The Myths Of Nuclear Power Safety

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There are many myths and lies surrounding pro-nuclear power that are being made public by people who have a vested interest in the production and growth of the nuclear power industry. The myths that nuclear is a safe energy source, cost less to construct and operate, is better for the environment and has little risk of being used for terrorism all are being presented to the public from the media who are being fed these lies by the Nuclear Science Organization and nuclear power business when in fact nuclear power poses a huge safety and environmental risk to all living life forms.   The public has a right to be educated on the truths that surround these lies and to be educated on the subject of nuclear power..

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Nuclear power plants are very complex systems which are operated by humans who can and do make mistakes such as improper maintenance leading to equipment failures and human error makes a future meltdown possible no matter how well a plant is designed. Human error can cause accidents and failures that cause safety concerns for the workers, the environment and the general public. There are also many safety concerns because of failure that result from natural disasters flooding, fires and earthquakes.  We have seen many accidents and failures of nuclear power facilities such as those in Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and Fukushima that could be avoided in the future with the discontinuation of nuclear power facilities.

One of the most common myths surrounding nuclear power is that the operating costs of nuclear power stations are far less than those of a coal power station. Nuclear power and coal stations actually have similar costs in the combined expenses of operation, maintenance and fuel costs. Nuclear power plants only have a lower fuel cost but they have a higher operation and maintenance cost which operationally becomes very comparable to that of a coal power station.  New nuclear plant construction has a very high initial capital investment with an estimated construction cost upward of $9 billion per unit and most nuclear power stations have not been built within budget and most greatly exceed these budgets. The last station constructed in Finland was “3 years behind schedule and at least 1.7 billion euros over budget” (Disendorf).

Another common myth with nuclear power is that very little waste is produced compared to coal power, this results in an unfair and misleading comparison. The high level nuclear waste produced by the nuclear power plant is uranium which contains radioactive material and is extremely hazardous to all life forms as well as the environment. The radioactive waste material is regulated by the government and must be properly contained and isolated in order to protect human life as well as the environment. Coal power does produce waste in the form of coal ash however when compared in the same amount to that of radioactive waste the coal ash has much less harmful properties and some of this wast e can be reused for things such as making concrete.

When it comes to the discussion of dealing with the radioactive waste produced by the nuclear power plants one myth being reported is that the problem has been solved long term in the managing of the high level nuclear wastes. The truth is this problem has been solved in engineering theory meaning that according to science and on paper there is a solution but this problem has never actually been solved in practice of safely disposing and storing the radioactive material. “There is no long- term high-level nuclear waste dump operating in the world” (Disendorf ). The dump site on the Yucca Mountian in Nevada was shut down in 2010 under the orders of President Obama when he suspended licensing needed for this facility to operate in order to continue storing high levels of nuclear waste. The countries of Finland and Sweden are in the process of building underground dumps for nuclear waste storage which is a temporary solution because no one knows how to create facilities that can house and will be able to keep radioactive waste safe for long periods of time, the waste must be kept safe and undisturbed for at least 10,000 years.

Reprocessing or recycling of the nuclear waste is an idea that has been introduced to solve the problem with storage of these waste products. Unused fuel can be recycled to make new fuel and most of the waste after the recycling process would only require a storage time of 300 years leaving only about 1% of the waste radioactive. Recycling or reprocessing the nuclear waste seems like a great plan in theory however reprocessing would be very costly and poses environmental and safety concerns. Reprocessing uses a series of chemical operations which separates the plutonium and uranium from other nuclear waste that comes from the used fuel in the nuclear power reactors.  The separated plutonium can be used to fuel reactors however the cost of the reprocessing and the use of plutonium to fuel the reactors is far more expensive than using uranium fuel and disposing of the used fuel or nuclear waste directly. Due to the prohibitive costs the U.S. decided in the late 1970’s to not reprocess the used fuel from their reactors but to dispose of the waste in an underground repository where it would need to remain isolated for at least tens of thousands of years from the environment.  A recent industry estimate showed that a reprocessing plant with a capacity of processing 2,000 metric tons of nuclear fuel waste annually would cost $20 billion to build and two of these facilities would be needed in the U.S. alone just to reprocess all of it’s nuclear fuel waste.

If spent fuel is not disposed of properly it could be used for or stolen by terrorists and used for creating a nuclear weapon which causes security issues. Reprocessing would increase the risk of nuclear terrorism, very little plutonium less than 20 pounds in fact is needed to make a simple nuclear weapon. If the U.S. continues it’s practice of storing nuclear power waste the plutonium remains bound in the used fuel making it impossible to steal however when plutonium is separated it’s stored in a concentrated powder form increasing the risk of theft and terrorism.

