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Conservation efforts and the utilization of energy sources that are environmental friendly have continued to gain popularity globally (Blowers & Leroy 223). Countries have formulated policies on the kind of energy systems that are efficient and environment friendly; these systems are meant to resolve the conflicts of social, technical, economic and environmental balance (Eyre 89).
These factors are considered crucial for the development as well as economic growth of any nation; however, there is always a clash when it comes to maintaining a quality environment.
A nation should also consider the issue of human safety when formulating policies on energy systems and resources to be utilized (Hall 305). The priority given to the human safety, environmental protection, economic growth and development, however, depends on a nation’s needs, objectives as well as values.
The usage of nuclear energy has caused controversies on human health as well as environmental crisis. This is because of the effects of its waste materials and radiation emanating from mines, safety of the material during transportation, effects of explosives made from this materials and waste management (Cramer 67). This paper will explore the effects of using nuclear materials on the environment and the society.
Mining of uranium
The chain of all nuclear activities begin with the mining of uranium materials from underground, therefore, it is the genesis of all the trouble associated with nuclear material use. This is because before mining of nuclear materials, there are no nuclear power systems, weapons and problems of managing nuclear waste (Bertell, 45). Many people have been against mining of these materials, which has led to the reduction in its exploitation.
Many nations look at mining of uranium as an act that compromises the quality of the environment, also, the public is not sure of the effectiveness of the measures put in place to prevent the leakage from nuclear industries and from the usage of nuclear weapons; this has led to the public opposition to mining of nuclear material (International Atomic Energy Agency 98).
However, opposition has led to the understanding of the effects of radioactive material, both to the environment and society (Hall 306). Australia has a large reserve of uranium, however, it exports only a tenth of the production worldwide; this shows that the world has developed a resistance towards the deadly mineral.
Uranium mining begins from exploration and ends when the mines closes down, and during the whole period of mining, negative environmental impacts are experienced. There are problems associated with exploration of nuclear materials, and these problems include displacement of people living within the area of exploration. During mining, there are also harmful substances, which need to be handled carefully or isolated.
If these substances are not carefully handled, they can dissolve in underground water leading to water contamination as well as soil contamination (Atomic Energy of Canada Limited 18). This contamination is dangerous to the health of human beings, domestic animals and wild life.
In 2008, Navajo wells were contaminated with materials that were found to contain high levels of radioactive properties; this was as a result of mining of uranium. The workers in the mines risk exposure to radiation, which may cause cancer, genetic damage, deterioration of blood cell counts and disruption in a body’s hormonal levels.
However, these effects might be felt after a long time (International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War 116). The cases of cancer in Navajo went high when mining of uranium begun on its Native land, when this was discovered; mining of uranium was restricted because of its environmental effects and health problems associated with it (World Nuclear Association 74).
When animals drink water contaminated with high levels of nuclear materials, it might cause kidney disease. These animals and People are exposed to radiation through the inhalation of radon gas, contaminated dust, eating plants that were initially contaminated with radioactive materials among other ways (International Atomic Energy Agency 109).
All these issues surrounding the mining of uranium have raised a question of safety of uranium mines; this has led to the closure of a number of mines. In Australia, mines faced challenges which compromised human and environmental safety leading to the closure of most of them (International Nuclear Safety Advisory Group 88).
In Nabarlek mine, there were cases of mismanagement of water from the mine; this water was contaminated with radioactive materials released into creeks adjacent to the mine.
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This posed a risk to the workers in the mine. There was also a case of leaching of waste rock from the mine and seepage; this led to the contamination of water around the mines (International Atomic Energy Agency 122). When this water was used for irrigation it lead to the death of plants and also compromised the safety of water for human use. Nabarlek was later closed down; however, the residents of this area still experienced the effects.
After mining of uranium, it is transported to the industry for use in production of products such as energy, military weapons among other things. During transportation of these materials, necessary precautions have to be put in place to ensure that radiation from these radioactive materials does not leak to the environment or harm the people transporting them.
Therefore, containers are made of thick walls and special materials that prevent leakage of radiation are used in the transportation of these materials. However, the public is still not sure of the effectiveness of these containers, for this reason, they prefer to stay away from areas used for transportation of radioactive materials (RCEP 75).
A nuclear plant still poses risks to the workers and the people living in its neighborhood as well as the environment. The workers in this plant are exposed to radiations each time they are at work, there is a limit to the amount of radiation that is considered less harmful to them, however, exposure to low level radiation for a longer time of their lives might cause health problems in the future(International Atomic Energy Agency 78).
These effects might not be evident at first but as time goes the workers start experiencing them, and sometimes they develop serious diseases such as cancer and genetic mutation which affects even the future generation. For safety of workers, the management of the plant provides special clothing that prevents penetration of radiation to the body; however, this does not guarantee 100% safety (International Atomic Energy Agency 99).
The plant is also designed using materials that are thick enough to prevent any radiation leakage from the plant; the container for storing raw materials is also covered with a thick wall (May and Gollancz 87). There is also another thick wall surrounding the whole plant, this is still to prevent any leakage to the surrounding environment.
All this measures are put in place to prevent leakage of radiation, however, what if an accident happens? Are workers, environment and the neighborhood still safe? These questions need to be answered by any nation before putting up a nuclear plant. Accidents in a nuclear plant are rare, however, when they happen their effects are enormous and are felt by many generations.
The accident which happened in Chernobyl nuclear plant was disastrous; the explosives confined in a reactor vessel ruptured exposing all its contents, this was followed by a subsequent fire that lasted for 10 days (RCEP 95). All the radioactive material in the plant was released to the environment and spread to most of European nations.
