Nuclear Power: An Advantageous Option or a Risky Business

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There is a huge amount of energy trapped in atoms and to get it out you need to split the atom, we know this thanks to Einstein's equation E=mc2. The atoms used for nuclear fission are “fragile” atoms like Plutonium-239 and Uranium-235. You shoot a neutron at an atom, this then splits the atom and that releases energy but another neuron is also released, which will then hit another atom and it continues because it's a chain reaction. This process stops when there aren't any more compete atoms left. Nuclear fission is used because it releases a lot of heat and it is used to heat the water.

The Components

Many nuclear reactors have a supply of radioactive fuel pellets, often Uranium-235. These are arranged in fuel rods in the reactor core. The atoms undergo a chain reaction called nuclear fission which releases energy(heat). The pressurized water around the vessel is heated by the emitted heat from the reaction. The reactor also has control rods made up of neutron absorbing material like boron. Control rods are placed in the core to control and or stop the reaction. By controlling they can half the effectiveness or maximum it and they also help stop the meltdown. They can stop a meltdown by absorbing neutrons and that reduces the amount of atoms hit which means less heat is released and if less heat is released then the possibilities of overheating are stopped. They make the effectiveness maximum by lifting up the control rods which means they won't be absorbing neutrons and this then means that the reaction will be at maximum because more atoms are being hit since there are more neutrons available. The moderator is a substance that helps control the fission process or slow down neutrons. Most of the reactors in the US use ordinary water but others use heavy water or graphite. The water around the vessel gets heated by the heat from the reaction. The water carries and absorbs heat, it is circulated through pipes(with the help of a pump) in a steam generator. The steam generator produces water vapor. The water vapor that is produced spins the turbine which is attached to a generator. When the turbine spins, it makes the generator “work”, it generates electricity(it produces a current in the wires and then the electricity is sent to factories, homes, etc). After leaving the turbine the steam gets cooled down in the cooling towers so that the water can be reused for the cycle to continue. To briefly add it up, nuclear reactors produce large amounts of energy from nuclear fission reactions and the heat turns the water into steam and the steam is transported in pipes, it then turns the turbine which starts the generator that then generates electricity that is sent to homes, etc. The water is then cooled down in the cooling towers and is used again. The water is very important because it doesn't only spin the turbine but it's also a cooling element.

Nuclear Radiation

Nuclear radiation is the particles and energy that is released in reactions that involve the nucleus of an atom. It comes from the nucleus of an atom, when it's unstable it throughs out pieces in all directions. Ionizing radiation is released by atoms and it's a type of energy, it travels in the electromagnetic waves or particles. There are three different types of decay processes, Alpha particles, Beta Particles, and Gamma rays. An Alpha particle has two neutrons and two protons. Alpha particles are the most ionizing radiation thanks to their big mass and double charge. They are the most damaging type of radiation to biological tissues because of their ionizing power but they are the type of radiation that is the least penetrating. They travel only 3-5 cm and can be easily stopped by a sheet of paper. A Beta particle is just a high energy electron. Beta particles are in the middle of Gamma rays and Alpha particles, they are less ionizing than Alpha particles but more ionizing than Gamma rays. Their penetrating power is more than Alpha particles but less than Gamma rays. They will travel 15cm and can be stopped by a few mm aluminum or plastic and wood. You need to be careful when shielding Beta particles with dense materials because the fast deceleration of them will create Gamma rays. When a nucleus decays from an excited state to a lower energy state, high energy electromagnetic waves are released. These waves are Gamma rays. Since they have high energy it means that they have short wavelengths(10-12 ) and a very high frequency(1020 Hz). They are the least ionizing but they are the most penetrating. In theory, Gamma rays have an infinite range but the intensity of the rays decrease with distance, the rate is dependant on the material. Lead is the most effective shielding material and a few feet(1 feet=30cm) will stop them. Materials like water and dirt can also stop but will need to be at a larger thickness.

