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Environmental Dangers of Using Nuclear Energy

written by: Ashwin Satyanarayana • edited by: Lamar Stonecypher • updated: 7/27/2015

It is time we take an objective look at alternative solutions. Is nuclear energy the way of the future? Learn about some of the environmental dangers of this type of energy source.

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    Is Nuclear Energy the Solution? Nuclear energy amounts to about 19% of the total energy generated in United States and about 16% of the total energy generated around the world. Both the fission and fusion process of producing nuclear energy dispels enormous amount of heat and energy which can be used to produce electricity.

    Although, nuclear energy can fulfill the electricity needs of the world even after the exhaustion of coal and oil, it has not been utilized as much as it could. This is probably because of the possible harm it can cause to mankind and to the environment.

    Environmental Impact

    Nuclear energy is clean; it does not produce harmful gases like carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and nitrogen dioxide. However, nuclear energy does generate large amounts of radiation which is harmful to the cells of the human body. Radiation has been shown to cause numerous diseases including cancer. Extreme exposure to radiation may also lead to death. Harmful exposure to radiation would not be evident immediately in many cases, as illness can strike people even years after exposure.

    Another disadvantage is the issue of was disposal. Improper disposal of nuclear waste can lead to radiation poisoning. Some of the waste products from nuclear reactors include the fuel that is used, known as spent fuel. Spent fuel is highly radioactive and very dangerous. It must be cooled for several years in special storage facilities outside the plant site or in deep pools inside the plant. A special disposal site is needed for this type of spent fuel.

    The primary impact of nuclear power is on the environment, through the mining of uranium, which is used as a fuel for nuclear energy. Uranium is non-renewable, though it is a common metal found in rocks all over the world. Nuclear plants use a certain kind of uranium, U-235, because its atoms can be easily split apart. Though uranium is quite common, about 100 times more common than silver, U-235 is relatively rare.

    Improper disposal of radioactive substances, may also lead to crops and water bodies being exposed to radiation. Such crops and water when consumed would also result in illness and death to man and animals.

    On the other hand, low-level nuclear material is not as dangerous, and is even used to detect and cure certain illnesses like cancer. It is also used for pain relieving and therapeutic purpose in medical treatment. Nuclear materials are also used in industries to locate cracks in steel, which especially becomes useful in construction industries.

    The possibility of a nuclear disaster is what prevents more countries from investing in this source of alternative energy. Nuclear disasters can have devasting environmental consequences and many safety features must be strictly enforced to prevent such catastrophes. We still have a long way to go before nuclear energy will be viable for large scale use.