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Modern technologies and industries use huge quantities of energy every moment, to run each machines, and to create heat, light and refrigeration, and people base their life-style on the certainty of readily available sources of energy. In almost all developing countries the demand for energy is growing as populations increase. Energy use is closely tied to health and well-being. The fast-growing demand for energy all around the world offers the opportunity for people to avoid the high-energy and pollution-intensive development paths of already industrialized countries and "leapfrog" to sustainable energy sources. There are many examples of moves around the world to more sustainable energy policies. Basically, the phenomenon of nuclear energy has been found out during the works on creating of the atomic bomb.
After scientists have conducted more experiments, they came to the conclusion that nuclear power was a clean and efficient way to produce energy. It was discovered that atomic energy can be generated in special nuclear power plants by boiling water into steam, which rotates a turbine and drives a generator to produce electricity. The heat to boil the water is taken from the fission of nuclear fuel in a reactor. The first nuclear reactor was created on December 2, 1942, at the University of Chicago by Enrico Fermi. (Editors of Scientific America, 1995). The discovery of nuclear energy provided a new source of energy which is an alternative to the use of known natural resources, such as coal, oil, water, wind or wood. The energy which can be received in one pound of uranium equals to the amount of energy produced by about 1. 3 million pounds of coal.
At the same time, it had been found out that nuclear energy could be also used in dramatically destructive ways. In those years, the discovery of a new source of energy was a very significant event. By using a small amount of plutonium and uranium, two radioactive elements, an enormous amount of energy could be obtained. Nuclear energy can be produced in two different ways, by the fission or fusion process. Fission involves the breaking up of heavier atoms into lighter atoms. In a nuclear fission reaction, two smaller nuclei of approximately equal mass are formed from the splitting of a large nucleus.
This splitting of an atom produces a large amount of energy. This process is the most common form of nuclear power. Fusion is a method that combines lighter atoms into heavier atoms. In a nuclear fusion reaction, a large nucleus is formed from two small nuclei joined together. Fusion reactions are difficult to produce because of the repulsion of the atoms negatively charged electron clouds and the positively charged nucleus. (LeMay, Beall, Robblee, Brower, 1996). Fusion is mostly used to create the hydrogen bomb. (The World Book Encyclopedia, 1990).
The byproduct of nuclear energy is radiation. Radiation is created from the particles (strontium- 90, cesium- 137, radon- 222, krypton- 85, and nitrogen- 16) that are given off as a result of the splitting of atoms (Gale Encyclopedia of Science, 1996). But as time went on and technologies grew more complicated and sophisticated, the attitudes of people towards nuclear energy have changed. There are a number of positive and negative aspects regarding to the use of nuclear power. Recently, people worldwide have started questioning the continued use of nuclear power. Due to the deaths resulting from the 1986 Chernobyl Atomic reactor accident, as well as the adverse effect the aftermath of the accident had on the environment, there has been a public outcry concerning the safety of society.
As with many controversial issues, this topic has been widely debated, but an effective solution has not been determined by anyone. The positive aspects of the use of nuclear energy are that the supply of natural resources does not have to be depleted, and also it is clean. Another advantage is the expenses for its producing, when compared to other energy types, nuclear is relatively cheap. As the cost of electricity rose, the governments were forced to look for an alternative source of energy, which they discovered in nuclear reactors. Besides, it takes a great amount of natural resources to create a small amount of energy, but in case of atomic energy, a very small amount of plutonium and uranium is necessary for the creation of a large amount of nuclear power. This is important since there are relatively small amounts of plutonium and uranium in the earths crust.
Compared to the production of power using coal, the creation of power generated by nuclear energy does not pollute the air. As coal burns, there are poisonous fumes that could cause sickness, if the area is not properly ventilated. Environmental impact of nuclear energy is minimal, it contributes no releases into the atmosphere and thats why a number of scientists and specialists support the usage of nuclear power, appealing to its safety and reliability as to the global heating problem. Since the first warnings of global warming appeared and the possibility of climate changes had been researched by various scientists, the potential collisions that can be expected in the future became a real subject of fears.
