Physics

The Issues around Nuclear Power



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Dragon On A Leash:
A chilling thought, one to keep you awake at night. A NASA launch gone wrong, not an unprecedented event and one of of only minor historical significance, unless, the launch vehicle's payload is radioactive. The downstream plume of lethal nuclear material might extend hundreds of miles particularly if the accident happens with in the jet stream. Chernobyl has left its isotopic signature in the Greenland icecap. What benefits would have to accrue to justify such a risk whatever the likelihood of it's occurring. We are very possibly talking about the loss of Florida. Georgia, perhaps much of the American Southeast and Mexico. Not by flame and blast wave but by the slow inevitable settling of a radioactive cloud containing nuclear byproducts with half lives of thousands of years. Yet there are those who favour a plan to dispose of atomic waste in deep space., those who wish to further the development of nuclear generated electricity.
Large companies are currently taking advantage of fears over global warming and energy shortages by pressing for an expansion of nuclear energy, and finding much support within the Bush administration. People seem to have forgotten that nuclear power comes at a significant cost in the form of great risks.
The existence of so called "Breeder Reactors" facilitates nuclear proliferation. It was a Canadian CANDU reactor which allowed India to produce its first atom bomb,
Accidents are more frequent and more serious than is generally known. In 1957 The British nuclear reactor at Windscale experienced a fire which released a large amount of radioactive material. There were no immediate fatalities but government researchers predicted as many as 33 cancer deaths would result from the accident. The Chernobyl accident caused thirty deaths immediately, but according to the Ukrainian Radiological Institute 2500 people died as a result of the radioactive products released. The World Health Organization reports a rise in cancer rates. Nuclear accidents keep on giving long after the initial crisis is resolved. Three Mile Island was a closer call than officialdom would have us believe.
Part of the difficulty lies in the fact that economics require the construction of nuclear plants close to of large populations A accident at Enrico Fermi II nearly necessitated the evacuation of Detroit.
The third class of risks stems from the nature of the waste products generated by nuclear power. In addition to being extremely toxic such byproducts cannot be easily or safely stored. Whatever their risk, the likelihood of mishap is much increased by the lifespan of those products. It is only a matter time before they are spilled into a waterway, released to the atmosphere or used by a terrorist as a weapon.
In fairness the probability of a major accident is small. The results of such an accident can , however, prove enormous, A reasonable risk assessment compels us, then, to err on the side of safety. We are told that the accumulation of green houses in the atmosphere and the reduced supply of petroleum products make nuclear power and attractive option. It has to be remembered, though, that it is not the only option open to us. Even a robust program of conservation will eliminate at least one nuclear power plant. At the same time we have yet to explore, let alone harvest, the full potential of wind, tide, and solar energy. Until we have done so any attempt to harness the nuclear dragon seems patently unwise.

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