Last time we looked at nuclear power and how we get electricity from splitting the atom, this time we shall look at what happens when the chain reaction is allowed to proceed in an uncontrolled manner. The first example we shall look at is when a nuclear bomb explodes, and we should never forget why they should never be used. It is not nice reading, but some things should never be forgotten: what happens when a nuclear bomb explodes.
So, then. What does happen?
When a nuclear weapon explodes, the center of a nuclear explosion reaches a temperature of several million degrees centigrade. Over the immediate area the heat flash literally vaporizes all human tissue even teeth are turned to gas. When the Hiroshima bomb exploded, all that remained of most of the people caught in the open were their shadows burnt into stone.
All people caught in the open will be killed by the heat and blast waves. People inside buildings will be indirectly killed by the blast and heat effects as buildings collapse and all inflammable materials burst into flames. Gas pipes rupture and turn into flame throwers. The fires join to produce a fire storm, which are so large they create their own powerful winds and people just aren’t fast enough to out run them. The fires are so huge they suck oxygen from the area. People who don’t burn simply suffocate. People will also die from their burns, will be blinded and die from falling debris as buildings are destroyed. Medical services would also be destroyed so many perish from untreated injuries.
Survivors – either uninjured or with survivable injuries, – will be affected within a matter of days by radioactive fall-out. The deadly molecules falling from the sky. The symptoms of radiation sickness include hair loss, bleeding from the mouth and gums, internal bleeding and hemorrhagic diarrhea, gangrenous ulcers, vomiting, and fever. There is no effective treatment and death follows in a matter of days. Pregnant women are highly likely to miscarry or have a child with a range of disabilities. Healing from injuries is often slow, also damage to the immune system is probable.
Radiation-induced cancers will affect many survivors, often twenty or more years later. Certain cancers such as thyroid cancer in children are particularly associated with exposure to radiation. There are statistically higher than normal birth abnormalities and leukemia rates in the children of exposed survivors. There will also be significant environmental damage.
Next let’s look at when we have an accident in a nuclear power station, again it really is disturbing reading, but these are facts we should never forget. The accident that occurred in the Russian power station – Chernobyl.
On April 26, 1986, a power output surged during a systems test, which led to an explosion. Further explosions and a fire released highly radioactive material into the atmosphere. The release of nuclear fallout at Chernobyl was 400 hundred times higher than that of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Large quantities of radioactive materials were released into the air for 10 days.
At the time of the disaster, 49,400 people lived in Pripyat a state of the art city built to house the nuclear plant workers and their families. More than 24 hours after the first explosion, residents were ordered to evacuate, but by this time, many had already suffered varying degrees of radiation poisoning.
By May 14, about 116,000 people, who lived within a 19-mile radius of the nuclear plant had been relocated. By July 1986, there were 28 deaths due to radiation exposure. In following years, 220,000 more people moved into less contaminated areas and a 19-mile zone of alienation was established.
The 200 tons of hardened nuclear fuel and debris remains so radioactive that even today scientists cannot approach it. The total area contaminated by the Chernobyl disaster — 15,000 square miles — will be affected for the next 300 years.
A report confirms that 28 emergency workers died from acute radiation syndrome, and 15 patients later died from thyroid cancer. The report also estimates that cancer deaths directly resulting from the incident may reach a total of 4,000 among the 600,000 workers who received the greatest exposure while cleaning up the disaster. In addition, there have been 4,000 reported cases of thyroid cancer, mainly from people who were children living in the area at the time of the accident. Scientists believe the children were affected by drinking milk from contaminated cows.
The atom contains such power of life and death, and we take for granted the power it supplies us and let’s not forget it is essential to life.
Let’s hope that we never have another accident, though we nearly did in Japan a few years ago.
To finish, let’s hope within our life time we see an end to nuclear power in favour of more environmentally friendly and above all 100% safe sources of power.