Therefore so many positive opinions as to increasing of producing of nuclear energy came out in recent years. But despite of such a miraculous solution of the dilemma of global warming as generating of nuclear energy, there is a great amount of dangerous disadvantages in wide using and unlimited producing of such sort of energy. Definitely, if the mankind can solve one problem by enhancing of application of atomic power, a lot of other risky situations and disasters would take place on earth. Mostly the fears are connected with high levels of radioactivity of the materials involved into producing of atomic energy, and it takes thousands of years for them to be no longer radioactive. Besides, a great amount of dangerous radioactive wastes are being produced at the nuclear plans, so their transportation and safe burial can be a real difficulty, negative consequences of which can barely be solved safely. The most considerable shortcoming on this controversial subject is the disposal of the nuclear waste which seriously damages the environment.
There are 434 nuclear reactors in the world and 110 of them are in the United States. (Wasserman, 1996), and none of those is operating without polluting the environment. After a period of time in the reactor, the bundles of rods lose their ability to produce heat effectively. These "spent" rods remain radioactive, posing a disastrous threat if that radiation were released. Since it takes hundreds of thousands of years for the radiation to extinguish, nuclear waste has to be disposed of in a way that will contain the radioactivity and protect people. There are two types of waste can be produced: high level and low level, which vary in how much radiation they produce. High-level waste is stored on site under high security to prevent any unused uranium from falling into the hands of terrorists.
Simplest solution is burial but burial sites could be breached by an earthquake. Storage facilities are not sufficient to store the worlds nuclear waste, which limits the amount of nuclear fuel that can be used per year. Transportation of the waste is risky, as many unknown variables may affect the containment vessels. If one of these vessels were compromised, the results may be deadly. The effect of dangerous radiation on living matter can be very devastating.
When living tissue is irradiated, the molecular structure is disrupted, triggering a chain of events that can kill living cells or produce chromosomal damage. The biological effects of large amounts of radiation on the human body are known, due to large part of studies of the 76, 000 survivors of the atomic attack in Japan who have been closely supervised for 40 years. Radiation effects can be divided into 4 types: acute somatic effects, developmental effects, genetic effects, and late somatic effects. Acute somatic effects occur in individuals within days or weeks of their exposure. Depending on the level of radiation, certain tissues, such as bone marrow, intestinal lining, or skin, may be able to replace cells destroyed by radiation within a few days. Developmental effects occur to unborn children of mothers exposed to radiation.
A common consequence is brain damage or mental retardation. Radiation exposure can cause genetic mutations in adults that are carried through to children or later descendants. Late somatic effects are injuries produced in an individual many years after exposure to radiation. The major late somatic effect is various forms of cancer.
Radioactivity is spread by wind, affecting large areas. And it remains in an area long after a reactor melts down, it can stay in an environment for hundreds of years. Another serious limitation of wide usage of nuclear energy is the danger of a nuclear catastrophe. Known two most serious incidents were the tragedy at Chernobyl Atomic Station and the explosion of the hydrogen bomb on Hiroshima. On August 6, 1945, when the atomic bomb was dropped on Japanese city Hiroshima, it was eventually the first time when people could realize the dangers of nuclear power. The effect of the explosion was that the bomb destroyed 4. 7 square miles of the city.
Approximately 70, 000 people were killed and about another 700 000 got injured. As a result of nuclear radiation and radiation sickness, larger amount of people died later on. (The World Book Encyclopedia, 1990). A research, recently accomplished by a group of scientists from both the United States and Japan, has shown that there had not been any found facts of genetic mutation, which can result as changes in heredity, in the future generations of the survivors of the bombing of Hiroshima. (Science News, 1996). The other serious nuclear disaster is supposed to be the Chernobyl accident that occurred on April 26, 1986 in Ukraine. The true amount of injured and dead as a result of this tragedy is very hard to estimate correctly because of the secrecy of the government of the Soviet Union in revealing of the details of this accident. (Marples, 1996). Following the accident at Chernobyl Atomic Station, Soviet scientists supposed that there had been evidence that radiation has exhibited genetic mutation for people exposed to direct radiation effect.
