Introduction

The Energy Story

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The Energy Problem

  Conservation of Energy
  Aging of Energy
  Finite Resources
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  Energy Pollution
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The Energy Solution

  Conserving Electricity
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  Renewable Energy

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Secret Lives Title - The Energy Problem


Topic

TOPIC QUESTION: Should our country stop or ban further construction of nuclear power plants due to radioactive waste and danger of reactor accidents?



Introduction

Radioactive waste from nuclear power plants can be in solid, liquid, or gaseous forms. Some of the types and quantities of possible nuclear waste are noted below.


"Depleted Uranium (DU) is, according to the to the Military Toxins Project, the radioactive byproduct of the uranium enrichment process, is "roughly 60% as radioactive as naturally occurring uranium and has a half-life of 4.5 billion years." The United States has in excess of 1.1 billion pounds of DU waste material."

"Low Level Radioactive Waste (LLW) is any radioactive waste not classified as high-level waste, transuranic waste, or uranium mill tailings. LLW often contains small amounts of radioactivity dispersed in large amounts of material. It is generated by uranium enrichment processes, reactor operations, isotope production, medical procedures, and research and development activities. LLW is usually made up of rags, papers, filters, tools, equipment, discarded protective clothing, dirt, and construction rubble contaminated with radionuclides."

"Sewage sludge is what is left over after raw sewage has been treated at the wastewater treatment plants. Water and many of the contaminants are removed from the raw sewage; Bacteria are then left to do the job of reducing human waste, leaving a concentrated semisolid sludge cake. In the past, wastewater treatment plants paid to for disposal of sludge in landfills or through incineration. Over one third of the 5.3 million metric tons of sewage sludge produced each year in the US is now dumped on farmland and forestland. Sludge isn't just "fertilizer." Heavy metals, parasites (and other pathogens), chemicals such as chlorine can all be contained in sewage sludge. But the 503 regs don't include testing or treatment for radioactivity in sludge, which can originate from industry, the medical profession and labs."

Taken from Sierra Club website, Nuclear Waste


Few people dispute that nuclear power plants do produce nuclear waste. What is in dispute is how dangerous this waste is, whether it can be safely disposed of, and how does this waste compare with the air pollution from other fossil fuel power plants.


Some Pros and Cons
Pros
Cons
Nuclear power plants produce large quantities of nuclear waste that remains dangerous for thousands of years and cannot be disposed of safely. Nuclear power plant waste can now be disposed of using new technology like embedding the waste in glass nodules and burying them in deep salt domes.
Nuclear power plants are dangerous. The fission chain reaction can run out of control, causing the hot fuel rods to burn through the bottom of the plant and release large amounts of nuclear material into the environment.
The strict safety guidelines make an accident in a modern nuclear power plant almost impossible. The backup and emergency systems would prevent any kind of accident from becoming dangerous.
Nuclear power plants can be used to produce radioactive materials and weapons grade nuclear materials that could be used by terrorists to poison the populace or make nuclear weapons.
The typical nuclear power plant cannot be used to make weapons grade nuclear material or nuclear bombs. The security is very tight and the chances of radioactive materials leaving the plant are nearly zero.
The cost of the electricity generated from nuclear power plants looks cheap until you factor in the hidden costs to dispose of the nuclear waste. These costs are ultimately picked up by the government and therefore by the people.
There is pollution and hidden costs associated with all types of power plants, not just the nuclear ones. All in all, nuclear power plants produce the cheapest electricity available.