The Dangers of Nuclear Power

Nuclear Power

  • comes from reaction in the nucleus of an atom.
  • Used since 1950's
  • Creates great amounts of energy
  • Releases toxic waste


  • Plants cost more and last a shorter amount of time
  • After 30 years plants are closed permanently
  • Reactors generate harmful radioactive waste- remains radioactive for over 1,000 years
  • long term waste storage is difficult and risky
  • Many people fear nuclear plant accidents
  • the radioactive waste can cause cancer

Disposal of Waste-

  • safest method is burying the waste/risky, waste could be released
  • the site must be stable- no earthquakes, volcanic activity, etc.
  • aquifers must also be out of the way
  • kept in special containers in tunnel systems underground
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How is it Produced?

Nuclear Fission

There are two types of nuclear reactions that will produce energy: fission and fusion. Fission occurs when an atoms nucleus splits apart into two smaller nuclei. A small part of the nucleus's mass creates a great amount of energy for us to use. Nuclear power plants continuously release energy, in a feasible manner, otherwise known as a chain reaction. The energy is then used to boil water to create steam, which allow generators to produce electricity. This is one of the two ways that nuclear power is produced, and the only one used.
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A diagram of nuclear fission in which it splits and produces usable energy.

Nuclear Fusion

While this method does create nuclear power, it has problems that we have yet to overcome. The process occurs when the nuclei of hydrogen atoms fuse together to produce larger nuclei, therefore releasing energy. However, because of the extreme temperature requirements, it cannot be used. In fact, it is the procedure that powers the sun and stars!
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A diagram of nuclear fission in which deuterium and tritium fuse together, releasing the products of helium, a neutron, and energy.

Nuclear Disasters

Although helpful when it comes to powering cities, nuclear power is quite deadly when not cared for properly. Sometimes the system can overheat, or an employee might calculate an incorrect measurement. Either way, we can never be one hundred percent sure that there won't be any accidents.

Chernobyl, Ukraine- 1986

The first, and quite possibly the most destructive, nuclear disaster was the Chernobyl disaster of 1986. The accident itself was the result of an incredibly faulty reactor design mixed in with human error. It is the only disaster in the history of commercial nuclear power to cause radioactive fatalities. Twenty-eight employees that were exposed to high radiation died within four months of the accident. Officials think that it also caused almost seven thousand cases of thyroid cancer throughout people who were under eighteen at the time of the disaster. The calamity itself occurred early morning on April 26th, 1986 when the reactors became too unstable at low power, losing cooling water, and causing them too overheat. The hot fuel particles reacted with water and created a steam explosion, which lifted of the reactor's cover, and leading the other reactors to rupture as well. A second explosion occurred and exposed the reactor's core, provoking a fire that lasted ten days. The radiation in the atmosphere led to birth defects and mutations in the environment.
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Fukushima, Japan- 2011

On March 11, 2011 an earthquake with a magnitude 9.0 hit northern Japan causing a great amount of damage. The earthquake accompanied by a tsunami knocked out the power and caused significant damage to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station. The piping and internal/external power sources were knocked out. This resulted in none of the emergency back up systems to function properly. The following day, March 12th, radioactive waste was found leaking from the front of the facility. The waste was able to spread and make its way in to the pacific ocean leaving the risk of more to be infected. Fukushima has been considered the worst nuclear spill since Chernobyl in the Soviet Union. To this day clean up efforts and rehousing for previous residents is still in action.
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Kyshtym, Russia- 1957

Kyshtym is a small town in Russia near the Southern part of the Ural Mountains. At the time the town was near Mayak Production Association which was the location of the Soviets growing nuclear program following World War II. On the day of the disaster, September 29, the cooling system in the production plant failed. In the end all of the backup cooling systems failed causing the temperature in the tank to rise. More than 100,000 pounds of radioactive waste was released in to the surrounding area following the explosion. Majority of the surrounding area was farmland and forest, only 23 communities existed in the area. Overall about 10,700 people were evacuated from the area. The waste was able to spread through runoff from the farms, heavy storms, but mainly the milk from the cows in farms closest to the restricted contaminated zone. This spread the waste farther than expected so clean up was expensive and lengthy. To this day the land closest to the reactor is still off limits due to high levels of radiation.
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How does nuclear waste affect its environment?

