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We have only one WORLD yet! If we destroy it, where else will we go?
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YES Great Dreams For Better Tomorrows, YES Emerging Positive Global Energy, YES National and Global Transparency, and YES Lighting Our Souls & Minds.

Dedication
Choice for Humanity

Nuclear Power Is Still A Bad Idea


by Humeyra Imirzalioglu KOCAK

As the world's population continues to grow, energy demand increases with rising living standards. There are a number of reasons why oil traders feel that oil supplies might be reduced. The war in Iraq, Iran's nuclear program, and questions about Saudi Arabia's internal stability all could in the future lead to a drastic fall in the supply of oil. Turkey is one of the countries concerned with growing energy power demand along with increasing population. Because of insufficient reserves of oil and natural gas, nuclear energy is being reconsidered as its one of the sources of energy. Turkey is depending on other countries for energy. Recently, the government announced that by 2015 Turkey will have 5000 MW of capacity power plants build with the cooperation of the US. 


Image credit: http://www.uic.org

Turkey has significant hydroelectric power energy resources. In addition it has large amounts of renewable alternative sources of energy, such as solar, wind and geothermal potential. Turkey seemingly prefers nuclear power while other countries are closing their power plants.

For many years nuclear power was a controversial method for generating electricity. Basically it involves using radioactive material which releases energy. This energy can then be captured and converted to electricity. Being cheaper than oil there are other reasons to use nuclear power. It does not contribute carbon into the atmosphere. It does not pollute the air which will reduce the problem of global warming.

Nuclear power comes from the fission of uranium, plutonium. Natural uranium consists of two isotopes, U-235 and U-238. The reactors use only the U-235 for nuclear power to produce energy in natural uranium which will be used for hundreds of years. U-238 can be converted to plutonium. U-235 is unstable as radioactivity occurs when an unstable nuclei of atoms decays and emits particles. These particles can have disastarous effects on living tissue. After burying, the disposal will remain radioactive for hundreds or thousands of years. When radiation is released into the environment, it contaminates our soil and water which cause cancer and other diseases.

The question now is nuclear waste with the disposal of waste remaining an unsolved problem. It was not considered to be a big problem when power plants were first build. It was assumed that nuclear waste could be recycled or buried. The waste consists of fission products. When the uranium fuel of a nuclear power plant is used to generate electricity, the left over "spent fuel" is contains highly radioactive substances. Ten year later the spent fuel is only one-sixth as radioactive when it's removed from the reactor. In 90 years, it is one-tenth, even after 300 years it will contain hazardous radioactive material such as carbon-14 (half-life 5,730 years) and plutonium-239 (half-life almost 25,000 years). The half life is the amount of time it takes for a radioactive material to decay to one half of its original amount. Some materials have half-lives of more than 1,000 years.

There are no permanent storage sites for spent fuel rods. They are extremely hot when they removed from the reactor core and must be cooled down. Therefore they are placed in the water pool where they can cool down. They are supposed to stay six months in the pool but since there is no permanent storage site they were kept there for years. As pools fill and if the rods are placed  too close, a  nuclear chain reaction can occur. Dry storage containers located close to the reactor site are used temporarily to store the rods.

Another method of reducing the volume of waste is reprocessing the spent fuel. There are few countries which reprocess their spent fuel as a solution to their waste problem. The plutonium produced by the U-238 and uranium can be separated in a reprocessing plant and used as reactor fuel. The fuel rods are reprocessed in other countries which ship the plutonium back to their home for use in reactors. In the USA reprocessing was banned because the recovered PU-239 plutonium could be used to make nuclear weapons.

During the shipment of nuclear waste to other countries for reprocessing, possible terrorist attacks could be devastating. If terrorists obtained 60 kilograms of highly enriched uranium they could make a nuclear explosive equal to the atomic bomb used at Hiroshima. And, if the plutonium is broken down, dust is dispersed into the atmosphere which could spread quickly through the environment causing hazards to humans and environment. Besides being highly radioactive, it has a half life of almost 25,000 years.

Right now, nuclear waste is piling up in the USA and Europe since there is no place to put them. Europe has 12,000 tons of nuclear waste buried underground and 730 tons is added each year. It will cost EUR 30-35 million to clean this up annually (Sabah 2/16/06).

A permanent solution has not been found yet. It seems like burying nuclear waste underground is the most effective method. But there are safety concerns regarding hot spent fuel placed underground. In the USA nuclear energy represents one-fifth of country's electrical power and commercial nuclear power plants produce 3,000 tons of waste each year. Yucca Mountain, Nevada is a site chosen for permanent storage of nuclear waste. Since 1987, $9 billion was spent to investigate the feasibility of burying reactor fuel. It is expected to cost up to $33 billion to build and is planned to go into operation by 2010. By the time it's open the accumulated waste will be 88,000 tons but Yucca Mountain's capacity to hold nuclear waste is limited. The fate of the remaining tons of nuclear waste is unknown. So far, the nuclear power industry has not found acceptable solutions to the problem of radioactive waste.

Nuclear reactors may experience accidents with severe consequences for humanity. In a typical accident the reactor "melts".  If a nuclear meltdown occurs the reactor loses its coolant. This is what caused in the two diseasters including Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. The explosion at Three Mile Island was a shock to people who thought that accident could never happen in the USA. Turkey and Europe have been greatly effected by the Chernobyl explosion with radiation spreading and contaminating food and soil for many years. The radiation released from the accident was 200 times more than Hiroshima and has long-term effects on the cancer rate. Obviously improving security is essential for operating plants. Plant workers must comply with government regulatory requirements as well.

Nuclear reactors are obviously not completely safe. Bad design and operation of the nuclear plants can cause internal accidents or external hazards like those in Chernobyl.

Specifically Turkey has a history of major accidents and environmental disasters. The Tupras Oil Refinery explosion had a major fire and the Aksa chemical plant had toxic leaks after a terrible earthquake hit Turkey on 17August 1999. The Izmit Bay, and surrounding areas were seriously polluted by oil, and fuel. The water was contaminated and soil pollution lead to the contamination of agricultural products which harmed human health. In the past the town of Akkuyu ,was chosen to build a nuclear power plant with the Ecemis seismic fault line only 25km (15 miles) away from the site chosen. The risk of earthquake damage should be a serious consideration for any proposed nuclear site.

The use of nuclear energy for power may not be a safe alternative to other sources of energy. In addition to being an attractive terrorist target, the problem of nuclear waste remains an unsolved danger to the environment and health. If Turkey develops nuclear power it has to deal with the tremendous amount of the radioactive waste. Other countries including the USA have not found acceptable solution to this problem. Hopefully Turkey will develop cleaner, safer and cheaper renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and geothermal to meet its energy needs.

Humeyra Imirzalioglu Kocak
New York, March 8, 2006


Referans/Sources:

- NY Times,Washington Times
- Scientific American Magazine Feb 2006 issue
- Sabah.com.tr/Nukleer Dosyasi 2/15/06
- Uranium Information Centre
- International Atomic Energy Agency
- The Nuclear Energy Institute
- Greenpeace.org

Related links:
- The Saga of Nuclear Power - p.1
- The Saga of Nuclear Power - p.2
- On "Choice for Humanity"


Special Thanks To:

-- Prof.Hayrettin Kiliç sharing his thoughts and articles, and Mr. Frank R.Lehmann contribution to article.

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