As our population increases, so will our demand for electricity. Air conditioners, computers, televisions, microwaves, and many other appliances have become necessities for Americans. All methods of producing electricity have drawbacks. As the earth becomes warmer, we must look for ways to decrease our use of fossil fuels. There are several ways to produce electricity without releasing air pollution. The most feasible method at this time is nuclear energy. Nuclear energy presents a safe, clean, and inexpensive alternative to other methods of producing electricity. Nuclear waste can either be reprocessed or disposed of safely, provided certain precautions are taken.
In order to understand the risks associated with nuclear energy, it is necessary to understand the properties of radiation and their effects. The term radiation refers to a wide range of things. Ionizing radiation is the kind that can and does cause damage. Ionizing radiation creates ions when it strikes something, which can then affect matter such as human tissue. The two main types of ionizing radiation are electromagnetic and particle. Ionizing electromagnetic radiation includes x-rays, gamma rays, and cosmic rays. Ionizing particle radiation involves alpha particles, which are helium nuclei, beta particles or electrons, and neutrons. Gamma rays, alpha particles, and beta particles are the main forms of radioactivity associated with nuclear power (Taylor, 1996).
Comparison with other types
Radiation has many benefits for humans, but too much of any type of radiation can be harmful. For example, the sun gives off infrared radiation, or heat, as well as visible light, another type of electromagnetic radiation. These forms of radiation are necessary for humans to live, but too much can cause damage. At one extreme, too much infrared radiation would cause everything to burn up, and an excess of visible light would cause everyone to go blind. Another example is x-rays, which have become a valuable medical diagnostic tool. However, overexposure to x-rays can increase a person's cancer risk or even cause immediate death (Taylor, 1996).
Average annual exposure from various sources
The average American's exposure to radiation (82%) comes primarily from natural sources. Fifty-five percent comes from radon, which is given off by radium, a component of soil and rock. Americans receive a smaller percentage of radiation from other terrestrial sources, such as uranium in the soil, and from cosmic rays. Eleven percent of natural radiation exposure is internal, primarily from radioactive potassium in our bodies. Eighteen percent of American's radiation exposure comes from man-made sources such as x-rays, nuclear medicine, and consumer products, much of which is the necessary byproduct of beneficial products and procedures. Americans receive only 0.1% of their total radiation exposure from nuclear energy production. This figure includes...