Nuclear Energy

When most people think of a nuclear threat, they think of a nuclear attack from a
foreign nation. In reality, the largest nuclear threat comes not from foreign attack, but
from a much closer enemy: nuclear power. Nuclear power is very dangerous, and should
be done away with.


The nuclear age dawned in 1945, when the United States dropped atomic bombs
on two Japanese cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The bombing had at least two effects:
the Japanese surrender, bringing World War II to a swift end; and many people in the
United States, especially scientists and officials involved in the development of atomic
bombs, were awed, frightened and filled with guilt over the death and destruction they
had caused.

We Will Write a Custom Essay Specifically
For You For Only $13.90/page!


order now


Some psychologists and historians believe that guilt, more than any other reason,
led the United States government to invest billions of dollars to develop peacetime uses of
nuclear energy, in a kind of crusade to show that nuclear energy could be a force for good.


Research for military purposes, particularly the development of nuclear-powered
submarines, suggested that atomic energy had commercial possibilities. In the late 50s
utilities began to apply for licenses to build and operate nuclear power plants.(Murphy 36)
The AEC smoothed the path. It spent billions of dollars on research and provided
financial help for the first several large commercial nuclear power stations. Nuclear
energy seemed like a sure bet, a wonderful new technology that could
be highly profitable.


Nuclear development gained momentum during the 1960s. Scores of plants were
under construction; about three dozen more were ordered, and in 1968 the AEC predicted
that a thousand nuclear power plants would be operating by the year 2000. To most of
the general public, it seemed that a golden nuclear age lay just ahead.(Murphy 39)
By 1975, however, the AEC had been abolished. By early 1976 utilities had
canceled orders for twenty-five nuclear plants. The prospects of nuclear power dimmed
further with the 1979 accident at Pennsylvanias Three Mile Island plant. Another blow
fell in 1986, when the nuclear disaster occurred at Chernobyl in the Soviet Union. One
hundred and sixteen nuclear plants had been canceled in the United States by March 31,
1988.(Murphy 43)
The primary reason for this extraordinary change is concern about safety. Many
people see the existing form of nuclear power as unsafe technology with a potential for
catastrophe. There have been multiple examples of this throughout the history of nuclear
power including the Browns Ferry, Three Mile Island, and Chernobyl incidents.


A serious incident occurred at a nuclear power plant in 1975 as a result of a fire
started by a candle. On March 22, 1975, two large reactors at Browns Ferry, Alabama
were operating and generating 2,200 megawatts of electricity. Beneath the plants control
center, electricians were trying to seal air leaks among the complex array of electrical
cables that made up the electrical system of the two reactors.(Stephens 15)
The leaks were being sealed by stuffing strips of polyurethane foam among the
cables. To test for air leaks, the electricians held a lighted candle near the plastic foam to
see whether the flame flickered. Some of the foam caught on fire. Three chemical
extinguishers failed to put it out. After fifteen minutes a fire alarm sounded. Meanwhile,
the fire was spreading and destroying cables that affect the plants electrical systems
including the reactors Emergency Core Cooling System. A small pump had to be used to
keep the fuel core covered with water to prevent a meltdown.(Stephens 17-19)
The fire burned for six hours destroying 1,600 cables. Both reactors were shut
down for nearly months. The cost of repairs and buying electricity from other sources
totaled more than 300 million dollars.(Stephens 21)
The Browns Ferry incident represents a close call with catastrophe. Engineers of
the Tennessee Valley Authority, which operates the plant, said that sheer luck had
prevented a potentially disastrous release of radiation. One worker with a candle
accidentally revealed serious flaws in the safety systems of nuclear power plants.


