Environmental impact assessments conducted by various research authorities reveal that production of electrical energy is associated with many environmental hazards. In this study, both the renewable and non-renewable sources have been considered. Most of the sources of production of electricity are considered environmentally friendly.
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However, at one point or another, they contribute to environmental degradation. The production process as well as the by-products of the production process may cause environmental threats.
Examples of these sources include; coal harnessing, biogas and geothermal energy production and burning of fossil fuels. Loss of human and aquatic life is one of the effects of environmental degradation. Other forms of pollution experienced are; noise, air, land and water pollution.
Coal is considered the dirtiest source of electrical energy. It is the highest pollutant among all the sources. Right from its mining and extraction, coal causes suffocation and air poisoning. Underground gas explosions create underground pressure imbalances which eventually cause mining shaft roofs to collapse leading to trapping of the miners’ and in extreme cases can cause their death.
Extraction of coal also injects large amounts of dust into the environment resulting in air pollution. To control dust emission, large amounts of water are required thus limiting the capacity available for agriculture and other industrial applications. Bare exposure of the ground and the dig ups caused during mining also renders the land infertile and not useful for agricultural production.
Burning of coal in the air produces many greenhouse gases which include; sulfur nitrate, hydrogen cyanide, sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide. All these gases are air pollutants and serious contributors to global warming.
Combustion of coal is also known to produce mercury whose increased entrance into the food chain eventually leads to the formation of methyl mercury which is a toxic substance and causes harm to both wildlife and human beings when consumed.
Biogas energy production also causes environmental pollution. The process involves fermenting animal or human waste under controlled conditions to produce biogas which is eventually used in electricity production. The process of anaerobic respiration in the cause of fermenting manure produces ammonia, methane and hydrogen sulfide gases. The two gases have a bad odor (Smil 2008).
Ammonia has a sharp pungent smell while hydrogen sulfide smells like rotten eggs. The two gases cause considerable air pollution if their release to the environment is not controlled and limited. Methane gas is also one of the greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.
The fermentation process increases the concentration of streptococci in the environment which are disease causing pathogens. This may lead to an increase in bacterial diseases. The anaerobic respiration process is also thought to reduce 70%-90% biological oxygen demand.
Although this helps reduce chances of degradation of the quality of water, reduction of oxygen concentration in water is harmful to the aquatic ecosystem which depend on the same oxygen for survival. A reduction in oxygen concentration hinders aerobic respiration which is a major life process to all flora and fauna (Ristinen & Kraushaar 2009).
Geothermal energy production involves harnessing of vapor at high pressure from hot springs, geysers and fumaroles. One of the major effects of harnessing this source of electrical energy is the subsidence of land. Extraction of geothermal fluids results in underground pressure due to the huge evacuations made as hot steam oozes out thus resulting into imbalances which eventually cause the land to sink.
This is usually fatal and in most cases results in the loss of lives. Geothermal fluids also contain excessive amounts of arsenic, mercury, lithium and boron. These are chemicals that if discharged into a water stream they render the water unsafe for both human and animal consumption as well as irrigation since it becomes toxic and poisonous. The chemicals also cause damage to aquatic life.
Furthermore, geothermal fluids contain dissolved carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide gases. The two gases have effects of global warming, climatic change and cause air poisoning which may lead to loss of lives since when they are emitted into the atmosphere; they cause direct effect on human life.
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The adverse environmental effect of geothermal energy rapidly increases as the production increases since a large output load will increase the emissions as well as pressure imbalances (Ristinen & Kraushaar 2009).
Large production plants require large amounts of pressurized vapor which in turn cause the release of large underground pressure. Land on which the geothermal power pipes have been laid is also rendered unsuitable for agricultural production as it becomes infertile.
Nuclear power is the most expensive to harness and also it is the most dangerous source of electrical energy. It is characterized by both harmful gas emissions as well as health risks (Weart 2012). Nuclear reactors release radioactive particles and other fission products into the atmosphere.
Radioactive particles cause genetic and chromosomal mutations which lead to deformation in newborn babies. A single exposure to the slightest radioactive material can last in the human system for hundreds of years. Nuclear bombs used in Hiroshima and Nagasaki are still felt today, almost a hundred years later since they left active radioactive material in the air.
The harnessing of nuclear energy has not been fully explored due to these effects. However, the slightest attempt is still considered to cause considerable damage to human life since the amount of radioactivity depends on the size of the power plant.
Disposal of nuclear power plant effluents has even caused diplomatic squabbles between nations. Not only are the effluents harmful, they are not biodegradable hence their concentration subsequently increases with each exposure (Weart 2012).
This has seen most nuclear plants being shut down due to lack of safer ways to discard the effluents. The available options for disposal either directly or indirectly touch on human life; hence the only remedy might be doing away with this most efficient but a risky source of energy.
Nuclear, geothermal and coal energy can be regarded as the most dangerous and environmentally unfriendly sources of electrical energy. Nuclear bears the highest risk due to its adverse effects on human life (Smil 2008).
The health and environmental risks of nuclear energy are the most dangerous amongst all the energy sources. These effects also increase with every increase in the harnessing of nuclear energy. Geothermal power harnessing causes more of environmental hazards than health risks.
The major risk of geothermal power arises from the disposal of its effluents and the underground disturbances caused by underground pressure imbalances. Such imbalances are the major causes of ground subsidence and earthquakes.
On the other hand, coal is the main air pollutant amongst all the sources of electrical energy. Right from extraction through to the combustion of coal to produce electrical energy it emits a larger amount of effluents into the atmosphere than any other known source of electrical energy.
Coal contributes to almost 40% of dust in the atmosphere. Its extraction and processing is the chief contributor of global warming since the emitted dust forms an atmospheric blanket that hinders ground radiations from reaching the atmosphere and consequently solar radiations from reaching the ground.
Ristinen, Robert & Jack Kraushaar. Energy and the Environment. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2009. Print.
Smil, Vaclav. Energy in nature and society: general energetics of complex systems. Cambridge, CA: McGraw Hill. 2008. Print.
Weart, Spencer. The Rise of Nuclear Fear. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012. Print