Several substances were released into the air; radioactive iodine-131, which has a half-life of 8 days and radioactive caesium-137 with a half-life of 30 days, was present in the air (RCEP 97). Clearing the mess involved the army, workers of the plant together with the staff, fire services as well as the local police; this people were helping at the expense of their health.
This accident revealed to the world all the effects that are associated with nuclear materials; many people died following the exposure to high levels of radiation (May and Gollancz 87).
During the first year of the accident people who were exposed to high levels of radiation died after developing acute radiation syndrome and most of them were workers of the plant and other people who were involved in emergency operations at the plant (Galster 804). Many deaths followed in the subsequent years, with many cases relating to radiation exposure.
The population that was exposed to low levels of radiation suffered fatal cancers, and people who were children and adolescents by then were diagnosed with thyroid cancer in their adulthood; this shows that some of the survivors felt the effects years after the accidents (Folland and Robbin 35).
Radiation in small dozes also increase cases of fatal diseases such as leukemia, solid cancer as well as diseases related to the circulatory system. According to the studies to follow up the effects of radiation in Chernobly populations, there is also a risk of cataract development in children following the exposure to radiation.
This incident also exposed the environmental effects of nuclear materials; the radioactive materials were deposited on plants buildings streets in towns (Galster 805). This led to the contamination of sewerage and water systems as well as air and soil (Metz 766).
There was also contamination of agricultural land, aquatic systems and forests; this means that everything was contaminated with radioactive material, and there was no way that humans and animals could survive the accident without any effect (International Commission on Radiological Protection 109): the food they ate was also contaminated.
This case served as a warning to the nations dreaming of improving their economic growth using nuclear energy; a country’s economy can improve within a span of few years when using nuclear energy (Folland and Robbin 32), however, the same growth can still be reduced to nothing when an accident like that of Chernobyl happens.
Use of nuclear weapons
Nuclear plants can make weapons successfully without any accident like that of Chernobyl, however, is the use of these weapons safe for the environment and the people? (Yarilin et al 57) Nuclear weapons such as nuclear bombs are manufactured using radioactive materials and their transportation, storage as well as disposal poses a threat to the environment and human health (Tyran and Zweifel).
According to researchers, tests of these weapons cause birth defects as well as premature deaths (IAEA 53). They also increase the risk of developing cancers and eventually lead to deaths.
Nuclear weapons, when used they explode scattering the constituents, which are nuclear materials that are radioactive (Roche 203). These materials contaminate the environment; the dust and gases released during explosions contaminate the air, also the material fall on the ground and when it rains the soils are contaminated (International Nuclear Safety Advisory Group 72).
The rain water also tickles down and later finds its way in lakes and rivers contaminating the river and lake water; the plants and animals are also affected because they use and drink this water (Folland and Robbin 34).
The use of these weapons also causes devastating effects to humans; the explosives which scatter in the air are inhaled by both those in war and those who are not involved (International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War 80).
The continued exposure to these explosives increases high risk of diseases such as cancer. Those who use them aim at destroying others; however, they are also risking their health when they constantly inhale the fumes (International Commission on Radiological Protection 121).
The case of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, bombing caused a lot of health problems to the residents as well as loss of property and environmental effects (Clark et al 512). The bombing started fire in these towns, and the damage was big that it changed the appearance of these two cities (Margot and Willard 30).
The fire in Hiroshima sprung up high winds in the city, which led to a fire storm; the fire contributed to increased number of deaths in this city (Auxier 6). Also, apart from the effects of radioactive materials, there were effects caused by fire such as destruction of property; this shows that nuclear weapons can also be a cause of other disasters (Gamble and Roger 466).
After testing of nuclear weapons and usage, the disposal of weapons is done in a way that threatens lives and environment (Margot and Willard 89). Some of these weapons are left lying on the ground by the military; these weapons can land in hands of a person who does not have the experience in its use or even children (Westing 57).
This might lead to unintended explosions leading to death of innocent people and children (Gamble and Roger 472). As these weapons explode in the hands of innocent people, they expose radioactive materials to the environment causing air pollution and soil pollution.
The explosives also leave holes on the earth surface, leaving the landscape looking ugly and not fit for human settlement (International Atomic Energy Agency 23). Some nations and terrorist group prefer using nuclear weapons for their protection and fulfilling their interests, this is done at the expense of the human health and life as well as environmental quality.
Nuclear material is a good source of energy in terms of the amount of energy it produces for a given amount of ore. The waste material produced is small but lethal to human life and environment; this is because of its radioactive properties (International Atomic Energy Agency 46).
This waste material is kept for a long time, for it to loose its radioactive properties before it is disposed off; this means that a nuclear plant should set aside an area for storing its waste materials.
However, because of the time it takes to lose its radioactive properties, it is difficult for a plant to manage the wastes (Krupnick et al 1277). This issue is important considering on how lethal the radioactive material is when mis-handled, therefore, most countries shy away from nuclear energy because of its waste management issues.
Nuclear energy is good when a country considers its development and economic growth; however, its environmental effect and threat to human health should also be taken into account because these factors also contribute to economic growth and development. According to the discussion, its effects are much severe to an extent that its good side is not appreciated much.
Countries like Australia have uranium deposits but because of its effects associated with mining, they choose not to exploit it to the fullest, and even if they exploit it fully, whom will they sell it to as many countries shy away from constructing nuclear plants, because of its effects. Most countries have chosen to use other forms of energy to improve their economy and still maintain environmental quality and good health for its citizens.
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