Nuclear Power Plants: Sparking An American Debate For Decades

1295 words - 5 pages

The need for electricity continues to grow each year worldwide. Americans have long sought out an environmentally friendly, safe way of fulfilling their needs for energy. Presently, as concerns for the environment continue to become more prominent in the U.S., the demand for cleaner energy producing practices also becomes more pronounced. One of the cleanest production methods in use today is nuclear power generation (Kidd).
Nuclear power plants do not emit the harmful green house gases and other negative by-products associated with the more conventional systems fuelled by coal and natural gas. Nuclear power plants use nuclear reactions to drive their generators. The reactions produce extreme amounts of heat that must be managed. Most nuclear installations use water to control temperature and vent steam into the environment. This is a much cleaner excretion than that of conventional power plants (Kidd).
Although at first glance nuclear may seem like a perfect solution, the nuclear industry does produce some nasty pollutants of its own. Nuclear reactors require fuel rods made of radioactive materials to function. The fuel rods can be used for long periods of time; however, eventually they become spent and can no longer be used in the reactors. Fuel rods remain radioactive even after they have been used in nuclear power plants. When the nuclear reaction is complete the fuel rods are removed while they are still very hot.
Spent fuel rods are then placed in large tanks of water to cool. The rods are kept in the tanks for five years; during which time their radioactivity and temperature greatly decreases (Chapin et al.). They are then transported to permanent storage facilities in high strength containment vessels. Some people worry that these processes leave the radioactive waste too vulnerable to terrorist attacks. The possibility of terrorists gaining access to spent fuel rods is not impossible, but it is improbable(Chapin et al., Maiello).
The possibility of terrorist groups attacking and gaining access to nuclear facilities has been examined in much detail since September 11, 2001 (Chapin et al.). Opponents of nuclear power generation claim that it is far too easy for rebel forces to make dirty bombs out of nuclear waste. Dirty bombs could be made from spent fuel rods and could be devastating if detonated in an urban area; however, they are also harmful to their maker and easily detected (Chapin et al., Maiello). Large cities such as New York have also begun training first responders to detect and deal with dirty bombs (Maiello).
Nuclear facilities and processes are also very secure. Studies have shown that the containment vessels used to transport spent fuel rods are very resilient. Field tests completed by the nuclear industry and its regulating bodies have shown that the vessels are susceptible to only the latest anti-tank artillery. They have also shown that even after the containers are breached the resulting risk was minimal...

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