Negative effects are produced at different stages in the life of a nuclear power plant -- the construction phase, the operational phase and the decommission phase. The environment, local community, vendors, surrounding habitats and financers of the power plant can be affected by the facility at various stages. Unforeseen incidents, control issues or human errors are taken into consideration, particularly during the operational and decommission phases.
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Negative effects can be seen before ground has been broken for the construction of a nuclear power plant. For the government, investors and policy makers, the decision to implement a new nuclear power plant with the required controls presents risk and high capital costs. The construction process takes around 5-7 years in some cases and adds to the financial strain. As power lines, road connections, water cooling structures and building work takes place, typical construction site effects are felt by the region, such as dust and noise pollution, landscape degradation in the vicinity effecting flora and fauna, rainwater run-off containing solid matter, and oil and nitrogen compounds may be noticeable in the soil and groundwater surrounding the site. Depending on the area, homes and places of recreation may be relocated if they are deemed too close to the nuclear power plant. With the positive economic benefits, such as employment and consequential increase in population, the increased jobs would bring to the area more traffic, especially during the construction period.
Nuclear power plants produce roughly 14.6% of the world's electricity. There are over 440 commercial reactors in the world. In the United States, fusion power plants are in operation. These use Uranium fuel, which, unlike plutonium, cannot be reprocessed. Intense heat levels are required for fusion to occur in these plants. Although the plant itself does not release any radiation, the resulting spent uranium fuel is radioactive waste which must be cooled in tanks of water. A negative effect this could have on a surrounding habitat is where the coolant water is discharged, increasing the temperature of the surrounding water. The ecology and fishing in that area could also be adversely affected. Safe storage of spent fuel adds to the cost for the operator or waste manager. The nuclear power plant, once operational, could have irregular situations that may affect the local community and environment. Accidents could lead to the exposure to radioactive gases or particles that would be a hazard to those who inhaled or ingested radioactive materials. The Chernobyl incident provides an example where 31 people were killed and 20 square miles of land was rendered uninhabitable.
The most significant environmental impact that occurs when a nuclear power plant is to be decommissioned, involves the handling and transportation of radioactive materials. As with the operational facility, the waste needs to be safely managed and disposed. Equipment is cleaned and either recycled or disposed of at a general landfill. The deconstruction process, as with the construction process, will have similar negative effects on noise, traffic, soil and groundwater. For the surrounding community, any errors on the part of those decommissioning the plant could involve radioactive contamination, which would more than likely affect the people in close contact with the parts and equipment, rather than the local populace.
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