The Effects of Nuclear Radiation on the Environment

Nuclear energy is a process that was once hailed as the energy wave of the future. Using mined uranium, atoms are split, releasing large quantities of nuclear energy in nuclear power plants. The use of nuclear energy and the radiation that occurs from it can pose several environmental problems.

Radiation can negatively impact the environment.

Humans and Animals

The effects of radiation on humans and animals are well-documented as having an extremely detrimental effect. When exposed to radiation in large amounts, humans can develop cancer. If the amount of radiation is controlled, it can be used to treat cancer, but if a leak or accidental exposure occurs, it would be nearly impossible to control the exposure. Radiation can also cause birth defects in humans and animals, so an exposure to radiation in the wild could lead to generations of difficulties throughout an entire ecosystem.

Plant Reproduction

One of the largest environmental exposures to nuclear radiation was the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. This accident caused 125,000 square miles in the Ukraine and Russia to be exposed to radiation. One of the largest damaging effects over the next few weeks were the reproductive tissues of the plants. Similar effects have occurred with hydrogen bomb testing in other parts of the world. It took these trees around three years to regain their reproductive abilities. Some scientists believe that three years was much sooner than when they believed the plants would be able to reproduce again.

Liquid By-Products

There are two major liquid by-products that can occur from nuclear power if a power plant is not monitored properly. These chemicals are tritium and strontium-90. Tritium is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen that has been used in exit signs, scientific research and luminous paints. This isotope has the possibility of contaminating water systems and if ingested it may slightly increase the risk of developing cancer in soft tissues and organs. Strontium-90 acts like calcium and is deposited in bones and teeth when ingested. This isotope may increase the risk of bone cancer and leukemia in animals and people.

Nuclear Plant Consequences

There are many consequences that have occurred in the environment as a result of nuclear power plants. Large amounts of carbon dioxide are emitted when power plants are built and maintained which may cause harm to the surrounding environment. Nuclear power plants use a cooling system that keeps them from overheating. This system pulls water from the ocean or river and then returns the warmer water back to the source. Since the water is much warmer than the fish are used to, it may kill some of the fish that require colder water.