  • Due to a long half life the waste remains radioactive for years leaving the risk of a lethal accident occurring.
  • When the waste is disposed of incorrectly it is able to travel far distances through water ways,dust storms,heavy rain etc.
  • In some countries people scavenge for the waste and willingly expose themselves to the radiation just to make money. These people are able to spread the radiation to others.
  • Health effects include cancer when exposed too long, it also changes the DNA that assists in cell repair, also physical deformities that last generations in the family.
  • When accidents do occur the expense of cleaning all the radioactive waste up is high and takes an extremely long time. It takes even longer to ensure that the land is now safe for humans and animals once again.

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Interesting Facts and Quotes

Interesting Facts

  • Even after the accident, contaminated meat was still sold in Chernobyl. The meat would be black and rotten, yet people still sold it.
  • Although the nuclear power plants themselves do not emit dangerous gasses like fossil fuels do, the mining, enrichment, and of uranium does.
  • The U.S. has 71,862 tons of nuclear waste. Some waste sites even have 4 times the amount that they were originally built to hold!
  • Illinois has the most nuclear waste than any other state in the U.S. at 9,301 tons.
  • The sun produces an enormous amount of energy from its nuclear reactions and, in the process, loses over 4 million tons of mass every second.
  • The peace sign was originally the symbol for an anti-nuclear weapons symbol.
  • Gov. regulators estimate that there is a 50% chance of a core melt down in a U.S. reactor ever 20 years.
  • The nuclear disaster in Chernobyl released 100 times more radiation than the atom bombs that were dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima during WWII.


"Every dollar spent on nuclear is one less dollar spent on clean renewable energy and one more dollar spent on making the world a comparatively dirtier and a more dangerous place, because nuclear power and nuclear weapons go hand in hand." ~Mark Z. Jacobson

"This new power, which has proved itself to be such a terrifying weapon of destruction, is harnessed for the first time for the common good of our community. [Upon opening Calder Hall nuclear power station in 1956.]" ~Elizabeth II

"Boss: Dilbert, You have been chosen to design the world’s safest nuclear power plant.

Dilbert: This is the great assignment that any engineer could hope for. I'm flattered by the trust you have in me.

Boss: By “safe” I mean “not near my house.”" ~Scott Adams

"Isn't there a danger with new nuclear that we are going to lock ourselves in rigidly to a technology, for the best part of a century, when other technologies like carbon capture and storage, like renewables, are evolving practically every day?... I can't decide whether new nuclear is a white elephant or a red herring. But very clearly what it isn't is the answer to the energy problems we face today." ~Steve Webb

"They're very successfully pulling the wool over people's eyes over whether or not we need nuclear. The bottom line is there are much greater, safer, quicker, cheaper ways of achieving greater emission cuts than going down the nuclear route. Plus the signal that it gives out internationally is an incredibly negative one." ~Caroline Lucas

"I think it's a very ill-advised decision on grounds of cost, on grounds of enormous amounts of waste we don't know what to do with, and on grounds that it's too little too late...I think this is the mother of all white elephants." ~Michael Meacher

"Why on earth are we repeating the nuclear folly of past years when one power station was 15 years late, vast cost overruns of £75bn in managing the waste? The new thinking on waste is to bury it in a hole in the ground - which was the answer 40 years ago." ~Paul Flynn

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"55 Interesting Facts About . . . Var Addthis_config = {"services_compact":"email,fark,digg,delicious,linkedin", "services_expanded":"email,fark,digg,delicious,linkedin"};." 55 Interesting Facts about Nuclear Power. N.p., 31 Aug. 2012. Web. 06 Dec. 2015.

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Nuclear catastrophe / Chernobyl / 1986. Photograph. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 3 Dec 2015.

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Rabl, Thomas. The Nuclear Disaster of Kyshtym 1957. Digital image. Environment and Society. Arcadia, 20 Nov. 2012. Web. 3 Dec. 2015.

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Susquehanna Nuclear Power Plant. Digital image. Power Engineering. FLSmidth, 13 Apr. 2015. Web. 1 Dec. 2015.

Wall, Alex. "Top 10 Nuclear Disasters in the World." Process Industry Forum Top 10 Nuclear Disasters Comments. N.p., 20 May 2013. Web. 02 Dec. 2015.

"What Is Fusion?" Fusion for Energy News RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2015.

Williams, Francesca. Radioactive waste contained in canisters would be buried beneath Cumbria. Digital image. BBC. BBC News, 28 Jan. 2013. Web. 1 Dec. 2015.

"World Nuclear Association." Chernobyl. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2015.