The effects on people and environments surrounding a nuclear power plant

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The effects on people and environments surrounding a nuclear power plant
Having a meltdown (Getty Thinkstock)

Few people who lived through it will forget the incident of March 1979, when radioactive particles escaped from the Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania nuclear power plant, following core-damage provoked by overheating. Or, as it's known: a meltdown. On April 26, 1986, a catastrophic explosion occurred at the Ukraine-based Chernobyl nuclear power plant, which unleashed radiation across Europe. Most recently, in March 2011, the world was shocked by the events at Japan's Fukushima 1 plant.

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Nuclear power plants: concerns and fears

As a result of the bad-press that nuclear power plants often get, it's understandable people have concerns. Particularly those who live in their near-vicinity. Today, there are almost 400 plants across the planet. In the UK alone, when one combines power plants with what are termed research reactors, the number reaches dozens. And not unlike the case with large, passenger-based aircraft, when nuclear reactors work fine, there's no problem. But, when something goes wrong, it can be a disaster.

Nuclear power plants: the human factor

A good way of determining how people in the vicinity of nuclear power plants can be affected is to take a look at Fukushima. The International Nuclear Event Scale - created by the International Atomic Energy Agency - rated the incident a "Level 7" disaster. And the highest level on the scale? That's right: seven. More than 300 workers were exposed to dangerously high levels of radiation. US Department of Energy studies have suggested that even up to a distance of thirty miles from the plant, residents face a possible increase in cancer levels, which may result in two new deaths per every thousand people in immediate years to come. That might not sound much. Unless you're unfortunate enough to be one of those two.

The effects on people and environments surrounding a nuclear power plant
Radiation and health (Hemera Technologies/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images)

Environmental issues and nuclear plants

In terms of potential environmental effects caused by a nuclear plant, the outcome can be just as grim. No less than four kilometers of lush forest located near Chernobyl died after the explosion. And, as the scale of the Chernobyl disaster escalated, major concerns were expressed about the safety of the water-supply from the Dnieper River, on which the people of Kiev relied. The Soviets assured people all was well. Eight weeks later, however, Russian authorities quietly opted to use water from the Desna River instead, something which potentially speaks volumes about behind-the-scenes concerns. Concerns still exist: as late as 2010, wild boar culled in the area were shown to be heavily contaminated by radiation.

The effects on people and environments surrounding a nuclear power plant
Woodland, water and wildlife (Jupiterimages/liquidlibrary/Getty Images)

The economic side of living near a plant

While deadly radiation is the most dangerous side-effect of living near a nuclear plant that's going through a meltdown, there's another issue. It's a meltdown of a very different kind: an economic one. Dungeness, Kent is home to a significantly-sized nuclear power plant. And when the events at Chernobyl erupted in 1986, stone cold fear of living on the doorstep of a potential British Chernobyl led to a marked drop in the prices of homes near the Dungeness plant. In other words, matters of a psychological nature can have a major effect on those that live, or who are thinking of living, near a nuclear power station.

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