The Threat of Nuclear Power

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 There is a touching book based on a real story called Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes written by Eleanor Coerr. The book is about a two-year-old girl Sadako who survived Hiroshima bombing, but by the age of twelve she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. She was informed that she had one year to live.

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The story is about her journey during the last year of her life. The plot is about Sadako making a thousand origami cranes, as the Japanese legend promises one wish to those who can do it.  Her only wish was to live and that gave her hope, but she died before she could finish making a thousand paper cranes.

After Fukushima, Chernobyl, Hiroshima and Nagasaki disasters we know a nuclear war can wipe us all out, but despite the public concern for environment, international relations, and the future of our planet it has not made any impact on those in who have the power to stop the madness. It seems like the greed for money and power is the main reason nothing is being done about it. The likelihood of nuclear disaster occurring in one of the power plants somewhere is relatively small, but the aftermath of one is too great of a risk to take. Fukushima is still leaking into the Pacific Ocean seven years after the earthquake, and the area near Chernobyl power station is still uninhabitable thirty-two years later. Nuclear weapons probably pose a greater risk than a nuclear reactor meltdown, still it does not mean we should keep building nuclear power plants. Even though nuclear energy is cleaner than fossil fuels it can still be dangerous. 

Nuclear Power is the manipulation of nuclear atomic reactions, using process called nuclear fission. With nuclear fission atoms are split and made into kinetic energy which heats up pipes and produces steam inside the generators which is the converted into electricity. Most Nuclear energy today is retrieved from nuclear fission, which depends on the use of uranium and plutonium. The first nuclear power plant was established in Russia in 1954, then in England in 1956 Nuclear energy was opened for commercial production. Today Nuclear power makes up fourteen percent of the world’s electricity. Even though it is carbon dioxide free, it’s not pollution free and can still be harmful if used as a weapon, or if a disaster occurred in one of the power plants around the world. The reason nuclear power is so dangerous is because of its radioactive emissions given off by Cesium, plutonium, Strontium, uranium, iodine, tritium and radioactive isotopes called alpha, beta and gamma radiation which differ in their relative power and intensity. Gamma radiation is the strongest form of radiation because of its penetrating force which can cause a blast sweeping everything within its range. Alpha radiation does most damage when ingested into living bodies. As contaminated food and water gets into the digestive system it damages cell membranes and kills them causing development of cancer overtime. Beta radiation consists of tiny particles that can pass through skin tissue severely wounding it. While there are some precautions and measures corporations have to take to ensure safety to the public the long-term threat of nuclear energy or weapons still poses a great danger to all living beings.

In 2011 on March 11 Japan faced an event that nobody foresaw. Caused by a magnitude nine earthquake followed with a powerful tsunami three reactors of the nuclear power station Fukushima Daichi began to meltdown creating a complete disaster that continues to affect the world to this day. After the backup generators failed to supply cold water to the cores, Uranium rods started to melt within just a couple of hours after the earthquake hit, turning uranium into hot molten lava which made its way through the containment tank and then the concrete floor and eventually into the earth. Now the water from the mountains nearby pours over the reactors and becomes radioactive, making its way into the Pacific Ocean, and contaminating oceanic life and water. Today seven years after the disaster Fukushima is still contaminating the ocean because nobody can get close to the cores to clean up the mess as anyone could be killed by exposure to radiation within minutes. The Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster happened on April 26, 1986 in the city of Pripyat, Ukraine. While Fukuhara occurred due by to a natural geological event The Chernobyl meltdown happened due to poor management and miscommunication. When the meltdown happened the toxic air from the blast drifted over for miles and forced 350,000 people to leave their homes and evacuate. During this incident many people died, and the authorities are the ones to blame for the incompetence and lack of preparation for an event like that. The precise number of casualties is unknown, but according the International Atomic Energy Agency there were fifty-six direct deaths, nine of which were children who died of thyroid cancer. One hundred thirty-three servicemen were hospitalized with acute radiation sickness and twenty-eight of them died within a few weeks after. Casualties of Chernobyl would not happen today because we have better understanding and better safety precautions for situations as such. Another thing that poses danger is nuclear weapons. During 1940s and 1950s the United States was preparing for warfare during the Cold War. The nuclear tests took place in Bikini Atoll located in the Republic of the Marshall Islands. They performed twenty-three tests over twelve years, forcing the settlers of the island to relocate due to high levels of radiation. Seventy years later we can still see the aftermath of that operation as many of the inhabitants of the island developed cancer and other diseases related to the radiation from the tests.

