By Vineeta Chawla:
The recent earthquake and the following tsunami rocked Japan to the core. The tsunami also affected the various nuclear plants in Japan disrupting the energy flow and more dangerously resulting in radiation leakage. The effects of radiation leakage can be felt for many generations after the initial exposure as Japan already knew from the effects of the nuclear bombs that were dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the 2nd world war.
So what exactly is nuclear radiation and nuclear energy? How is it different from the conventional sources of energy? What’s the scene in Japan?
Nuclear energy can crudely be called the energy inside the nucleus of an atom. Technically, it is equivalent to the difference in mass-energy of the reactants and products. In comparison to the conventional sources of energy nuclear power is a very economic power source but its production requires not only high cost but running it also no easy task. The management of radioactive waste is one of the biggest problems concerning nuclear energy. Hence, in simple words, Â we can say that nuclear energy is a very powerful source of energy, but it is not easily reined in.
On Earth, nuclear energy can be generated in nuclear power plants. Nuclear power plants produce energy by means of a controlled nuclear reaction. The process involves bombarding certain elements like uranium and plutonium with slow-moving neutrons to release energy (in the form of heat and light), neutrons (generally three), and radioactive end products like krypton and barium. The reaction is a chain reaction hence it must be carefully controlled for proper and safe functioning of the plant. This is the fission nuclear reaction. This reaction must be rigidly controlled to prevent it from turning it into a disaster.
The fusion reaction is more powerful but much more unmanageable because it releases a lot more energy then the fission reaction. In this, two atoms combine to form a single atom and this releases a lot of energy. The only natural source in which fusion reaction is seen is the sun, so we can easily estimate the power of a fusion reaction. Till now the fusion technology can be used only in bomb. The technologies that can control the fusion reaction and provide the extreme conditions for it to take place have not yet been made. Hence, this technology is unavailable for commercial use. The surprising thing about the fusion reaction is that it does not involve any radiation. It is a very clean bomb in that respect. The bomb sucks oxygen from the area and kills this way.
Problems arose in Japan from nuclear radiation leakage after the tsunami because shutting down a nuclear reactor completely on an emergency basis is a very difficult task. The earthquake and the following tsunami gave the people of Japan very little reaction time. When the cooling system of the nuclear reactors stopped working there was no way to stop radiation leakage as no one could go near a reactor without being affected. The chain reaction inside the reactors could not be controlled after the failure of the cooling system. With the rupture of the cables the energy created in the reactors, which was increasing with the progress of the reaction, could not be diverted. This resulted in the explosions and the increase in radiation leakage.
The radiation leakage can have a very bad impact on the health of the people of Japan. The radiations affected food around a 150 km radius around the reactor making it inedible and a highly toxic waste. The radiations also affect various parts of the human body resulting in deformities, damage to blood vessels which may even lead to death in cases of high exposure.
This incident has also opened the eyes of other countries and now they considering the opening of new plants with many more safety features than before. A recheck of the existing plants is also being proposed which also includes the installment of the required safety features.