The Environmental Impact of Nuclear Energy Essay
Electricity production in the US consumes over 40% of the total energy produced within the continent. Electricity is the second source of energy that the United States generates from primary forms of energy such as nuclear and coal. Given the high rate of dependency on electricity, environmentalists are concerned the production of electricity from various primary energy sources could lead to acute pollution and degradation of the environment.
According to Environmental Impact Assessment, in 2011, coal contributed 42.3% and natural gas 24.7% of the US total electricity generation. In addition, in the same year, 4 trillion kilowatt-hours of electricity came from coal, and 42% of the US population consumed this portion (Batagol).
The United States also produced 1,094.3 million short tons of coal from the 25- coalmine states. Wyoming, which is in the Western Coal Region, produces the largest amount of coal in the US followed by West Virginia. Comparatively, electricity production and consumption in the US has been on the rising trend given that the 3,856 billion Kilowatt-hours in 2011 is 13 times higher than the consumption in 1950.
Major mining zones in the US include the Western Coal Region, the Appalachian Coal Region, and the Interior Coal Region, where production and conversion of coal to useful energy is relatively cheaper than other forms of energy.
Nuclear energy has also dominated electricity generation with 19.3%. Uranium ores are available in different regions of the US, such as the mines of western United States. There are 65 power- plants in the US; they are located in 31 states. The three populous states of New York, Texas and California have been using more of the one-fifth US electricity that Nuclear Plants have been producing yearly since 1990.
The country has the opportunity to enhance its capacity to generate electricity from nuclear following the approval of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission to build and operate between three to four units of the Vogtle plant, which may start operating in 2016. In 2002, US commercial reactor sites stored 51,002 short tons, and an estimate value reported 12.2 billion kilowatt-hours as the amount of electricity that a single power plant generated.
Explanation and Evaluation of Effects
In terms of production, nuclear reactors do not emit harmful products like CO2 and SO2, and it is, therefore, relatively eco-friendly; however, the process of of metals and concrete as well as mining and refining uranium ore requires large amount of energy, which is expensive (Batagol). Since radioactive materials are harmful to human health, those handling uranium are prone to severer hazards.
Miners, companies, and governments have to adhere strictly to disposal regulations given that the elements always remain active for several years. Further, authorities should put in place apt safety measures to control nuclear reaction to avert incidences like the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine and the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan. The Chernobyl incident left 31 people dead due to acute radiation poisoning that occurred when 5% of the radioactive reactor core escaped into the air (Rosenberg).
Countries are turning to of energy to avert the impact of the climate change menace. The changing climate implies that most countries will divert to eco-friendly and of energy to produce electricity. Nuclear energy is not only relatively eco-friendly, but it is also capable of of electricity more conveniently.
Environmental agencies criticize the use of coal given its negative impact on the state of the environment and human health. Emissions from burning coal such as CO2, SO2, and mercury cause acidic rain and smog, which are harmful to the environment and cause respiratory complications (Davis and Keegan).
However, nuclear energy also has acute negative impact. Construction of nuclear power plants can have temporary or permanent effects on the environment. For instance, the construction equipment emits pollutants into air, land, and water.
With the constructions occupying spaces, it does away with any future use of the land for production purposes. Apart from construction effects, license renewal for nuclear plants may necessitate use of extra pieces of land for removing old components and staging new components. Such operations may expose workers to radiation, which are hazardous health effects. Fukushima disaster demonstrates that nuclear plants expose lives to incredible danger.
Therefore, plants must adhere to the allowable radioactive exposure so that the source does not become harmful to the human health and the environment. Uranium being a radioactive element can increase cancer incidences, if limits of radon-226RN and 222Rn- concentration surpass the permissible limit (El-Hinnawi par 6).
Additionally, during mining, exposure to dust and radiation can result in respiratory diseases, cancerous growths in the body, and deaths. Wind erosion can blow piles of mills into rivers, thus causing leaching.
The toxic nature of fluorine and hydrogen fluoride that produces uranium hexafluoride poses serious health threats. Workers should protect themselves from the highly corrosive UF6 in order to avoid dangerous exposures. In operating nuclear plants, the fuel element retains most of the radioactive products, and the liquid and gas waste-processing system removes the radioactive releases.