There are a few arguments surrounding the threat of nuclear weapons being produced from the waste. One argument is countries that are currently using nuclear power or pursuing the use of nuclear power have signed a treaty stating they will comply with the rules of not using their nuclear technologies toward making nuclear weapons however any country with nuclear technology needs to be considered a great risk. Security of the nuclear plants has been a large concern because many of these plants do not follow the same safety measures and protocols in the protection of the nuclear byproducts resulting in a high probability of a security breech, theft and misuse of the spent fuel.

Some argue the spent fuel from the reactors of a nuclear power station does not produce weapon grade plutonium which would not be usable in making a nuclear weapon.  Nuclear bombs have been made from the reactor grade plutonium and although they are less efficient and less predictable the amount of damage is still the same, in fact the unpredictability of these weapons makes the risk greater.

Another argument is the countries that have developed nuclear weapons used military facilities and not civil facilities to research and develop their weapons.

The truth is many countries have used civil nuclear power plants and spent fuel to develop nuclear bombs, these countries include India, Pakistan, North Korea and currently Iran. Other countries such as the UK and France used nuclear power to add to their stocks of plutonium. The countries of Argentina, Brazil, South Korea, Libya, South Africa and Taiwan used nuclear power to begin the research and testing process for developing nuclear power but decided to dismantle their facilities.

My final argument on nuclear power is safety for the environment and all living life form.

Nuclear power has been called a clean source of energy and the nuclear power plants are said to not release carbon dioxide emissions. This is a deceivingly true statement. Nuclear power plants may not emit carbon dioxide during operation but every step in the nuclear fuel cycle except the actual operation of the reactors burn fossil fuels and emit carbon dioxide.

Nuclear power plants use uranium ore as fuel and the mining process releases large amounts of carbon dioxide into the environment. There is also Carbon dioxide released into the environment when new nuclear power plants are built and in the transport of radioactive waste also causing carbon dioxide emissions.

 

Nuclear power plants are constantly emitting radiation, though these are low levels of radiation it’s a constant emission into the environment. Studies have shown an increased rate of cancer among people who have worked in nuclear power plants and those who have lived near these nuclear power plants. “The degree of damage low levels of radiation cause to wildlife, plants and the ozone layer is not fully understood. More research is being done to determine the magnitude of effects caused by low levels of radiation in the environment.” (Kivi)

Cooling systems have been put into place to keep the nuclear power reactors from overheating however these cooling systems are causing problems to the environment. Water is pulled from rivers and oceans to cool the reactors however fish are being sucked into these intake systems resulting in the death of many fish. When the water is used to cool the system it is then returned to the ocean or river from which it came but it is now roughly twenty five degrees warmer than the water was originally, the warming of the water causes a shock on the fish and plant life killing more fish.

The transportation and storage of the nuclear waste poses another safety and environmental concern. Nuclear waste is often not stored onsite and requires transportation to a storage facility. The waste would be transported in large trucks and in the event of an accident or a possible leak it would cause a large radioactive spill site causing contamination to our soil and water ways. We could also see soil contamination in the even of the casks the waste is stored in leaking and with the storage needing to be maintained for a minimum of 10,000 there is no way to know if they will hold up.

Even when we take human error out of the equation we will still have natural disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis like the ones that caused the damage and failure of the plant in Fukushima. These natural disasters resulted in major damage to the nuclear reactors causing the system leak radioactive waste releasing radioactivity into the air, soil and sea. The contamination of the area led to a large evacuation that is still in effect for many people who are displaced from their homes without an end in sight. This was a devastating event for the people of Japan as well as the sea life and has been a very costly clean up and repair process and a drain on not only the country of Japan but other countries as well.  There are also concerns about other types of natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornados and even the rise in sea level that can lead to catastrophic failures. Do the benefits of nuclear power out weigh the risks?

The list of fallacies told by the nuclear power companies to the general public will continue to go on and on but the facts show that most all of their claims are lies. Many of the statements given only contain partial truths such as many environmentalists have become pro-nuclear, when in truth aside from two well know environmentalists very few prominent environmentalists are pro-nuclear. Another example of these partial truths is with the decrease in oil production we will need nuclear power as a substitute. The truth is the main sources of fuel for our electricity generation globally are coal and gas. Oil is mostly burnt for transportation so unless electric cars become used much more largely globally in our daily transportation nuclear power is irrelevant as a solution for oil conservation as we see a decline in oil production. As long as the nuclear power companies continue to be in business lies will be told and the people of the general public will have to look outside of the media in order to obtain facts and educate themselves on the hidden agenda of those in the business of seeing nuclear power succeed.

The safety, cost and sustainability of nuclear power have been falsely reported on for many years because of lies fed to the media by those with a vested interest in seeing growth in the nuclear power industry. Those lies have only taken into consideration the best interest in the growth of the nuclear power business and have not considered what is in the best interest of the environment, or human life which is you the people who will be living with the consequences of their decisions.

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