Nuclear energy is a major source of clean power everywhere in the world. They produce lesser Carbon dioxide per unit of fuel and operate for longer periods of time. A strong nuclear energy program of a country is essential for energy security and national prosperity. Nuclear power plants are fitted with complex set of safety and security features but an uncontrolled reaction can result in widespread air and water contamination. If the nuclear waste is not disposed properly, it could also result in hazardous land pollution.
As Nuclear power plants create a lot of hazardous waste in the form of radioactive wastes such as uranium tailings, spent reactor fuel and other such radioactive materials, these wastes can remain radioactive for thousands of years and pose dangers to human health. There are always concerns associated with transportation, storage and disposal of nuclear wastes and even nuclear fuels. Nuclear disasters are capable of producing large damages to human health and the environment. The radiation release associated with nuclear disaster causes significant acute and chronic problems in the immediate environment as well as over a wide geographic area over longer periods of time.
What are Nuclear Hazards?
Nuclear hazards refer to the incidents involving the release of significant levels of radioactive materials and exposure of general public or the natural environment to nuclear radiation. The nuclear hazards primarily affect public health due to direct exposure to radioactive materials, inhalation of radioactive waste, ingestion of contaminated food, water etc. and long term exposure to radioactive materials in the environment that leads to acute or chronic health and environmental damage.
Due to radioactivity, even a small amount of radiation exposure can have serious biological consequences due to nuclear hazards. The radioactive elements emit high energy particles that cause damage to environmental resources. Radiations emitted due to hazards in nuclear facilities can result in mutations in DNA, burns and radiation sickness, weakness, nausea, hair loss etc. Contamination of natural resources further aggravates the potential of nuclear hazards. Nuclear hazards can be created by man through the mining of radioactive materials, careless handling and processing of nuclear fuels, storage of radioactive wastes, carelessness in safety protocols while operating reactors, as well as improper use of devices that are used to give radiation therapies in hospitals, clinics etc.
Causes of Nuclear Hazards
Nuclear hazards occur due to the following reasons
• Nuclear Accidents
Nuclear energy has been considered as environmentally safe and potential source of energy. If nuclear facilities producing nuclear energy are not put under strict safety measures, there are chances that nuclear accidents may occur. Nuclear plants have huge amount of radioactive material for generation of nuclear energy. The radioactive elements if escape into the environment, proves most harmful for the immediate land, air and water resources as well as human health. If nuclear power plants are operated with flawed design, then too, nuclear power plant accidents occur. For eg Chernobyl Nuclear accident, 1986, Ukraine.
• Nuclear Waste Handling
Radioactive nuclear wastes are categorised as low level and high level wastes. The handling and disposal of these wastes if not performed according to standards prescribed for handling wastes, then nuclear hazards can take place because of leakage of this radioactive material. Radiation waste can not be degraded or treated biologically or chemically. The only options are either to contain the waste by storing them in closed containers, having radioactive protection or disposing them at remote locations.
• Mining of Nuclear Fuels
Mining and extracting nuclear fuels such as thorium, uranium can turn into a nuclear hazard if safety precautions are not taken. Mining increases exposure to humans by moving radio materials from below the Earth’s surface to the top. These substances are usually mined with safety gears and protective equipments. Exposing the natural environment such as trees, plants, water, animals to radioactive elements during mining also increases hazard risks.
Spilling of Radioactive Elements Spilling occurs due to marine accidents which are due to accidents of ships carrying nuclear materials and radioactive elements. Spilling in water bodies causes harmful effects on marine life, contaminate water resources and ends up killing thousands of marine floral as well as faunal species. Contaminated water supply in households can have drastic effects on human health.
• Radiation Based Tests
Radiation has been used in several medical therapies such as Chemotherapies for cancers. Exposure to medical based radiotherapies leads to deaths and other complications. Radioactive elements leaking out of medical facilities can cause fatal nuclear hazards.
Human and Ecological Effects of Nuclear Hazards
Nuclear hazards cause large amounts of nuclear wastes to be released in the environment thus contaminating air, water and land resources. It is essential to contain nuclear material and facilities having nuclear materials safely. The harmful effects of nuclear hazards include
• Radioactive materials released from nuclear hazards cause mutations in the DNA, thereby affecting genes and chromosomes. The genetic makeup of future generations is affected due to these mutations. It leads to several incurable birth defects.
• Radiations can kill essential flora and fauna, important environmental species and can make land soil, plants etc. toxic and critical species are also affected. It results in huge damage to biodiversity.
• Damages caused by different kinds of radiations also include direct physical harms such as burns, miscarriages, cancer, bone defects, eye diseases etc. Even a small exposure to radiation can cause adverse effects. Damages that occur over longer periods are spread over for generations.
•Natural resources such as land, soil, forests, water bodies like rivers, ponds, oceans get affected by nuclear wastes and nuclear elements. Contamination of natural resources affects large number of people living in urban as well as rural areas.
• If nuclear accident sites are not treated and managed properly, it could results in human infectious diseases due to contaminated water and soil in a region.
• Children are at particular risk from nuclear radiations. High doses of radiation increases cancer risk early in the life of children. Lifetime cancer risk significantly increases among children due to exposure to radiation.
• Nuclear hazards increases the pressure on land as soil and water resources are contaminated and therefore lesser land is available for agricultural purposes. The microorganisms present in land and soil also get killed due to insufficient oxygen which reduces soil fertility.
• Nuclear hazards also reduces human immunity to fight against diseases and infections. This makes people vulnerable to infections. It further increases the chances of disease risk in the population.
Ways to Mitigate Harmful Effects of Nuclear Hazards
Nuclear hazards can pose serious risks to environment, humans and animal and plant life. Nuclear hazards can be mitigated by taking following measures • There must be robust design and construction of nuclear reactors so that any fault does not occur during operation of the reactor.
• Medical devices involving nuclear fuel and its use should be used with caution to prevent any undesirable exposure to nuclear material.
• Leakage of nuclear materials, radioactive elements, careless handling of radioactive elements must be fully ensured before carrying out any operations in nuclear facilities.
• There should be regular monitoring of areas that are prone to nuclear hazards.
• Nuclear wastes should be disposed properly as to prevent any long term presence of radioactive material. Long term presence of radioactivity results in hidden and unwanted effects on hunian lives for longer periods of time.
• If there are any possibilities of release of radioactive materials, it must be ensured that adequate safety measures are in place to limit the spread of radioactive waste materials and their harmful effects on human lives.
Thank you very much for reading this article“What are Nuclear Hazards, Meaning, Definition, Cause of Nuclear Hazards, Effects of Nuclear Hazards“