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The Threat Of Nuclear Energy

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Science & Nature

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You are watching the control panels and gages for rector two. Sitting comely you think about how easy your job is. It is a joke! All day you sit around and watch the gages for reactor number two just to make sure they maintain their settings. You don't even need to look at the gages either because a computer automatically regulates them without you. Life is so good. Suddenly all the sirens go of and the gauges and displays spin wildly in every direction. The ground shakes and you can hear the sound of a deep rumble. Unknown to you, the reactor's cooling pumps have failed to cool the reactor's core and in 3 seconds the temperature went from 280 degrees centigrade to 4,000 degrees centigrade. The water that was in the reactor is instantly turned to steam which creates tremendous amount of pressure in the reactor core. Above the reactor core there is a 5 foot thick lead plate and above that there is a meter thick floor composed of iron, barium, serpentine, concrete, and stone. The exploding steam fires the floor up like shrapnel. The metal plate goes through the four foot thick concrete roof like butter and reaches and altitude of sixty meters. You can hear ripping, rending, wrenching, screeching, scraping, tearing sounds of a vast machine breaking apart. L. Ray Silver, a leading author who covered the disaster at Chernobyl, said that within the core, steam reacts with zirconium to produce that first explosive in nature's arsenal, hydrogen. Near-molten fuel fragments shatter nearly incandescent graphite, torching chunks of it, exploding the hydrogen. The explosion breaks every pipe in the building rocking it with such power that the building is split into sections (11-13). You look down at your body and notice that it feels hot and your hands look different. Unknown to you a tremendous amount of neutrons are hitting your cells and taking chucks out of your skin. Suddenly everything goes black.
The paragraph above describes the scene of what happened at Chernobyl nuclear plant a few years ago. From that time until the present many other smaller accidents have happened. From these accidents many people have died and millions have been indirectly affected. Nuclear energy has far to many negative problems than advantages. From the mining of uranium to disposal of nuclear waist there are problems of such magnitude that no scientist on this earth has an answer for. Nuclear energy has so many problems associated to it that it should be banned from the earth.
To understand we must first understand what happens in a nuclear reaction. Ann E. Weiss, who has written several books on the subject of nuclear energy, described what happens inside a nuclear power plant. In a nuclear reaction the nuclei of its atoms split, producing energy in the form of heat. The heat makes steam which powers a turbine. Fission takes place in a nuclear reactor. The fuel used is pellets of uranium. In a modern reactor, half-inch long pellets of uranium are packed into 12 or 14 foot tubes made of an alloy of the metal zirconium. About 50,000 zircalloy fuel rods make up the reaction core. To control a nuclear reaction control rods made of cadmium is used which absorbs neutrons. With the control rods in place in the core, a chain reaction cannot begin. When the plant operators want to start the chain reaction they activate machinery that pulls the control rods away from the core. Once this is done a single free neutron is enough to set off the reaction. As the reaction continues, a moderator slows the neutrons down enough to ensure that they will continually split more uranium atoms. At the same time, the moderator acts as a coolant. It keep the overall temperature about 300 degrees Celsius. Since the temperature at spots inside the fuel rods may be as high as 1,100 degrees Celsius, enormous amounts of coolant are continually needed to keep the core temperature at the proper level. When the plant must be must be shut down the control rods are lowered all the way back into the core. That brings the chain reaction to a standstill. The core cools, and steam is no longer produced (23-24). In all nuclear reactions use uranium and produce some plutonium.
Since nuclear reactions produce a considerable amount of plutonium there are considerable hazards that come along with it. Nader and Abbotts, two men who have a great amount of experience in the nuclear industry, comment that:

Plutonium's major dangers include the fact that it is weapons-
grade material, that it is highly toxic, and it is extremely
long-lasting: it will take 24,000 years for half of it to
decay. In addition to the possibility that plutonium could
contaminate the environment or the population in an accident,
there is also the danger that a terrorist group could steal
plutonium for the purposes of fashioning an illicit nuclear
weapon. (63)

Plutonium-239 is a man-made reactor by-product which emits highly energetic alpha particles. Even though alpha particles can be stopped by a piece of paper that can be very dangerous to tissue if they are taken into the body by ingestion or inhalation. Expressing extreme concern over the issue of plutonium getting into the human body Nader and Abbotts write:

Experiments with dogs show that the inhalation of as little
as three millionths of a gram of Pu-239 can cause lung cancer.
John Gofman has reported that plutonium and other alpha-emitters,
such as curium and americium [other products of a nuclear reaction],
when in a form that cannot readily be dissolved by body fluids,
'represent an inhalation hazard in a class some five orders of
magnitude [100,000 times] more potent, weight for weight, than
potent chemical carcinogens.' The fact that plutonium has a very
long half-life, 24,000 years, makes it one of the deadliest
elements known and one of the most difficult to manage. (78)

The reason why plutonium is so dangerous when it gets into the lungs is because plutonium releases radiation to a small mass of the lung at a very short distance. This effect of radiation from plutonium giving a concentrated dose to one small area is much greater than if the same amount of radiation had been uniformly distributed throughout the lung. Another problem with plutonium is its toxicity. Plutonium is the most toxic of all elements. Fred H. Knelman, who was a senior executive on the nuclear control panel in Washington D.C., wrote, "One pound of plutonium-239, distributed to the lungs of a large population, could cause between ten and fifteen million lung-cancer deaths" (32).

Plutonium is rapidly becoming more and more common throughout the world because it is being produced all the time in nuclear reactions. The Nuclear Control Institute, in Washington D.C., published a paper on the Internet describing the problem of plutonium production.

By the turn of the century, 1,400 metric tons of plutonium will
have been produced in the spent fuel of nuclear power reactors,
and some 300 tons of it will have been separated into weapons-
usable form. Less than 18 pounds (8 kilograms) is needed to build
a Nagasaki-type bomb. The amounts will continue to grow rapidly.
By 2010, there will be 550 tons of separated plutonium in commerce,
more than twice the amount now contained in the world's nuclear
arsenals. By that time, Japan will have acquired an amount of
plutonium equivalent to the present U.S. military stockpile.
("The Problem", 2)

The quote above has a few hidden statements behind it. First it predicts that soon other nations will have a greater nuclear arsenal than the U.S.A. Also the quote says that plutonium is growing to be an excess product from nuclear reactions and thus other countries who are not economically stable will have a greater tendency to want to sell some plutonium to power hungry politicians for money to help the economy of their own country.

The subject of plutonium directly relates to nuclear terrorism. The terrorists' holy grail is to build a nuclear bomb. It is becoming increasingly easy to find the knowledge on how to build a nuclear bomb. The only thing that is holding terrorists back is getting their hands on some plutonium or weapons-grade uranium.

Christopher K. Mitchell, a student under professor J. Ruvalds, wrote a research report in physics 177N class that stated that when constructing a nuclear weapon, there would be two main issues for a terrorist. The first issue would be the knowledge required about building the bomb and making it work. Essentially, this knowledge is not a great problem. For instance, anyone can purchase a copy of "The Los Alamos Primer" for approximately twenty-three dollars. This book details the work of scientist who participated in the Manhattan Project tests in New Mexico. Inside the book, a terrorist could find the amount of uranium needed to create a successful nuclear explosion. In addition, the book details the ...

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Keywords: the dangers of nuclear energy, the dangers of nuclear power stations, the threat of nuclear power plant, threat of nuclear energy, how is nuclear energy a security threat, is there a nuclear threat, who is against nuclear energy, what is the future of nuclear energy

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