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The Negative Effects of Nuclear Energy

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In 1950, the first commercial nuclear power

plants were constructed. The public was promised

a non-polluting and resourceful type of energy, but

how safe was, and is, nuclear energy? Although

there are less than 500 licensed nuclear power

plants in the world, many nuclear accidents have

already been endangering civilian lives. More

serious accidents are not just likely, but inevitable

(Fairchild 29). Nuclear energy may appear to be

the ideal source of energy for the future: however,

there are many negative effects of nuclear energy

that can lead to very dangerous situations.

Energy has always been among the basic human

concerns, along with food and shelter. It takes

part in all activities, from walking to the operation

of even the most complicated equipment. Mankind

has been faced with the challenge of meeting its

energy needs without risking human health and the


The many types of energy are mechanical, thermal,

chemical, electrical, radiant, and atomic (Microsoft

Encarta). In 1987, oil supplied 32% of the energy

worldwide. Coal was next in line with 26%, then

natural gas with 17%, biomass 15%, and nuclear

energy with only 4% (Galperin 19). With the main

sources of our energy running low, nations look to

new sources to provide our society with power.

Nuclear energy, the newest type of energy, was

researched to see if it would be the most

promising type of energy for the future.

Surprisingly, nuclear energy was discovered by

accident. In 1896, the French scientist, Antoine

Henri Becquerel, conducted an experiment with

uranium salts and found that these salts gave off

their own light when exposed to sunlight. Marie

and Pierre Curie were fascinated by the

possibilities of Becquerel's rays. The Curies

discovered exactly what the rays were and then

named the phenomenon radioactivity (Halacy 6).

During World War II, many scientists from around

the world came to the United States to work on

nuclear reactors and weapons. With much

success, they continued after World War II and

concentrated more on nuclear energy. The

scientists instantly saw that nuclear energy would

be a great source of power because of the amount

of power it released. Splitting an amount of

uranium equal to one penny would produce as

much energy as seven and a half tons of coal

(Lilienthal 85).

A nuclear power plant is where energy is formed

when nuclear fission or fusion takes place. So far,

however, only the power of fission has been

controlled and used for energy. There are many

parts of the nuclear power plant, including the

reactor, generator, control room, cooling systems,

and the electrical, air, and water lines. The heart of

the nuclear power plant is its reactor core, which

contains a few hundred fuel assemblies. The

reactor core is encased in a pressured steel tank

with walls several inches thick. In most reactors,

this vessel is enclosed in a containment structure.

This is a steel-reinforced concrete dome that is

about three feet thick and serves as the outermost

barrier between the plant and the environment

around it. This helps prevent radiation from

escaping the plant (Galperin 42).

There are many different types of nuclear reactors,

but all the power plants in the United States and

more than three-quarters of those worldwide are

light-water reactors. There are two types of

light-water reactors, which are boiling-water and

pressurized-water reactors. Both types use

ordinary water as coolant and require enriched

uranium (Microsoft Encarta).

In boiling-water reactors, cooling water surrounds

fuel assemblies. The heat of nuclear fission makes

the water boil and the steam produced is carried

away from the core to the turbines. Once its work

is done, the steam is condensed to water and it

returns to the reactor (Galperin 44).

The pressurized-water reactor is more commonly

used than the boiling-water



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