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Andrew Bjean

January 8, 2014
Mallory, Period 3
Chemistry
Is Nuclear Power Worth It?
People now have to face the fact that the types of energy we use can sometimes be
harmful to the environment. There are many options that can be used such as wind, hydro, and
even solar energy. Nuclear energy has been quite useful since the construction of the first
nuclear power plant in the 1950s. There are many rewards when it comes to using nuclear
energy. The question is, do those rewards outweigh the extremely costly risks?
A major problem that scientists face is figuring out how to replace current energy sources
such as burning fossil fuels on order to take better care of our planet. One of the best
replacements is nuclear energy. Nuclear energy provide[s] over 11% of the world's electricity
as continuous, reliable base-load power, without carbon dioxide emissions.1 Nuclear energy is
important because there is definite need for improvement when it comes to the production of
electricity. If society continues to burn as many fossil fuels as it does, there will be serious
consequences to face in the future. Its horrible that the combustion of fossil fuels to generate
electricity is the largest single source of CO2 emissions in the nation, accounting for about 38%
of total U.S. CO2 emissions.2 All in all, 38% doesnt sound like a whole lot, however residential
and commercial uses emit 10% of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This means that
burning fossil fuels emits close to four times the amount of carbon dioxide that homes do. Also,

in total, 38% accounted for about 5.6 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide emitted into the
atmosphere in 20102. This means that because of the use of nuclear energy, around 600 million
metric tons of CO2 was stopped from being emitted in 2010. Nuclear energy may seem like a
great alternative, however it does have a number of drawbacks.
The main reasons are the cost and the unlikely, yet possibly extremely dangerous
problems. To start, the current theoretical overnight sot of constructing a nuclear power plant is
about 2 to 2.5 billion dollars for a plant with two conventional reactors and generating about two
gigawatts a nominally sized plant.3 Obviously there have been lots of power plants
constructed, as there are about 450 to this day. However, building these plants requires a lot of
people, a lot of money, and a lot of guidelines. That does not seem like something that really
gets in the way because it is not. A huge problem has to deal with the radioactive materials that
need to be disposed of after being used. The product of nuclear energy is radioactive material.
Radioactive material is a collection of unstable atomic nuclei.4 These nuclei can harm pretty
much everything around them and it has happened multiple times in history. There are serious
consequences to being near radioactive waste, including burns, blood diseases, bone decay, and
even an increased risk for cancer. This means that not dealing with this waste properly can mean
the death of hundreds. The most prominent case was at the Chernobyl Power Plant in Ukraine.
It was not a mishandle of waste but rather a huge accident. An explosion occurred, thus
spreading large quantities of radioactive particles all throughout the atmosphere. It is extremely
difficult to determine the amount of deaths directly caused by the accident, but about 56 people
died directly from the accident. Also, the extremely uncommon thyroid cancer in children has
shown up nearly 7,000 times from the accident in 1986 to 2005 in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia.
This number is nowhere near the amount affect by cancer in total. The total estimation for

people getting cancer from the Chernobyl accident is anywhere from 30,000 to 75,000 in those
countries as well. The second most recent accident was in Fukushima, Japan in March of 2011.
A tsunami hit, flooding a huge area in Japan, and it had lasting effects. The tsunami hit
Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant, causing it to release substantial amounts of radioactive
material starting on March 12th. The entire surrounding area had to be evacuated due to the
amount of toxins in the air. It is undetermined how many people died as a result of the radiation,
and even unknown how many people have died in total. This accident has been labeled as the
worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl, and even scored a 7 on the International Nuclear Event
Scale, the highest grade, meaning the worst disaster. Chernobyl and Fukushima are the only
nuclear accidents to ever receive ratings of 7. This is not to say that there were no other nuclear
plant accidents as there have been 26 accidents, the first occurring in 1957.
In summation, nuclear power plants have many risks and rewards and it is hard to
determine whether the risk of killing hundreds, maybe thousands of people is worth saving our
planet. I personally have difficulty making up my mind about whether nuclear power plants are
worth it as each side can be argued rather well. The fact of the matter is that power plants are
still being built, and will probably continue being built because of the positive effects they can
have. It is very unlikely that accidents even occur, and mostly when they do occur, people do not
die. For example, in the 24 accidents that have occurred other than Chernobyl and Fukushima,
only 12 people have died, and 17 of those accidents killed no one. So the question will continue
to be asked, is nuclear power worth it?