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Nuclear Power and Techonologies

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    Today in our energy hungry world, the reliance on nuclear power is getting larger

    and larger. Nuclear power is on top of the list of forms of power available to

    generate electricity in the quantities, forms and reliability needed as we head

    towards the 21st century. Current operating nuclear plants number approximately

    Nuclear energy production will grow an average of 3.3 to 4.2% Per Year

    worldwide from 1988-2005 (IAEA News briefs, Sept.1989). Though we have

    experienced if not the worst techno genic environmental disaster of the 20th century

    fourteen years ago – Chernobyl, together with the partial meltdown at Three Mile

    Island twenty-one years ago, most people today give only passing thoughts to the

    issue of nuclear safety worldwide. These two cases are only mere examples of the

    ominous potential for accidents of great magnitude within such nuclear plants

    worldwide. It is vital that we understand both the logic and outcomes of such

    disasters. Today fourteen years later, effects of Chernobyl are still hazardous and

    have been detected all over the world. Belarus, a country most affected by history’s

    worst nuclear disaster does not even have a nuclear plant. The radiation released

    from Chernobyl was 200 times more than that of the combined releases of the

    atom bombs that annihilated Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Due to prevailing

    winds, 25 percent of the land in Belarus is uninhabitable. All normal life has stopped

    there, people are afraid to move, stay, marry and afraid to have families. The costs

    of the accidents after-effects are monumental; resettlement of people affected,

    medical and clean-up costs are just a few on the priority list.

    The problem lies in ignorance of interactions between human, engineering,

    organizational and managerial factors of such a system. In most cases human error is

    customarily cited as a major cause of the problem. Sometimes in my mind I cannot

    blame the operators involved, reason being that the control rooms of such plants are

    a maze of complex displays and controls spread over an array of many rooms. In

    the case of an emergency, due to the mere size and complexity of such rooms,

    errors are just begging to occur. Error is also a combination of many factors such as

    ineffective training, intricate operating procedures, and natural disasters. Usually the

    direction taken to ensure safety at such nuclear plants is one of tending to find an

    engineering solution. If the above mentioned factors together with the use of safety

    and human factors in the engineering education for such large-scale technological

    systems are used, then we would be heading the right direction; a safer, productive

    life not only for us but for our environment as well. Nuclear regulation is the public’s

    Politics, resource and structural problems are another major cause. For example here

    in the US, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) was set up as the major

    regulatory agency. Under staffed and under skilled employees are just one of their

    obstacles. Relying on the fact that the industry itself is responsible for safety tests on

    plants, the NRC has over looked many issues while tending to focus on matters with

    greatest safety importance. We should all know that system failures can be traced to

    all those small components that make up this human/machine interface. Whenever

    we have such components fitted together and are in interaction it is crucial to give

    weight not only to the human and technological factors but also to how they operate

    together. The NRC’s relationship with the industry has been suspect since its

    creation in 1974. Operations of such regulatory agencies worldwide is greatly

    influenced by the member states (IAEA) who have such nuclear operating plants.

    The power of money in hand and foreign relation policies of these states control the

    acts and decisions of such agencies. Structural troubles include the fact that it is

    only optional for member states to comply with or use safety principles set by the

    International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 1986 . Thus there is no clear cut

    accord by IAEA member states on the issue of complying with safety standards.

    Lack of Safety is yet another obstacle. Many nuclear plants in Central and

    Eastern Europe (e.g. Ukraine) are just time bombs waiting to blow. Many of these

    plants have not yet collapsed probably due the fact that combination of events

    needed for failure has not yet occurred or that they have just not been given enough

    time. Hence it is high time that the international community and the G-7 get

    involved. The problem(s) in this industry needs to be tackled collectively, no one

    is in a position today to solve this complex field of science and practice individually,

    irrespective of depth of education or dedication. Political, economic and cultural

    barriers have to be crushed if we are to achieve this. A collaborative effort

    worldwide, especially from the West is needed to form, support a research team, to

    counter and unravel studies, develop universal policies and to staff such nuclear

    plants if we are to avoid any more Chernobyl’s in the future. Future Chernobyl’s can

    be avoided but it is up to us. Firstly we must make space for reality to take

    precedence over public relations for any successful technology, as we cannot fool

    nature . Secondly much greater guarantees, co-operation and communication is

    needed between the industry, the regulatory agencies and the member states. Safety

    will only be achieved if ALL those involved play their part whole heartedly and

    honestly right down from the plant workers through the manufacturers and

    regulatory agencies right up to the financial institutions that control this whole

    Overall, I’m trying to convey that safety is key in the nuclear power plants. A major

    nuclear meltdown would be a global concern. To prevent this we need to form,

    support and research teams, to develop universal policies and to staff nuclear plants

    if we are to avoid any more Chernobyl’s or TMI’s in the future. Human error was

    the root of the problem in these two catastrophes, so to prevent this from happening

    again the government needs to put trained and licenced nuclear engineers to work

    who know what they are doing, especially if a problem is to arise.

     

    Bibliography

    1. N. Meshkati. “Los Angeles Herald Examiner”, March 28, 1989.

    2. M. Specter “New York Times”, March 31, 1996.

    3. E. Pooley “Time Magazine”, March 4, 1996.

    4. N.Meshkati. “Foreign Policy Journal”; U.N. 50th Anniversary, The Critical Role of The U.N.

    Ensuring the Safety of Nuclear Power Plants Around The World”.

    5. Pringle, Laurence. Nucular Energy Troubled Past Uncertain Future. New York: Macmillan
    Publishing Company, 1989.

    6. Lampton, Christopher. Nuclear Accident. Brookfield, CT: The Millbrook Press, 1992

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