Remember the Chernobyl nuclear reactor disaster?
In 1986, there was an accident during a test at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in the Ukraine and the resulting explosion released at least 5% of the radioactive reactor core into the atmosphere. The radiation released was 400 times the radiation produced by the bombing of Hiroshima during World War II. The accident was the result of a flawed reactor design and inadequately trained staff.
Two plant workers died on the night of the accident and another 28 people died within three months from acute radiation poisoning. In the weeks that followed, 115,000 people were evacuated from the areas surrounding the reactor and another 200,000 were relocated in the months that followed. A scientific committee of the United Nations has reported a significant increase in thyroid cancers but, aside from that, “there is no evidence of a major public health impact attributable to radiation exposure two decades after the accident.” (For a less positive point of view, read this.)
The Chernobyl accident could have been much worse. Three plant workers – Alexei Ananenko, Valeri Bezpalov and Boris Baranov – volunteered to dive into the radioactive waters of the flooded chamber and turn off the underwater valves to prevent a second explosion. If they had been unsuccessful, much of Europe and Russia would have been destroyed and become unfit for human inhabitants for more than 100,000 years. Three heroes deserve our praise but most people have never heard of them.
Since Chernobyl happened less than a decade after the Three Mile Island accident, it’s not surprising that public sentiment turned increasingly negative against nuclear energy for fear of additional accidents. The 2011 accident at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi power station only reinforced the fears. The construction of new nuclear power plants dipped, maintaining the world’s dependence on fossil fuels. Most scientists agree the burning of fossil fuels like coal and oil increases the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere which contributes to global warming.
Recently I read an article which explained that next-generation nuclear reactors have become significantly safer and less expensive. Despite this, construction of new nuclear plants does not appear to be increasing. Fear beats science.
Which leads me to wonder: is the fear of nuclear energy keeping us from reducing global warming?