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The Dangers

One of the dangers is a nuclear meltdown. A meltdown is an accident when severe overheating of the reactor makes the reactor`s core melt. This is because nuclear fission releases a lot of heat energy and it makes it very warm and if the reaction gets out of control the uranium melts to the bottom of the core and goes through it. It could occur if there was a defect in the cooling system, for example, if there isn't any fresh cool water getting pumped in to cool the reactor or if the water gets exposed to air then it gets very hot and heats up the reactor. Radioactive gases get released into the atmosphere and environment because if it blows up or if the uranium melts the core then it gets opened up and the radiation can go through. A real-life example of this is the Chernobyl disaster when the cooling system failed and they lost control of the reaction, this lead to severe overheating, and the reactor blew up, releasing radiation into the atmosphere. They lost control of the reaction because instead of the control rods being at the bottom to stop the reaction, they were the highest up they could be, they were not absorbing any neutrons. The steps taken to reduce the risks are many cooling systems. A reactor often has 4 cooling systems, all to prevent overheating and the possibilities of a meltdown. Cooling systems are often water and the control rods(they are not a cooling element but they help by stopping the reaction. but the reactor can continue being hot even though the reaction is at a halt), the water is part of several cooling systems. The water cools by being around the reactor but since it gets hot, it gets replaced by fresh new water and that water gets replaced and so on. The reactor core itself can get filled up by water if necessary to cool it down. The water is the most important cooling element. The power plants get built far away from the cities so that if anything would happen, for example, if it exploded people wouldn't be endangered, so that if anything happened the damage wouldn't be as bad as if it was in the middle of the city. If a disaster happens it still affects people and cities around the plant because the radiation clouds spread out and make places radioactive for a very long time (like the Chernobyl disaster, people still have to evacuate and leave their homes and everything). Another risk is radiation. When the uranium is used it becomes radioactive waste. If it were to escape it affects the environment, humans, and the climate. The environmental harm is plants(they die, they can't grow), the area stays radioactive for a very long time, People have to evacuate and animals (they have pretty much the same symptoms as humans, they don't get evacuated they are left to die, they have no habitats). An example is the Chernobyl disaster when reactor 4 exploded in 1986 and the area is still radioactive and will stay so for decades.

Radiation is a danger because when humans are exposed to it there are a lot of symptoms like death,killing of nerve cells and small blood vessels, damage to the intestinal tract lining, and long term risks for leukemia and lymphoma. The biggest thing the companies do to keep the radioactive waste inside is how the nuclear plant is built. It is built out of different layers of shielding materials to stop the radiation from getting through. They also build the plants a bit out of society to decrease the amount of damage if a disaster occurred. If it was in the middle of a town, for example, the damage would be much worse but if it's far away from people then the damage won't be as bad.

Is Nuclear Power Good?

I think that we should stop using nuclear power and try to find another solution. There are two strong arguments as to why we should stop, 1 Accident happen, for example, a meltdown. Radioactive waste poses a threat to humans and the environment. If you look at the Chernobyl accident, we can still see the effects today. Cities evacuated, our planet is already too little and an accident makes a place too dangerous for people to live in and they have to move to another place-making overpopulation in that area. We need more areas for people to live in and nuclear power risks taking area from us. If you look at all the accidents so far, nuclear power has taken a living area from us. Other effects of an accident are effects of radiation that can be seen on humans exposed to it from the Chernobyl accident. 15 000 to 30 000 people lost their lives in the Chernobyl aftermath and more than 2.5 million Ukrainians are still struggling with health problems related to nuclear waste. Another disadvantage is that it produces radioactive waste and as mentioned earlier, it is very harmful and dangerous for humans and the environment. Accidents happen and when the accidents happen the radioactive waste gets out into the environment and atmosphere. I think that we shouldn't continue because so far I have mentioned two things, risk of disaster and the radiation. They might not happen very often but when they happen they are very dangerous catastrophic. It's not safe for anything near the power plant because the effects last for many years.

Another disadvantage is that nuclear power plants are very easily “harmed”. They can be brought down by natural disasters like earthquakes, they can be targeted by terrorists because if they were to bomb it, they don't only affect the plant itself, they will affect everything surrounding it for many years. An example of natural disasters is the Fukushima disaster caused by an earthquake and a tsunami. This is a reason for us to stop using nuclear power because they are easily targeted and the risk of a disaster is too high with all the things that could go wrong. Last but not least, they are expensive to build, the money spent on building them could be spent on other energy sources like solar, wind, etc. So to wrap it up, we should stop using nuclear power because the risk of an accident is high and an accident in nuclear power is very bad, it doesn't only have an instant impact but also a long term effect. It produces radioactive waste which is very dangerous for humans, animals, and the environment. The impact is that people have to live everything behind because of the radioactivity. It may have a lot of disadvantages but it also had some advantages. Nuclear power itself doesn't have any carbon emissions or sulfur dioxide emissions which is very good because right now we are facing things like global warming and it's good that nuclear power does not contribute.

Another advantage is that it is pretty “renewable”. It is not completely renewable because the uranium will finish someday but it is used in small amounts and effectively so it is consumed in small amounts which makes it last much longer. Since they use a small amount of fuel there is less transport needed which means that there won't be as much carbon emissions from the transport of the fuel because there isn't as much transport needed. And that's good for the environment. Nuclear power produces a lot of energy with a low amount of fuel and this is good for the environment and because the fuel(uranium) lasts longer and more electricity is generated. Even if it has all these advantages and many others. The advantages aren't worth the risks of the disadvantages because the disadvantages are too dangerous to risk and that's why I think that we should stop using nuclear power. It's not worth the risk of people's lives, animals suffering, and the impacts a disaster has on the environment.

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