Nuclear power, wherever it might be present, is a sure ticking time bomb, sooner or later, whether it is the actual functioning of the plant, or the management of the fuel. Nuclear power allures with its high energy yield- but before we whip ourselves into a frenzy of pursuing it, we must ask ourselves at what cost would we avail this energy, and whether it is worth paying the price.
Nuclear power poses problem primarily because of its intrinsic nature, that is of nuclear radiation. As unstable atoms of uranium decay, they give off energy, and matter radiation in the form of gamma-rays. Basically, naturally occurring Uranium is converted to an even more unstable element, Plutonium. Then a chain reaction is set off on this mass of Plutonium, and this reaction is then “controlled” through various means, giving off a massive amount of heat. This heat is then used to generate steam, which pushes turbines, generating electricity. Incidentally, the “uncontrolled” version of this reaction are nuclear bombs, the same technology capable of leveling cities and destroying lives for several generations.
Other than any other problems that a thermal power plant might pose, that is, gaseous emissions, thermal population, destruction of important aquatic life, dumping of this hot water into nature, destroying the environmental balance around it; and many other threats, the main dangers that nuclear power pose can be categorized in two ways.
First is, of course, storage of the fossil material, as in, reactor grade Uranium. This Uranium is itself a dangerous substance, and has been misused several times. Uranium deposits regularly vanish off the face of the Earth, and the next thing we hear is of an Iranian or North Korean nuclear test. The threat doesn’t stops here, of course. This can very well land in the hands of malevolent radicals, terrorists, for which nuclear weapons can be nothing short of a boon.
But other than these, the disaster that is far more likely is present in the functioning of the nuclear power plants themselves. Any irregularity or unexpected failure will spell a disaster for the civilization and life around it. An example of this is in Chernobyl, a site that remains inhabitable to this very day. The molten reactor of Chernobyl was so dangerous that a man near 10 feet of it could die in minutes without any protective suits. The worst part is that these failures are not only common, but also bound to occur during the run time of a plant, however unlikely it might be categorized by the experts. After all, no man made disaster would ever occur if not for unerring human far-sight!
Even if the plant were to be run in near perfect conditions diligently, even then there always are factors that can never be accounted for. One such example is Fukushima, something which requires no introduction. After the Earthquakes struck Fukushima, entire tidal waves, irradiated, washed all across Japanese coast lines even as radiation spread across in all directions. People were evacuated, and their homes still have to welcome their masters to this day. Another example is how CIA sabotaged Iranian nuclear research sites. Iranian nuclear sites weren’t even connected to the internet, but CIA was able to deploy malevolent code, which when were to connect to the Iranian sites, by one way or other, traveling around the world, would be able to render their infrastructure useless just by changing a few parameters. We might cheer, before remembering this could easily be us, and our foes, not so benevolent.
The problem does not ends here. The by-products themselves have to be stored somewhere remote, deep and secure. The material itself can be easily used in weapons, even after losing it’s capability to make thermo-nuclear bombs, and a significant infrastructure would have to developed in order to contain an overgrowing nuclear waste. And the same threats which are posed to functioning of nuclear power plants – and the ensuing dangers, are present just as well in this scenario. An Earthquake to destroy an underground containment of such waste, polluting the water table would just as disastrous as Fukushima, if not more.
Proponents of nuclear energy may very well say this scenarios as one-off and rare, improbable, but question we need to ask is that can we afford even these “one off” disasters? The smallest probability that hundreds of thousands will die, and the very waters will be unfit for consumption. We really need to deliberate over whether we really can afford to pay such a price for a higher yield or not.
To learn more, read Managing Radioactive Waste – A Challenge.