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How nuclear energy affects the environment and humans

At some point or another in its production, any energy source ends up having repercussions on the environment. Beyond renewables, nuclear energy is the only one that does not emit greenhouse gases, however, that it does not emit them does not mean that it does not affect the environment.

Among the advantages of nuclear energy we find that it is one of the most economical and efficient, in addition, it creates a lot of electricity without sending gases into the atmosphere. However, nuclear power is still potentially very dangerous, as exemplified by accidents in the only decades.

Do you want to know how nuclear energy affects the environment and humans ? In the following AgroCorrn article we will explain it to you.

You may also be interested in: What is nuclear energy and how does it work?
  1. Nuclear energy: short definition
  2. How nuclear energy affects the environment
  3. How nuclear energy affects humans

Nuclear energy: short definition

Nuclear energy is the energy in the nucleus of an atom, the smallest particles into which we can divide a material. In the nucleus of an atom we find two different particles, protons and neutrons, which are held together by nuclear energy.

Nuclear technology is what allows us to transform nuclear energy into other forms of energy . For example, nuclear power plants are the places that allow us to transform nuclear energy into electrical energy.

But how can we obtain that energy present in the nucleus of atoms? Well, the reality is that there are two ways to do it:

  • Nuclear fission : the partition of the nucleus of the atom.
  • Nuclear fusion : the fusion of the nucleus of two different atoms.

An example is the energy that the Sun produces and that reaches the Earth in the form of heat and light, that energy is the result of the fusion of two different atoms. However, with the technology we have, it is very difficult for us to reproduce these reactions in nuclear power plants, therefore, today what is done in power plants is nuclear fission.

The fact is that when either of these two reactions occurs, both fusion and fission, the atoms lose some mass and when that mass is lost it is converted into heat energy , that is, heat. But to this day we are still not capable of nuclear fusion in the plants, so they all use the fission process .

For this, the vast majority of nuclear reactors use uranium as fuel, but not just any uranium, but enriched. The enrichment process is done to make it more unstable, which makes it easier for its core to split. The fact that uranium reserves are limited and that this is the main fuel for power plants means that nuclear energy is not a renewable energy.

How nuclear energy affects the environment

It is no coincidence that so many people oppose nuclear energy or that numerous environmental groups speak out against it around the world. Here’s how nuclear energy affects the environment :

CO2 emissions

When talking about the effects of nuclear energy on the environment, its advocates often argue that unlike other types of power plants, nuclear power plants do not emit carbon dioxide, one of the main causes of the greenhouse effect. The reality is that its CO2 emissions compared to a thermal power plant are much lower, however, its manufacturing process does emit carbon dioxide, especially when extracting uranium and taking it to the power plants.

Use of water

Nuclear power plants need huge amounts of water that serve as cooling to prevent dangerous temperatures from being reached. This water is taken from rivers or the sea, causing many times, along with the water, marine animals to enter. Once the water has been used for cooling, it is returned to its environment, but with a higher temperature. This can cause changes in the marine temperature that kill the plants and animals that inhabit those waters.

Possible accidents

The reality is that the accidents that have occurred in nuclear power plants are few, however, each one of them represents a real catastrophe of enormous magnitudes, both human and ecological. The clearest example of one of these accidents is the one that occurred in Chernobyl in 1986, which shook a whole generation, and closer in time that of the Japanese power plant in Fukushima in 2011. As we have said, the possibilities of The occurrence of an accident of this type is low, however, due to its catastrophic consequences, any risk that is not 0 is already too much. Especially when there are factors that are beyond our control, such as the tsunami that caused the Fukushima accident or the possibility that they are the target of a terrorist attack.

When there is an accident of this type in a nuclear power plant, the levels of radiation that are released are deadly for any plant, animal or person that is exposed. Depending on the level of intensity of this radiation, the effects are fatal in the short, medium or long term, for example, causing malformations or tumors.

When we speak of catastrophic consequences it is not an exaggeration, the magnitude of these accidents is such that until many decades later a global balance cannot be made. In addition, it not only affects the closest area, but radioactive clouds can travel thousands of kilometers through the air or water.

Nuclear waste

But the main problem of nuclear energy, beyond the possible accidents -which are very minority- is in the waste it generates, waste inherent to this type of production. Nuclear waste can take thousands of years before they begin to stop being radioactive, posing a latent danger to the flora and fauna of the planet. To this day, they are locked in nuclear cemeteries, sealing them and isolating us underground or at the bottom of the sea. The problem is that it is a short-term solution and that it is not definitive, since the period of radioactivity of these residues is longer than the life of their “protective boxes”.

In the following AgroCorrn article we explain the effects of the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami .

How nuclear energy affects humans

When there is a nuclear accident, the controlled radiation from the plant goes outside, affecting flora, fauna and, obviously, human beings. Radiation, unlike other contaminations, cannot be seen or smelled, yet it damages health and persists for decades [1] .

At the core of nuclear reactors we can find more than 60 radioactive substances . These are very similar to biological elements in our body, which is why they accumulate and cause devastating effects. Some of these elements have very short life cycles, however, there are others that can remain for a long time.

Of the more than 60 pollutants that we have mentioned, the ones that affect humans the most are 3: strontium-90, cesium and iodine. Depending on which tissue they affect, their consequences will be one or the other, however, what is clear is that when they enter our body they destroy cells and damage DNA. Thus, the answer to the question of how nuclear energy affects humans is this:

  • It causes genetic defects.
  • It causes cancer, especially of the thyroid, since this gland absorbs iodine, although it also causes brain tumors and bone cancer.
  • Bone marrow problems, which in turn cause leukemia or anemia.
  • Fetal malformations.
  • Infertility
  • It weakens the immune system, which increases the risk of infections.
  • Gastrointestinal disorders.
  • Mental problems, especially radiation anxiety.
  • In high or prolonged concentrations it causes death.

If you want to read more articles similar to How nuclear energy affects the environment and human beings , we recommend that you enter our category of Non-renewable energies .

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Hello, I am a blogger specialized in environmental, health and scientific dissemination issues in general. The best way to define myself as a blogger is by reading my texts, so I encourage you to do so. Above all, if you are interested in staying up to date and reflecting on these issues, both on a practical and informative level.

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