Currently there are 450 nuclear power plants around the world. Annually they produce from 2000 to 2300 metric tons of high-level radioactive waste and a lot of it is not stored safely. Some radioactive elements take minutes to decay while other take thousands of years. For example, Tc-99 takes 220,000 years to decay, I-129 17 million years, Np-237 two million years, and Pu-239 24,000 years. Also, used uranium fuel rods which are extremely dangerous and must be stored in facilities with special water pools to be cooled off with cold water for ten years before they can be safely removed and put into dry storage. Nuclear radiation if not stored properly emits ionizing molecules, the same kind of particles that scatter when a nuclear bomb explodes. Ionizing molecules damage human DNA and kill cells or cause them to mutate which then progress into cancer. The effects of radiation on the food we eat are extremely worrisome. Fukushima radiation leaks into the water, the algae absorb radiation, crustaceans eat the algae, big fish eats crustaceans, humans eat the fish, and humans get cancer. We’re jeopardizing things we depend on, we put toxic waste into the ocean we fish from. After the Fukushima disaster we have been finding radiation in tuna. Radiation gets into the food, then into breast milk, and that results in babies being born with deformities.

Increasing rates of cancer at this scale are something we’ve not had before, and it’s clearly caused by the toxins put into the environment. Cancer can be linked to pollution and pesticides, but certain cancers like leukemia and thyroid cancers are linked to isotope iodine 131 used in nuclear power plants. Immense numbers of Children have been getting cancers as such at an early age which is something we have not observed before people started to use nuclear power. Everyday forty-three children are born with cancer eight percent of which is leukemia cancer and two percent is thyroid cancer. The UNDP and UNICEF report stated, A well-established increase in thyroid cancer diagnosed in children and adolescents pose a major problem for health services, particularly in Belarus and Ukraine. The populations in the affected regions also suffer from endemic goitre (enlarged thyroid gland) ranging from mild to severe, due to a deficiency of iodine in the diet. Iodine deficiency as well as affecting the thyroid gland diminishes the. Other diseases can also be caused by the Radiation from nuclear weapons and power plants. They include Cystic fibrosis, hemophilia, diabetes, and Congenital hypothyroid. Constant bombings like the ones in the Bikini Atoll had consequences on the marine life. Now we can see specifically in the Pacific Ocean starfish have been dying in large numbers, starfish with missing limbs and decaying internal organs. What happens to animals happens to us. We cannot assume that Radiation doesn’t affect us just because we don’t see immediate effects. If Radiation affects wildlife is also affects humans.

People dismiss the consequences of Fukuhara, thinking that radiation can be diluted by the Pacific Ocean and that the problem will sort itself out. This is naive and somewhat misleading as the contamination can lead to bioconcentration in the food chain. Possible effects on the future could include the imbalance in food chain and species dying in large numbers causing other larger species to adapt to finding different food, which can cause mass extinctions of species that are useful to us. We must take action and use safer methods to produce electricity. We must maintain neutral international relations with other countries as that would improve the quality of life around the world and reduce the risk of nuclear conflict. Instead of using fossil fuels and nuclear energy we should build cars and houses powered by solar panels. Another alternative could be building more windmills, geothermal, and hydroelectric stations. As individuals we can help by wasting less electricity, be more efficient, turn off the lights and hang our clothes to dry.

In a safe and sustainable future, we won’t be using nuclear energy for anything as it is expensive and dangerous. Renewable energy is better for the environment, our health and it is in our interest to use it. If people use Renewable energy there won’t be another Chernobyl or Fukushima disaster. It’s about time to think about what kind of a planet we’re leaving future generations with, it’s unfair to create problems and put them on the shoulders of young people. We have to change the way choose to produce energy and deal with international conflicts so that no more twelve-year-old kids die of thyroid cancer.

Works Cited

  1. Grady, Denise. Measuring Radioactive Elements and Their Effects. The New York Times, The New York Times, 4 Apr. 2011, www.nytimes.com/2011/04/05/health/05primer.html.
  2. Jorgensen, Timothy J., and Health Physics and Radiation Protection Graduate Program. Bikini Islanders Still Deal with Fallout of US Nuclear Tests, 70 Years Later. The Conversation, The Conversation, 10 Sept. 2018, theconversation.com/bikini-islanders-still-deal-with-fallout-of-us-nuclear-tests-70-years-later-58567.
  3. Kirk WolfingerAmerica and the nuclear fusion. BBC Documentaries. 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YEuzrfuap64
  4. UNDP and UNICEF with the support of UN-OCHA and WHO. The Human Consequences of the Chernobyl Nuclear Accident A Strategy for Recovery. 6 February 2002. Pg. 36. https://www.iaea.org/sites/default/files/strategy_for_recovery.pdf
  5. Coerr, Eleanor. Full Text of “Passing”, London: F. Warne ; New York : Scribner, Welford, and Armstrong, 2004, archive.org/stream/SadakoAndTheThousandPaperCranes-English/SadakoAndTheThousandPaperCranes-A4-EleanorCoerr_djvu.txt.

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