On March 28, 1979, a minor malfunction occurred in the system which feeds water
to the steam generators at the Three Mile Unit 2 Nuclear Generating Station. During
routine maintenance of the secondary side, feedwater to the steam generators was
interrupted. The loss of feedwater caused the primary systems to overheat causing the
primary system to increase. The reactor protective system scrammed the reactor but not
before the system pressure caused one of the pressure regulating valves to open.(Baratta
32, Stephens 13)
Unfortunately, when the pressure in the reactor decreased, the valve failed to
completely close resulting in a small break loss of coolant accident. The emergency core
cooling systems actuated as the system pressure continued to drop. Because of an
incorrect interpretation of the instrument readings the operators terminated the operation
of these systems. This caused the core to eventually overheat. The fuel cladding rapidly
oxidized releasing hydrogen to the containment and further accelerating the process.
Eventually, a significant portion of the fuel melted and flowed into the lower part of the
core and lower reactor vessel head.(Baratta 38)
Large amounts of radioactive noble gasses were released to the containment
atmosphere. Some of these were released to the environment. Despite the severity of the
damage, no injuries due to radiation occurred. There were, however, significant health
affects due to the psychological stress on individuals living in the area. The accident itself
progressed to the point where over 90% of the reactor core was damaged. The
containment building in which the reactor is located as well as several other locations
around the plant were contaminated. The financial damage to the utility was very large, 1
billion dollars or more. The resulting contamination and state of the reactor core led to
the development of a ten year cleanup.(Tredici 67)
The incident at Three Mile Island is yet another example of how dangerous
nuclear power really is. Because of human error, poorly trained operators, and incapable
operating systems, another nuclear disaster was narrowly missed. Sheer luck and
coincidence was all that saved the world from a nuclear catastrophe.


Because of the Three Mile Island incident new rules and laws were laid down for
the operation of nuclear power plants. This had little or no effect on nuclear plants
outside the US, however.


On April 26, 1986, another serious incident alarmed the world. One of four
nuclear reactors at Chernobyl in the former USSR, exploded and burned. Radioactive
material spread over Scandinavia and northern Europe. According to the official report
issued in August, the accident was caused by unauthorized testing of the reactor by its
operators.(Nardo 28)
The reactor went out of control; there were two explosions, the top of the reactor
blew off, and the core was ignited, burning at temperatures of 1500 degrees Celsius.
Radiation about 50 times that at Three Mile Island exposed people nearest the reactor, and
a cloud of radioactive fallout spread westward. More than 30 people died. The plant was
encased in concrete. By 1988, however, the other three Chernobyl reactors were back in
operation. One of the remaining reactors was shut down in 1991 due to a fire in the
reactor building.(Melvedel 38, Nardo 32)
The incident at Chernobyl is the most severe nuclear power plant disaster in
history. Even considering the magnitude of this disaster, the remaining reactors are in use
today. This is yet another example of the dangers of nuclear power. This one not only
resulting in property damage, but also in human lives.
Nuclear power has proven time and time again to be extremely dangerous. Yet all
over the United States and the world nuclear power plants continue to produce electricity,
endangering the lives of millions. Some experts believe that the benefits of nuclear power
outweigh the risks. Their justification is that nuclear power is a good, clean source of
energy. While it is true that atomic energy does not produce the air pollution or consume
the valuable resources of conventional power sources, it does produce hazardous,
radioactive waste which cannot be safely disposed of. The waste can only be stored until
it is no longer toxic, which is projected at thousands of years.
Another point that supporters of nuclear power point out is that the military
benefits from it. Once again, this is a good point. The Navy, in particular, takes
advantage of nuclear power by using generators onboard its ships to enable them to stay at
sea for longer periods of time. While this is a definite advantage since the military needs
to maintain superiority over other militaries, it is just an exception to the rule. Militaries
are dangerous by nature, so nuclear generators do not really increase the danger to
servicemens lives by a large factor.
If things continue as they have, more nuclear accidents are sure to happen. It was
only due to luck that the nuclear accidents in the United States were not much worse. If
nuclear energy is not done away with, the people of the world need to be prepared for a
disastrous accident on a larger scale than any in modern history.




Bibliography
Baratta, Tony. The Three Mile Island Reactor Incident.

http://www.libraries.psu.edc/ciswed/tmi/help.htm, 1997
Hamilton, Sue. Chernobyl: Nuclear Power Plant Explosion(The Day of the Disaster)
Lincolnwood, Illinois: Publications International, Ltd., 1990
Melvedel, Zhores A. The legacy of Chernobyl. New York, New York. Enterprise
Publications, 1991
Murphy, Arthur W. The Nuclear Power Controversy. London, England. Prentice-Hall
International, Inc., 1976
Nardo, Don. Chernobyl. San Diego, California. Lucent Books, Inc., 1990
Stephens, Mark. Three Mile Island. New York, New York. Random House, Inc., 1980
Tredici, Robert Del. The People of Three Mile Island. San Fransico, California. Sierra
Club Books, 1980