Humans Effect on Nature in the 20th Century
With the dawn of the nuclear age in the early 1900’s, came a problem that became a force to be reckoned with. Its name is nuclear waste. This is yet another harmful side effect brought on by man’s drive to find the cheapest and most powerful source of energy technology has to offer. Nuclear waste, ranging from harmful radiation caused by nuclear meltdown to unused military weaponry, has been a serious issue in the past few decades, and is a perfect example of humans effect on nature.
Many would argue that the history of nuclear energy and nuclear waste began in 1898 when Marie Curie discovered two radioactive elements; polonium and radium.1 The nuclear scene was relatively quiet until 1838, when a German scientist, Otto Hahn was successful in demonstrating nuclear fission.2 This set off an alert that reached the ears of Theodore Roosevelt, who was President of the United States at the time. With the threat of Germany making a nuclear bomb, the nuclear race was on. The Manhattan Project was launched in an effort to secretly build a nuclear bomb before the Germans.
The most commonly known events in nuclear waste history were the near catastrophic meltdowns at Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania, and Chernobyl power plant in The Soviet Union. Radiation leakage was minimal at Three Mile Island, however, Chernobyl experienced the release of massive quantities of radioactive materials accompanied by a dangerous fire.3 People from all nations came in contact with radioactive particles which the wind blew around the Earth. These two events sparked nuclear awareness by the general public as well as governmental programs that were designed to minimize and clean up radioactive waste.
The two main types of radioactive waste that are prevalent today are low-level and high-level waste. Although one is said to be “high-level” and the other to be “low-level”, both are harmful to the environment and pose a threat to human health.4
Low-level radioactive waste is defined by the DOE (United States Department of Energy) as all nuclear waste that is not legally high-level waste, as well as some transuranic waste. This includes materials contaminated with radioactive elements that are heavier than uranium, such as plutonium neptunium, americium, and curium. These elements are long-lived and hazardous, surviving thousands or millions of years, and emit alpha rays which is a type of radiation that is extremely harmful if inhaled or swallowed.5
High-level radioactive waste is the irradiated fuel from the cores of nuclear reactors. Liquid and sludge wastes are left over after irradiated fuel has been reprocessed (a procedure used to extract uranium and plutonium), and solids remain from...