuel rods at the reactor site in boric acid cooling pools has been used. The problem of overcrowded fuel rods in the pools has made other choices necessary.
The second strategy is to store the waste in large dry casks and keep them suspended in hardened concrete within the casks (encapsulated) until a solution for nuclear waste is found. These casks are also at or near the reactor site until they can be moved to another storage area.
A third strategy has been to build tunnels in the Yucca mountain range in Nevada for storage which is considered a permanent solution by some. The atmosphere is dry because the ecosystem is a desert. A wet, rainy environment would corrode the casks holding the spent fuel rods stored inside them.
Unfortunately the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission did not have an opportunity to be a part of the decision-making process for storing wastes underground in Nevada (Galbraith, 2009). Many people in Nevada have protested and declared ‘Not in my Backyard’ (NIMBY) because they do not want the wastes stored in their state. If the climate changes, a volcano erupts or an earthquake happens radioactivity could escape. The disaster also points out how dangerous storing spent fuel rod because of leakage into the groundwater and into the areas surrounding the power plant.
Respect and Responsible Stewardship
I think that no more nuclear reactors should be built. A reactor is considered old after twenty to twenty-five years. Two hundred reactors were being built in 1979 (Schneider, 2009). Only 64 reactors were being built in the spring of 2011 (Schneider, 2011). This is a positive trend but there is an important and tragic lesson. I feel that energy should never be produced at the expense of safety again. Future generations are going to have to come up with a solution to a problem made by their ancestors.
The End of Nuclear. (2012 Feb. 16). World Watch Institute. Retrieved 16 Feb. 2012 from http://www.worldwatch.org/end-nuclear
Heiser, S. (2009 Oct. 20). Safety improvements in nuclear power. Blog post. Nuclear Power Industry News. Retrieved from http://nuclearstreet.com/nuclear_power_industry_news/b/nuclear_power_news/archive/2009/10/20/safety-improvements-in-nuclear-energy-10205.aspx
Nuclear Waste. (n.d.) Oracle Think Quest. Library. ThinkQuest.org. Retrieved from http://library.thinkquest.org/3471/nuclear_waste_body.html
Nuclear Waste Storage. (1998). Oracle ThinkQuest. ThinkQuest.org. Retrieved from http://library.thinkquest.org/17940/texts/nuclear_waste_storage/nuclear_waste_storage.html
Galbraith, K. (2011 Nov. 27). A new urgency to the problem of storing nuclear waste. New York Times. www.nytimes.com Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/28/business/energy-environment/a-new-urgency-to-the-problem-of-storing-nuclear-waste.html
Schneider, M., Froggatt, A., and Thomas, S. (2012). Nuclear Power in a Post-Fukushima 25 Years after the Chernobyl accident. World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2010-2011. World Watch Institute. Washington, D.C.: World Watch Institute. Available from www.worldwatch.org.