Good Argumentative Essay About Nuclear Power As Source Of Energy
Countries around the world are facing a need for more energy. One alternative is nuclear energy. Given the current concern about climate change and the finite nature of fossil fuel, is nuclear power the answer to the energy crisis as a whole?
The advent of climate change has affected and has, as a consequence, altered people’s way of life. No matter how opponents of the concept of climate change is denying it, all its footprints are there for the world to see. Flooding in places that are usually not prone to flooding, voluminous rains, extreme weather and other tell-tale signs prove that climate change is slowly about to radically impact the way of life on earth. One of the culprits usually ascribed as causing it is the mindless use of fossil fuel, which emits gases that cause the greenhouse effect. Fossil fuel and the power it gives are hallmarks of modern civilization. A life without electricity is unthinkable, but there would be little life left if climate change continues to exacerbate. Alternative sources of energy must be considered and one of these sources is nuclear power. But is nuclear power the real answer to the present power crisis? This essay argues that it is not primarily because the risk it poses renders its disadvantages nil. For this purpose, this essay describes the various situations showing that nuclear power is potentially more harmful than useful.
Overview: Nuclear Power
The process of generating electricity through nuclear power entails the generation of heat from a process called fission. Fission is the splitting of the nucleus of an atom resulting in nuclei of lighter atoms. Such transformation is accompanied by the release of heat, which is used to convert water into steam and generate electricity (Sample 2008). The fission process is also a chain reaction in that the neutrons released by the original fission also attack other atoms to split them and so on and so forth until the fuel is entirely used up. This process takes place in the furnace of a nuclear power plant called the reactor – a steel container about 17 feet wide and 6o feet high. A reactor can contain as much nuclear fuel that can generate electricity good for 12 to 18 months (Daley 1996). Inside the reactor is the core, which is the center of all the most important activities and where heat is generated. As shown in Fig. 1, the reactor is enclosed in thick, stainless steel to contain radioactivity and has fuel rods. Control rods, which absorb neutrons, are likewise inserted into or lifted away from the core to control fission and thus, prevent overheating.
The disadvantages of nuclear power plants
Nuclear power is not the answer to the present world energy crisis that stems from climate change because its disadvantages far more outweigh its advantages and the risks it entails are characteristically cataclysmic. These drawbacks primarily include risk of exposure by the public to radioactivity during accidents in nuclear power plants, the problem of disposing waste materials of nuclear power plants that are equally or even more harmful than nuclear fuel, and the costs for constructing, maintaining and operating nuclear plants are astronomical.
1. The risk of exposure to radioactivity
Radioactivity is part and parcel of operating and maintaining a nuclear power plant because its concept is founded upon the idea of radioactivity. Fission - the main process that sustains a nuclear power plant – is only possible because of the instability of the atoms of U235. According to the EPA of the US, radioactive materials generate ionizing radiation that can damage the body that has been exposed to it. It can lead to cancer, which results when the body is unable tom properly repair the ill effects of radiation. If the exposure is acute, it can result into burns, radiation poisoning, and even death. Moreover, exposure to radiation may not be immediately visible, but affects health in the long-term. Such effects may be teratogenic or genetic mutations. Fetuses exposed to radiation are born with physical or mental abnormalities, such as smaller head or smaller brain size and other physical deformities, as well as mental retardation (EPA 2012).
The exposure to radiation, especially by workers in such plants is, therefore, always a cause of anxiety. This apprehension worsens when accidents happen that can widen the coverage of radioactive exposure affecting nearby population and areas. When an accident happens in a nuclear power plant, the consequences are enormous, widespread and its impact felt for several decades as can evidenced by history. Nuclear power plants accidents are some of the worst disasters in history and there were several of these in the last century and even during this century. Some of these accidents were the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant disaster in 1986, the Fukushima accident in 2011, and the Three-Mile Island disaster in 1979.
a. The Chernobyl Nuclear Plant Reactor Explosion in 1986
The Chernobyl Nuclear Plant disaster proved that nuclear power plants can, at any time, fail because human failings can exacerbate faulty design resulting in a horrific disaster. In 1986, one of the reactors of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Kiev, Ukraine exploded. The reason was that the person assigned to oversee the operations that day was confused by the instrumentation reading and out of reflex punched the emergency shutdown. This triggered a domino effect ultimately ending in the explosion of reactor (Adams 1996). It released about 185 to 250 million curies of radioactivity into the atmosphere affecting an estimated number of 35 million people. Thirty-one people immediately died within the first few days of the explosion, and many more in the subsequent weeks and months. The International Atomic Energy Agency or IAEA estimated that 4,000 of the 600,000 people most exposed to it will have cancer, and tens of thousands more will die prematurely. Between 40,000 to 70,000 were also estimated to likely contract cancer in the subsequent decades following the disaster. The radiation emitted by the explosion affected many animals in Scandinavia, Germany and Great Britain for many years necessitating their declaration as unfit for food. Similarly, vegetable became inedible in Italy and contaminated cheese and milk caused the increase of radioactive radiation levels in children. The impact of Chernobyl was such that food restriction had to be imposed on more than 100 million Europeans in the years that followed the disaster (McKinney et al 2012).
2. The Fukushima Disaster
Even if the design of a nuclear plant is excellent, this does not preclude the happening of accidents as nature itself can be the triggering mechanism. This was illustrated by Fukushima Nuclear Plant accident in 2011 that was instigated by a natural disaster. When a major earthquake with a magnitude of 9.0 hit Japan on March 11, 2011, it created a 15-meter tsunami to hit the eastern coast of Honshu Island flooding 560 sq. m. of land. The nuclear reactors – all 11 of them – of four nuclear power plants immediately shut down, but nonetheless, the Fukushima Daiichi reactors 1, 2, and 3 were affected by the flooding losing its backup generators and lost the capacity to cool down, and eventually melted. More than 1,000 people died in the efforts to cool the reactors and more than 160,000 residents in nearby area were evacuated. Although many were allowed to return in 2012, some 81,000 were prevented from doing so and, thus, have been displaced from their homes (WNA 2014).
