The high radioactivity of nuclear waste that lasts for thousands of years generates the false idea that the damage it produces to the environment will only be suffered by future generations. In this note, following a study carried out by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), we will show how wrong those who assume this are.
That nuclear energy is friendly to the environment because it does not emit greenhouse gases when it generates electricity is a fast, false and global conclusion that the nuclear lobby is in charge of proclaiming throughout the world. Nuclear energy, since it exists, spoils the environment and will continue to damage it for thousands of years.
The earth’s temperature is delicately regulated by gases found naturally in the atmosphere. Their presence keeps the earth’s surface at a temperature that allows life. The so-called greenhouse gases (g.e.i.), carbon dioxide, methane, etc. emitted increase the amount existing in the atmosphere, altering its effective protection.
The fact that nuclear electricity generation does not produce greenhouse gases does not justify calling it environmentally friendly. It is a false conclusion. A reactor generating electricity is one thing and nuclear energy, which harms the environment in very different ways, is quite another.
It’s not just greenhouse gases that harm the environment. In the nuclear power industry, the predominant cause of environmental impact is not these gases, but radioactive discharges in the biosphere.
In the various activities covered by the nuclear power industry: extraction of uranium ore, its concentration, enrichment, the manufacture of fuel elements, the exploitation of reactors, the reprocessing of fuels, the management of radioactive waste produced in all phases of the the nuclear fuel cycle, the decommissioning of nuclear facilities, and the transport of radioactive materials, produce greenhouse gases and damage the environment in many different ways.
The search for uranium, the mineral used to make reactor fuel, consists of locating environmental radioactivity in the field above common values. This is achieved with measuring devices mounted on airplanes, helicopters and land vehicles, even at the pace of a man. Drilling is then carried out to detect the quality and quantity of the exploitable mineral.
The perforations put the radioactive mineral in contact with the water tables crossed, contaminating them. Another way to ruin the environment.
All these activities are carried out with machines and engines that emit greenhouse gases in appreciable amounts.
Once the convenience of exploiting a concentration of uranium has been defined, the mining tasks are carried out, which are mostly open pit, with machines that emit g.e.i.
There are radiobiological implications of uranium mining, which are due to exposure to radon and its daughter products, emitted from uranium ores. As a result of inhaling radon and its descendants, the tissues of the lungs and respiratory tract are irradiated with alpha particles, thus increasing the possibility of contracting lung cancer. In some uranium mines, whole body exposure to gamma radiation may also be significant.
Manufacture of the concentrate
In a plant near the mine and a watercourse, the ore is subjected to mechanical and chemical operations to extract most of the uranium and produce a uranium oxide concentrate, which constitutes primary enrichment. This task consists of crushing and leaching (irrigating) piles of ore with a sulfuric acid solution, a task for which a large amount of water is used, the waste of which is contaminated with the acid.
The radiobiological repercussions of this treatment are due to the emission of dust containing uranium and its descendants, radon and its descendants, etc. Radon is emitted by the ventilation pipes of the leaching tanks, the ore piles, the tailings retention system and the ventilation system in the crushing and grinding of the ore. Most of the radium in the ore is insoluble and remains in the tailings or solid waste. Residual solutions contain radium.
When the exploitation ends, usually both in the exploited mine and in the leaching plant, tons and tons of radioactive mineral tailings are left behind, with minimal or non-existent remediation tasks.
In continuation of this note we will see how enrichment, the manufacture of fuel, the exploitation of nuclear power plants, the management of nuclear waste, the dismantling of nuclear facilities, and the transport of radioactive materials also affect the environment.