In Nye County, Nevada, an area about 80 miles from Las Vegas, lies the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository, the designated site for disposal and storage of spent nuclear fuel and potentially radioactive waste. Although the Yucca Mountain territory was selected and approved, after decades of research, for its dry, isolated and geologically stable attributes, this project has received opposition from almost all of the neighboring communities, which is largely due to misrepresentation and man-made myths.
The fear of nuclear power plants persists to such an extent that nuclear energy continues to only account for 20% of the United States’ energy and 14% of worldwide energy, but it is unclear whether this trepidation is justified. Nuclear power shows great promise for combatting the energy crisis; for one thing, it is sustainable. Uranium is incredibly abundant and if countries invested in research to develop more efficient generators the uranium supply could last over 2,500 years. France in particular has been incredibly successful with nuclear energy usage; it obtains over 80% of its national energy in this manner.
The downside is that nuclear reactors produce potentially harmful radioactive waste. Nuclear technologies emit nuclear radiation that, if not properly contained, can be detrimental to ecosystems and the environment. Although there are a considerable amount of restrictions and regulations on how waste is disposed, accidents can happen. For example, the Three Mile Island incident in 1979 occurred despite having several layers of defense. In this incident, human error led to a severe core meltdown. It was estimated that that over two million people received radiation of about 1 milligrams over the background dosage.
Another specific nuclear waste disaster was the Mayak case in the Southern Urals, located in Russia during the Cold War. This nuclear waste storage site, which is tightly administered and fortified by the Soviet Union, blew up in the midst of the war and caused a series of detrimental consequences to the people surrounding the disaster site, such as hydrocephalus, a condition that involves mutations in the physical build of individuals. Additionally, runoff from the disaster entered water streams and rivers in the area, later taking a dangerous toll on the environment and water quality.
In spite of these disasters, there is evidence to believe that nuclear power plants are not as dangerous as people make them out to be. The U.S. Bureau of Labor reports that a person working as a grocery store clerk is more likely to be injured on the job than a person working at a nuclear power plant. In addition, the Nuclear Energy Institute claims that it is physically impossible for another disaster like Cherynobyl to happen with existing nuclear reactors. In the past 50 years, with over 3,500 reactors in operation, there have been no observed detrimental health effects which can be linked to radiation, even in neighboring villages.
In conclusion, the subject of nuclear energy is an ever-developing and expanding industry with an unclear future. Although the toll of select historical nuclear waste disasters is felt upon by the neighboring areas in a myriad of ways, research has been conducted and innovations have been made to prevent such instances from occurring again. That being said, humans still have a protracted path to fully understanding and applying nuclear energy; such is the case with the Yucca Mountain Waste Repository, as the project lacks a backup plan. The prospective results of nuclear energy and its waste shine brightly and are bound to improve as science and society progresses.
Written by: Jasmeen Dhillon, Kayce Baker, Tuba Chai, Abby McShane