Nuclear Waste Management Essay

1216 words - 5 pages

good goodNuclear Waste managementNuclear energy harnesses the energy released during the splitting or fusing of atomic nuclei. This heat energy is most often used to convert water to steam, turning turbines, and generating electricity.However, nuclear energy also has many disadvantages. An event that demonstrated this was the terrible incident at Chernobyl'. Here on April 26, 1986, one of the reactors of a nuclear power plant went out of control and caused the world's worst known reactor disaster to date. An experiment that was not properly supervised was conducted with the water-cooling system turned off. This led to the uncontrolled reaction, which in turn caused a steam explosion. The reactor's protective covering was blown off, and approximately 100 million curies of radionuclides were released into the atmosphere. Some of the radiation spread across northern Europe and into Great Britain. Soviet statements indicated that 31 people died because of the accident, but the number of radiation-caused deaths is still unknown.The same deadly radiation that was present in this explosion is also present in spent fuels. This presents special problems in the handling, storage, and disposal of the depleted uranium. When nuclear fuel is first loaded into a reactor, 238U and 235U are present. When in the reactor, the 235U is gradually depleted and gives rise to fission products, generally, cesium (137Cs) and strontium (90Sr). These waste materials are very unstable and have to undergo radioactive disintegration before they can be transformed into stable isotopes. Each radioactive isotope in this waste material decays at its characteristic rate. A half-life can be less than a second or can be thousands of years long. The isotopes also emit characteristic radiation: it can be electromagnetic (X-ray or gamma radiation) or it can consist of particles (alpha, beta, or neutron radiation).Exposure to large doses of ionizing radiation causes characteristic patterns of injury. Doses are measured in rads (1 rad is equal to an amount of radiation that releases 100 ergs of energy per gram of matter). Doses of more than 4000 rads severely damage the human vascular system, causing cerebral edema (excess fluid), which leads to extreme shock and neurological disturbances causing death within 48 hours. Whole-body doses of 1000 to 4000 rads cause less severe vascular damage, but they can lead to a loss of fluids and electrolytes into the intercellular spaces and the gastrointestinal tract causing death within ten days because of a fluid and electrolyte imbalance, severe bone-marrow damage, and terminal infection. Absorbed doses of 150 to 1000 rads cause destruction of human bone marrow, leading to infection and hemorrhage death may occur after four to five weeks after the date of exposure. Currently only the effects of these lower doses can be treated effectively, but if untreated, half the persons receiving as little as 300 to 325 rads to the bone marrow will die.To store...

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