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Biological Effect of Man-made Disasters in Nuclear Power Plants Report

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Updated: Sep 11th, 2022

Introduction

Ionizing radiations cause harm to the environment and remain a challenge to the public health. Nuclear power is beneficial but also poses a great risk to the population. In fuel plants, nuclear power is marked by radioactive materials, which could be very detrimental, in case a disaster occurs. This is because they contain ionizing radiation that could lead to genetic mutations and malignancies such as leukemia. As Iliffe (1984) ascertains, the biological impacts of nuclear disaster are dependent upon the dosage, type and time of exposure to radiation. Nuclear technology is part of our lives especially now that the world is pursuing alternative sources of fuel. Besides, nuclear medicine is equally important in diagnosing and treating diseases. However, the same nuclear has continued to impede the human civilizations as depicted by nuclear disasters such as that of Chernobyl. Nuclear technology has therefore, triggered controversial debates globally and dictate the nuclear choices to be undertaken. This paper shall give a detailed discussion of impacts of man-made disasters such as those caused by nuclear energy from a biological perspective that includes radiation, cells system and genetic mutation as well as human diseases.

Chernobyl Nuclear Power station

The Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station in Ukraine experienced a nuclear disaster that is considered as the most horrible in the world’s history. It comprised of four reactors, used for the production of electric power. A nuclear disaster ensued on 26th April, 1986 under the very influence of the reactor operators (Onishi et al., 2007). An explosion that was characterized by huge emission of radioactive materials led to atmospheric contamination not only in Ukraine but also in USSR and other parts of Europe. It started in the course of the system testing in the fourth reactor located at Prypiat. It was followed by an abrupt power output flow that resulted to the blasting of the reactor vessel. As a result, graphite moderator in the reactor was released into the atmosphere and ignited into a fire, whose radioactive content spread extensively. Several thousand cancer deaths were later implicated to the Chernobyl nuclear accident. This nuclear disaster raised eyebrows regarding safety of nuclear plants (Onishi et al., 2007).

Radiation, Radioactivity and Chemistry of Radiation

Natural sources of radiation include Radon gas, which is related to cause lung cancer. In addition, cosmic radiations emanate from the outer space and include the gamma rays, which have ions with a positive charge and consist of much energy that exceeds manmade radiations. The exposure to cosmic radiations varies with different regions of the biosphere depending on geomagnetic field, solar cycle or even altitude. Man can also make artificial radiations especially from nuclear medicine as in CT scan. According to Iliffe (1984), places with artificial radiations are aircrafts, radiography industries, uranium mines, and nuclear power plants. Radioactivity on the other hand is the spontaneous emission of particles from the nuclei due to being unstable and its ultimate disintegration. Nuclear isotopes are as a result of instability, which is followed by release of radiations that include alpha, beta and gamma rays (Lowenthal & Airey, 2001).

These are the chemistry of radiations that evaluates the interaction between radioactive elements and their application in various processes as proven by Lowenthal and Airey (2001). During decay of a radioactive material, it releases particles and in the process, its nature is altered. Protons are released from the nucleus as alpha particles and converts into other elements depending on the half-life. The elements transforms into isotopes of a different element until it attains stability (Iliffe, 1984). This process is termed as radioactive decay, which occurs in series and spontaneous, while the time taken is quantified as half-life. This is the time for half of the radioactive material to decay into a different element, whose rate is dependent upon an individual radioactive element regardless of whether it’s in compound or element form. Radioactive elements are referred to as ionizing radiations that can impact chemical and physical traits of the molecules they are exposed to (Lowenthal & Airey, 2001).

Cell system, how cells damage and reproduction

The cell is defined as the functional basic unit of life. Cells are vast, different and functions as units in an organism and make-up the human body. Karp (2009) asserts that cells take various forms in the vital organs of the body such as the skin, kidney and the liver, which are specific and distinctive. They have plasma membranes to safeguard them from external influences. They have a cell membrane that controls flow of products in and out of the cell. According to Karp (2009), a cell has nucleus, which has the DNA that regulates protein synthesis with the help of many organelles such as the ribosomes. The nuclear is where transcription occurs, producing messenger RNA (MRNA), which is taken into the ribosomes for translation (Karp, 2009).

According to Wolfson (1993), when there is radiation exposure on germ cell of the reproductive system, it could cause chromosomal or gene damage essential in determining heredity traits in an offspring. DNA bears the genetic information and is particularly sensitive to radiations. When it is disrupted in the reproductive organs, the changes are passed on to the offspring as mutations, which are mostly harmful to the organism and related to many deaths in the course of the organism development. Radiations are mutagenic and the mutation increases proportionally with dosage (Wolfson, 1993).

