Nuclear & Radiation
Besides the past cold war and the risks of impending nuclear destruction and the current situation where insane politicians and leaders in control of their countries threaten use of them, there is a general risk from commercial sources and nature. A lot of leaders are so out of touch with reality they actually think that a nuclear attack can succeed and would not bring the whole of the earths to the brink of extinction. The mental attitude is one of ‘all and nothing,’ basically suicide, taking the rest of the world with them.
If done correctly and kept away from the public, nuclear is one of the purest forms of energy generation. It produces a mass of pollution, but nowhere near that of other sources, including wind and solar, that need massive polluting industries and extensive infrastructure behind them. You are expending energy and resources to obtain the benefit of them, many just hidden away behind the scenes but roughly equivalent to each other.
Most complicated systems use unusual and hard to get resources in their construction. Without them, and using alternatives would cost twice the energy and resources to get them. A comparison could be lead and lithium. Lithium being much more reactive and needing a lot more processing than lead to get it into a form it can be used, but weight for weight is many times the power of lead. But with lithium comes the added risk of reactivity and difficulties of scaling up, lead staying in mainly one place and leaching away, lithium being a lot more dynamic. Then there are the extra requirements of control, lead acid batteries being very durable and resilient, lithium ones being prone to injury with dramatic results.
But what of nuclear? The first reactor was about 1942, the first commercial one being about 1952. With the commercialisation of nuclear energy there was an inclusion of the new factor of cost. Things were done to a price, safety was done to a price, monitoring and managing was done to a price, so if a safety factor was too costly then it was simply not included. Staff trained to oversee the industry were also trained to minimise cost and evaluate acceptable risks. Two-mile island, Chernobyl and Fukushima were places were the risks were evaluated badly, with Chernobyl contaminating Europe and an area the size of Wales badly. The latest Russian war not only spreading the contamination, but also killing or disabling of many of its own soldiers in a irresponsible and unprofessional incursion into the area.
So, we still have the commercialisation of nuclear power where cost is the key. Many of the plants use out of date nuclear reactors, the designs being modified to give weapons grade levels of uranium and plutonium as an effort to recoup costs by providing remunerative sources to the military. There were a number of advanced designs for ‘safe’ nuclear reactors that should never fail, or at least fail in a recoverable form, but the costs were much higher, so they were dropped. Extra safety factors were costed and regarded as unnecessary and frivolous expenses. ‘We’re here to make a profit, not for the interests of the locals; they can be evacuated.’
At the moment we have 7 main nuclear sites in the UK that are well separated. The chance of all of them going wrong is remote, it would need a planned terrorist attack or a new war. If they did the UK would need to be evacuated to another country. You might get the odd bit like Cornwall OK, but even one of them going drastically wrong would be bad news for about 7,500 square miles, possibly 1/10th of the whole of the United Kingdom for 50 years or more. The severe exclusion zone of Chernobyl is 1,000 square miles, but 20,000 square miles was originally badly affected, levels still above what would be acceptable in the UK.
A nuclear war would mean that these sort of levels would be minor. The only real effects of nuclear war can be found in the populations of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, where things like fallout killed many and still cause day to day problems and early deaths.
So that is military and commercial nuclear. But certain areas have added hazards in the form of higher than average background radioactive minerals locally. In most cases the population has lived with this for many years and are marginally ‘hardened’ to the effects. The change came when people started insulating houses and making them more air tight. In areas of high igneous content such as granite radon gas seeps into the areas that are so sealed and accumulate, quite often as much, or sometimes much more, than would be permitted exposures in the nuclear industry for somebody who dealt with radioactive sources day to day and were paid to accept the extra risks. This can lead to sterility, abnormal births and defects, an increase in cancers, especially thyroid.
The areas covered by Chernobyl and Fukushina could be considred around the same size, but because Fukushima’s area was mainly over the north pacific rather than land nobody really realises it. On land radioactive particles sit on top until rainfall causes them to go into the soil, staying for a while in the top foot, but it can still be detected and active, the average depth of the north pacific, water a couple of miles deep. That’s a lot of dispersion capability. That’s why some areas around Chenobyl are still dangerous. Since 1994 there has been a ban on disposing of nuclear waste at sea, the last large one being high level waste including spent fuel by Russia in 1993, but the 1st such dumping of the past in 1946 was in the North Pacific.
I wouldn’t be surprised if there wasn’t about 30 billion cubic feet of nuclear waste in the seas combined with the radioactivity already at the bottom of them, all warming it up. The seas are big though, radiation being a long term cumulative effect that doesn’t ‘just disappear,’ the half life of cesium-137 being about 30 years to reduce to about 50% of it’s effect, then 30 years to 25% effect. Uranium products have a half life of about 4.5 million years, Plutonium mainly between 87 years and 80 million years. Dumping has been curtailed since 1993, but went on for 48 years. What the current systems are in various countries is unclear as to leaching effects.
Radioactive isotopes are very useful. In carbon-14 dating, it has a half life of 5730 years, so if something is alive and absorbing carbon-14 then there should be statistically 50% around left after that time, so approximate proportions can be calculated according to models, but various organisms retain carbon-14 at varying rates, some a lot, some hardly at all, and a lot depends on the environment, climate and events it finds itself in, so it can vary tremendously over even one year, some events in a year possibly causing 10 or more years levels, or a dearth of it reducing a years to a months depending on world locations, but statistically it should follow a general pattern.