OVERVIEW FROM WIKIPEDIA:
Editor's Note: This is an area where Wikipedia downplays the environmental and health effects of Fukushima’s meltdown and other nuclear accidents.
Nuclear power is the use of nuclear reactions to produce electricity. Nuclear power can be obtained from nuclear fission, nuclear decay and nuclear fusion reactions. Presently, the vast majority of electricity from nuclear power is produced by nuclear fission of uranium and plutonium in nuclear power plants. Nuclear decay processes are used in niche applications such as radioisotope thermoelectric generators in some space probes such as Voyager 2. Generating electricity from fusion power remains the focus of international research.
Most nuclear power plants use thermal reactors with enriched uranium in a once-through fuel cycle. Fuel is removed when the percentage of neutron absorbing atoms becomes so large that a chain reaction can no longer be sustained, typically three years. It is then cooled for several years in on-site spent fuel pools before being transferred to long term storage. The spent fuel, though low in volume, is high-level radioactive waste. While its radioactivity decreases exponentially it must be isolated from the biosphere for hundreds of thousands of years, though newer technologies (like fast reactors) have the potential to reduce this significantly. Because the spent fuel is still mostly fissionable material, some countries (e.g. France and Russia) reprocess their spent fuel by extracting fissile and fertile elements for fabrication in new fuel, although this process is more expensive than producing new fuel from mined uranium. All reactors breed some plutonium-239, which is found in the spent fuel, and because Pu-239 is the preferred material for nuclear weapons, reprocessing is seen as a weapon proliferation risk.
The first nuclear power plant was built in the 1950s. The global installed nuclear capacity grew to 100 GW in the late 1970s, and then expanded rapidly during the 1980s, reaching 300 GW by 1990. The 1979 Three Mile Island accident in the United States and the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in the Soviet Union resulted in increased regulation and public opposition to nuclear plants. These factors, along with high cost of construction, resulted in the global installed capacity only increasing to 390 GW by 2022. These plants supplied 2,586 terawatt hours (TWh) of electricity in 2019, equivalent to about 10% of global electricity generation, and were the second-largest low-carbon power source after hydroelectricity. As of September 2022, there are 437 civilian fission reactors in the world, with overall capacity of 393 GW, 57 under construction and 102 planned, with a combined capacity of 62 GW and 96 GW, respectively. The United States has the largest fleet of nuclear reactors, generating over 800 TWh of zero-emissions electricity per year with an average capacity factor of 92%. Average global capacity factor is 89%. Most new reactors under construction are generation III reactors in Asia.
Nuclear power generation causes one of the lowest levels of fatalities per unit of energy generated compared to other energy sources. Coal, petroleum, natural gas and hydroelectricity each have caused more fatalities per unit of energy due to air pollution and accidents. Nuclear power plants emit no greenhouse gases. One of the dangers of nuclear power is the potential for accidents like the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan in 2011.
There is a debate about nuclear power. Proponents contend that nuclear power is a safe, sustainable energy source that reduces carbon emissions. The anti-nuclear movement contends that nuclear power poses many threats to people and the environment and is too expensive and slow to deploy when compared to alternative sustainable energy sources.
In physics, radiation is the emission or transmission of energy in the form of waves or particles through space or through a material medium. This includes:
- electromagnetic radiation, such as radio waves, microwaves, infrared, visible light, ultraviolet, x-rays, and gamma radiation (γ)
- particle radiation, such as alpha radiation (α), beta radiation (β), proton radiation and neutron radiation (particles of non-zero rest energy)
- acoustic radiation, such as ultrasound, sound, and seismic waves (dependent on a physical transmission medium)
- gravitational radiation, that takes the form of gravitational waves, or ripples in the curvature of spacetime
The Fukushima nuclear disaster (福島第一原子力発電所事故, Fukushimadaiichigenshiryokuhatsudensho jiko) was a nuclear accident in 2011 at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Ōkuma, Fukushima, Japan. The proximate cause of the disaster was the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, which occurred on the afternoon of 11 March 2011 and remains the most powerful earthquake ever recorded in Japan. The earthquake triggered a powerful tsunami, with 13–14-meter-high waves damaging the nuclear power plant's emergency diesel generators, leading to a loss of electric power. The result was the most severe nuclear accident since the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, classified as level seven on the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES) after initially being classified as level five, and thus joining Chernobyl as the only other accident to receive such classification. While the 1957 explosion at the Mayak facility was the second worst by radioactivity released, the INES ranks incidents by impact on population, so Chernobyl (335,000 people evacuated) and Fukushima (154,000 evacuated) rank higher than the 10,000 evacuated from the Mayak site in the rural southern Urals.