After a range of tests, specialists reported that definite level of mutation was found in sperm and egg cells, which contain the genetic building blocks of future generations. The childs DNA is a combination from both parents genetic makeup. When there is any sequence that the child has, but that sequence was not found in either parent, then this is called germline mutation. Fifteen years after the tragedy that took place in Chernobyl, evidence of mutation in the exposed areas of the country demonstrates that radiation made some changes in genetic makeup and has passed onto future generations. Besides, since 1986 there has been a rise in childhood thyroid cancer in close counties: Belarus, Ukraine and the Russian Federation. This cancer is been developing in tissues of children of the same family that shows that the cancer is a result of the nuclear accident at Chernobyl. (Balter, 1995).
Terrorists can create one more sort of danger, using atomic power. To produce a nuclear weapon for them, sufficient fissile material like separated plutonium or enriched uranium must be obtained. With no enrichment plant or fully enriched uranium, the terrorists could only hope to obtain irradiated fuel bundles from a nuclear power station or from a shipment in transit. Another way is that they can simply disperse the plutonium, if they had received it somehow. This would require a costly decontamination of the affected area and might result in some deaths years later, but would not result in the billions of deaths postulated by scare-mongers.
Moreover, some radically minded governments may mask their nuclear researches with military purposes under usual scientific experiments at their nuclear power plants. Some years ago it was even a sort of a silent nuclear war between India and Pakistan, so the United Nations had to be involved. In April 2000 one kilogram of highly enriched uranium in the form of fast-reactor fuel-pellets was seized in Pakistan. When this situation is put together with the worldwide availability of about 450 tones of plutonium and about 1700 tones of highly enriched uranium, it is apparent that constant security and vigilance is essential. But whether the atom is used for peace or war, man must contend with the hazards of nuclear radiation. Radiation causes burns, terrible diseases, and death; it can harm future generations by causing mutations.
In time of peace, the escape of radioactive elements from nuclear plants is the main radiation hazard. More nuclear power plants will be built if a significant amount of the worlds power is to come from uranium, and consequently, huge amounts of radioactive material will be generated. The power plants must take necessary precautions to insure the communities are safe from the radiation affects. In wartime, the biggest danger from radiation is near or below the place where the atomic bomb has exploded. If people are not killed by the bomb, then they have to deal with the radioactive fallout. Even at a distance from the blast, the injury can be serious.
So, we can see that producing of atomic power has many positive aspects, but at the same time, the significance of danger is overwhelming. Neither national governments, nor scientist can guarantee the safety of nuclear plants. Without such security, there is an instant concern for the wellbeing of the world. I believe that all around the world people should start a gradual course on shutting down of nuclear plants and undertake much greater efforts to develop widespread use of other sources of energy, such as wind or solar power. Lately, public attention to the use of nuclear energy has radically increased.
Few can argue that nuclear energy is clean and can be produced without using of almost any of natural resources. Similarly, few can argue that radiation is dangerous and unsafe to the environment; it brings harm for all living things. People have to estimate thoroughly the negative as well as the positive characteristics of nuclear radiation, and only then to decide what source of energy will be preferable for human being, for all the living things, and also for the environment. REFERENCES: 1. Balter, Michael. (1995). Chernobyl's Thyroid Cancer Toll.
Science. vol. 270, no. 5243, pp. 1758 - 1759. 2. LeMay, Eugene H. Jr. , Beall, Herbert, Robblee, Karen M. , and Brower, Douglas C. (1996).
Chemistry Connections to Our Changing World. Prentice Hall. New Jersey. Pp. 792 - 798. 3. Marples, David R. (1996).
The Decade of Despair. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist. vol. 52, no. 3, pp. 22 - 31. 4. Scientific American. (1995).
Disposing of Nuclear Waste. Editors of Scientific American. p. 177. 5. The Gale Encyclopedia of Science. (1996). Bridget Travers, editor. New York.
vol. 5, pp. 3008 - 3009. 6. The World Book Encyclopedia. (1990). Field Enterprises Educational Corporation. Chicago.
vol. 9 p. 230. and vol. 1 p. 832.
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