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Health and Environment


After the Chernobyl disaster of 1986, it became clear that nuclear energy carried with it huge risks to human health and to the environment. Despite previous meltdowns in the United States, namely Three Mile Island in 1979, it was not until after Chernobyl that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission acknowledged the risk of a major meltdown in the US. Aside from the immediate deaths in Chernobyl, the United Nations estimated in 2003 that 15,000-30,000 people living within contaminated zones had died from radiation exposure. The Nuclear Energy Institute, however, claimed that only 35 people had died. While there are huge discrepancies over this figure, it is obvious that the nuclear industry has attempted to downplay the impact.

Though the Chernobyl disaster was nearly 25 years ago, the effects are still felt by the surrounding people, governments, and environment. The shield covering the faulty reactor is cracked and ill-cared for; if it collapses, it would spread a cloud of radioactive dust throughout the region. The World Health Organization gives a comprehensive look into how the environment, including agriculture, forests, and aquatic systems, were affected, as well as the impact on humans and animals. Because of the long life of radioactive materials, there is no guarantee that Chernobyl is safe (even with a new shield).

The nuclear energy industry has been quick to declare this technology as the solution to global warming. Many claim it has a net positive environmental gain compared to fossil fuels, though this ignores the problems and dangers associated with nuclear waste. The United States currently has no acceptable, long-term strategy for managing nuclear waste and, thus, the risks to the environment are huge.

In addition, nuclear energy always carries with it the threat of nuclear proliferation and terrorist attack on the plants. If a government is to maintain a non-proliferation policy, a non-nuclear energy policy must also be in place. Combined with the risk of a meltdown, it is clear that although nuclear energy may appear to be a solution to climate change, it only brings with it more problems. There is always the chance that there will be a meltdown at one of the United States’ 103 commercial nuclear reactors or, even more likely, in a country with less stringent nuclear energy laws. Nuclear energy is not the solution to climate change – it brings with it huge risks and has the potential to wreak havoc on health and on the environment.