Karp (2009) argues that cells reproduce a number of times during human development and varies depending on whether they are somatic or sex cells. Somatic are body cells and are reproduced in a process called mitosis. On the other hand, sex cells comprise of sperm and ova and duplicates in a process called meiosis in the testes and ovaries. Body cells are vast and replicate through mitosis in a process of cell division, generating new cells to replace older ones, repair or for growth and development. They produce 46 chromosomes, regarded as diploid. A somatic cell subdivides twice and the products are similar to the parent cell. They continue dividing in six phase process. Conversely, Meiosis generates two daughter cells from every parent cell, giving four sex gametes that are not similar to parent cells. Gametes give haploid or 23 chromosomes and during conception, a zygote with 46 chromosomes is produced and inherited by each generation (Karp, 2009).

Process of Getting Diseases, Latency Period and Leukemia

Radiation comprises of high energy particles, containing alpha, beta and gamma rays respectively. They have high energy with ability to detach electrons from an atom in a process referred to as ionization, to cause biological harms. According to Wolfson (1993), the molecules are extremely active and when they are in a living tissue, they could experience a chemical reaction to produce harmful effects. In any case, humans consist of water molecules and when ionization occurs, the products could be hazardous to the cells. High doses might even upset the cell processes. Worse still, when complex molecules such as nucleic acids and proteins are involved, they could break and be rendered dysfunctional (Wolfson, 1993). As a result, cell vitality and enzyme processes might be lost, which could lead to cancer and genetic mutations. Ionization is dependent upon particle’s energy and frequency and not on intensity since low intensity radiations also ionize (Wolfson, 1993). The time taken from exposure to carcinogens up to the detection of cancer is referred to as the latency period. The malignancy may manifest several years following the exposure to ionizing radiations as depicted by the survivors of Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Usually, exposure quantity and latency, relate inversely since more dosage is related to a reduced latency while a low dose is related to an extensive latency. Generally, early detection is important and could be achieved through screening in order to control the metastasis as argued by DeVita (2008).

Leukemia for instance is a hematological neoplasm that involves the bone marrow, lymphatic system and blood cells. It is marked by an upsurge of leucocytes in the blood. From research conducted by DeVita (2008), radiation-induced leukemia has a relatively short latency for malignancy to be detected. However, this varies with the irradiation dosage and may take as early as two years, following the initial exposure. The peak incidence could occur during four to eight years following exposure (DeVita, 2008). Leukemia results from DNA mutations through stimulation of oncogenes or through the dissimulation of ‘tumor suppressor genes’. According to DeVita (2008), this interrupts the process of apoptosis and cell division. The mutation could be spontaneous or as a result of radiation exposure. The normal blood cells are substituted with abnormal ones from the bone marrow and accumulate in the blood. This causes problems with blood clotting since the platelets are destroyed. Besides, the immune system is weakened since the white blood cells cannot effectively fight diseases. Anemia could also arise due to inadequate red blood cells that could lead to dyspnea (DeVita, 2008).

Conclusion

This research study has tried to analyze the impacts of man-made disasters such as those caused by nuclear energy from a biological perspective that includes radiation, cells system and genetic mutation as well as human diseases. From the research, it is clear that it is important to monitor the radiations from far while steps to safeguard the public’s health should be prioritized. Ionizing radiations cause harm to the environment and still remains a challenge to the public health. Radiation exposure is implicated with the rising cases of cancers such as leukemia. However, the latency period that occurs from the time of initial stimulation to the ultimate detection, makes it extremely difficult to determine the exact carcinogen, which could help in formulating preventive cancer strategies. Biologically, exposure to ionizing radiations from nuclear plants such as gamma, beta and alpha rays is detrimental to one’s health and safety measures should be employed at whichever cost.

List of References

DeVita, V.T. (2008) DeVita, Hellman, and Rosenberg’s cancer: principles & practice of oncology. Philadelphia, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

Iliffe, C. E. (1984) An Introduction To Nuclear Reactor Theory. Manchester, Manchester University Press.

Karp, G. (2009) Cell and Molecular Biology: Concepts and Experiments. Danvers, MA, John Wiley and Sons.

Lowenthal, G. C. & Airey, P. L. (2001) Practical Applications Of Radioactivity And Nuclear Radiations: An Introductory Text For Engineers, Scientists, Teachers And Students. New York, Cambridge University Press.

Onishi, Y., Voitsekhovich, O.V., and Zheleznyak, M. J. (2007) Chernobyl — What Have We Learned: The Successes and Failures to Mitigate Water Contamination over 20 years. Dordrecht, Netherlands, Springer publishing.

Wolfson, R. (1993) Nuclear Choices: A Citizen’s Guide to Nuclear Technology. Cambridge, Massachusetts, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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