The accident was triggered by the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, which occurred in the Pacific Ocean about 72 kilometres (45 mi) east of the Japanese mainland at 14:46 JST on Friday, 11 March 2011. On detecting the earthquake, the active reactors automatically shut down their normal power-generating fission reactions. Because of these shutdowns and other electrical grid supply problems, the reactors' electricity supply failed, and their emergency diesel generators automatically started. Critically, these were required to provide electrical power to the pumps that circulated coolant through the reactors' cores. This continued circulation was vital to remove residual decay heat, which continues to be produced after fission has ceased. However, the earthquake had also generated a tsunami 14 metres (46 ft) high that arrived shortly afterwards, swept over the plant's seawall and then flooded the lower parts of the reactor buildings at units 1–4. This flooding caused the failure of the emergency generators and loss of power to the circulating pumps. The resultant loss of reactor core cooling led to three nuclear meltdowns, three hydrogen explosions, and the release of radioactive contamination in Units 1, 2 and 3 between 12 and 15 March. The spent fuel pool of the previously shut down Reactor 4 increased in temperature on 15 March due to decay heat from newly added spent fuel rods, but did not boil down sufficiently to expose the fuel.
In the days after the accident, radiation released into the atmosphere forced the government to declare an ever-larger evacuation zone around the plant, culminating in an evacuation zone with a 20 kilometres (12 mi) radius. All told, some 110,000 residents were evacuated from the communities surrounding the plant due to the rising off-site levels of ambient ionizing radiation caused by airborne radioactive contamination from the damaged reactors.
Large amounts of water contaminated with radioactive isotopes were released into the Pacific Ocean during and after the disaster. Michio Aoyama, a professor of radioisotope geoscience at the Institute of Environmental Radioactivity, has estimated that 18,000 terabecquerel (TBq) of radioactive caesium-137 were released into the Pacific during the accident, and in 2013, 30 gigabecquerel (GBq) of caesium-137 were still flowing into the ocean every day. The plant's operator has since built new walls along the coast and has created a 1.5 km long "ice wall" of frozen earth to stop the flow of contaminated water.
While there has been ongoing controversy over the health effects of the disaster, a 2014 report by the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) and World Health Organization projected no increase in miscarriages, stillbirths or physical and mental disorders in babies born after the accident. Evacuation and sheltering to protect the public significantly reduced potential radiation exposures by a factor of 10, according to UNSCEAR. UNSCEAR also reported that the evacuations themselves had repercussions for the people involved, including a number of evacuation-related deaths and a subsequent impact on mental and social well-being (for example, because evacuees were separated from their homes and familiar surroundings, and many lost their livelihoods). An ongoing intensive cleanup program to both decontaminate affected areas and decommission the plant will take 30 to 40 years from the disaster, plant management estimated.
On 5 July 2012, the National Diet of Japan Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (NAIIC) found that the causes of the accident had been foreseeable, and that the plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), had failed to meet basic safety requirements such as risk assessment, preparing for containing collateral damage, and developing evacuation plans. At a meeting in Vienna three months after the disaster, the International Atomic Energy Agency faulted lax oversight by the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, saying the ministry faced an inherent conflict of interest as the government agency in charge of both regulating and promoting the nuclear power industry. On 12 October 2012, TEPCO admitted for the first time that it had failed to take necessary measures for fear of inviting lawsuits or protests against its nuclear plants.