3. The Three-Mile Island Nuclear Accident
Nothing is accident proof because unforeseen incidents can occur at any time and if this happens in a nuclear power plant, the consequences are disastrous. In 1979, one of the two reactors of the Three-Mile Island Nuclear plant had a mechanical failure although it was not in the nuclear section. Water was thus prevented from transporting water to the steam generators used for cooling the reactor’s core. To ease the pressure in the nuclear sector that resulted from the automatic shutdown, a relief valve was opened. Although pilot-operated, the pilot did not know that the valve was stuck resulting in the pouring out of water through the valve. The indicator in the control room showed that the valve was closed after the pilot closed it. Not realizing this, the staff resorted to measures that were not responsive to the situation after hearing alarm bells. In the end, the core melted. Fortunately, the reactor containment held and contained the radioactive materials. Although investigations showed that the residents, plants and animals nearby did not suffer ill health effects, but only a dose of radiation slightly above the normal, it compelled the US government to stop ordering nuclear power plants from then on (USNRC 2013).
2. The problem of disposing the waste products of nuclear plants
Nuclear power plants produce waste materials that are themselves radioactive. It is said that the harmful effects of these waste materials last up to 100,000 years (Munthe 2011). These waste products may be in liquid, gaseous or solid form and contain radioactive materials that can enter waterways and other water bodies. These harmful wastes can be transported to humans through the food chain from the water used for livestock or through plants exposed to contaminated irrigation water (Sharma 2005). Even the handling of such waste products can result in a disaster as proven by the Kyshtym disaster in 1957. The Mayak fuel reprocessing plant near Kyshtym in Russia handled spent or used radioactive fuel used in its nuclear plants. As earlier stated, spent radioactive fuel sustains its radiation emitting capacity for hundreds of years and has to be kept cool in water. For this purpose a liquid tank was built in Mayak, but one day the generator that would have kept the tank cool broke down resulting in the rise of temperature of the liquid fuel. The tank, which was made of concrete exploded and a cloud of dust rose in the air. About ten thousand people were evacuated, and Russia kept most of the impact of the explosion secret (Baker 2014).
3. The capital costs of nuclear power plants are high
A nuclear power plant requires a large tract of land, energy and materials to operate. Operating a nuclear plant requires tremendous amount of uranium. For example, a 1000-megawatt capacity nuclear power plant would need about 140,000 metric tons of uranium ore good for one year’s consumption of electricity. To mine this amount of uranium ore entails more than 7 hectares or 18 acres of land resulting in the displacement of 2.5 million metric tons of earth and rocks. The process of mining, and thereafter, purifying, uranium ore itself is burdensome and dirty (McKinney et al 2012). Since uranium is a radioactive element, transporting it to the nuclear plant site can be very risky (Brain and Lamb 2015). Even after it has lived its life and is decommissioned, the same amount of money and efforts are needed to shut it down.
Nuclear Power in China
Recent news reveals that China is on a rush to construct nuclear power plants. The recent decades witnessed the rise of China as an economic powerhouse and as one of the most populous countries in the world the demand of electricity in this country is correspondingly rising as well. To meet this demand, the country is rushing to build nuclear power plants. At present, it is building more than 20 nuclear reactors and plans to triple this in the next five years. A French nuclear power regulator described this step as ‘overwhelmed’ (The Economist 2014).
Although China can well-afford dozens of nuclear reactors, it must heed the lessons of the past. It should look at the most recent event that befell its Asian neighbor Japan in 2011 and even the Chernobyl incident. China has a population of about 1.3 billion as of 2013 (World Bank 2015), and it should, therefore, carefully consider its steps before rushing to build reactors, which if they failed, because of design, human error or because of nature, or a combination of them can affect those people. For example, another news item reveals that it is planning to build coastal nuclear power plants (WNN 2014) that are made in China (Spegele 2014). This is a decision that poses double risk. First, the Fukushima disaster showed that coastal power plants are at risk for tsunami and flooding because these might cause the incapacitation of generators that are important to cool down the core. The east coast of China is exposed to the South China Sea, where tsunami can develop after major earthquakes. Second, China is not an experienced designer of nuclear power plants. If Westinghouse, which is byname in nuclear power design and had been in the business for so long, can commit error in their design, how much more for the untested Chinese designers? China lives in a continent in which it shares borders with some neighbors, which might be affected if its nuclear plants fail. It should, therefore, carefully consider its plan to build nuclear plants ensuring that they are as safe as can be.
Nuclear power plants are potentially more harmful than useful because of the catastrophic risks it carries, especially when accident occurs. One might argue that accidents are preventable and an improved and advanced design can eliminate that risk. Concrete instances, however, prove that where nuclear plants are concerned, they are not accident-proof and when an accident occurs, the impact on public health and the environment can be potentially huge, widespread and long-lasting. Accident in a nuclear power plant is not only triggered by design, but human failing and by nature as well and even by happenstance. This is proven by the Fukushima case, where nature itself is the instigator of the accident. The Three-Mile Island proved, on the other hand, that any small malfunction, such as a stuck valve, can potentially cause catastrophe in a nuclear power plant and of course, the Chernobyl case is the mother of all nuclear power disasters. Nuclear power plants are useful, but it is too risky to take a chance. Other alternative power source must be looked into.
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