The nuclear energy has always been a controversial topic between people who consider it a clean and safe source and whom, instead, see it as a problematic source, able to create natural disasters and human lives loss.
Since its discovery, nuclear energy has become an energy source almost immediately, with its precautions and all the related problems. Surely, the power output of the power grid was very high but keeping everything safe and disposing slags have always been big problems, since the elevated radioactivity needs proper materials and places.
Dispose of radioactive waste requires large spaces to host nuclear waste for hundreds, if not thousands, of years and it needs very long and complicated processes to make them manageable. When nuclear materials, which are very dangerous and unstable, are managed, you can’t make any mistake: the minimum mistake can kill lots of people and the related responsibilities are huge.
There are two dramatic events which have forever changed our relationship with nuclear energy: Chernobyl and Fukushima. Two catastrophic occurrences that make us understand the instability of nuclear energy and its dangerousness for human beings and environment.
The Chernobyl disaster occurred in April 1986 when, during the night, the number 4 reactor of the nuclear power station exploded while emitting a lot of radioactive materials into the air, making the area an unlivable zone. Inhabitants were evacuated rather late and it was told them that it was a temporary evacuation, of a few days, but it wasn’t true and, still today, the exclusion area remains an abandoned and highly radioactive environment.
They tried to contain the release of highly radioactive material and policemen, firefighters and the power station staff volunteered to go into the nuclear reactor bowels and try to contain the damage, even if they could die. After a year, a concrete sarcophagus was built near the ruins of the power station to limit radiations and protect the reactor four from the bad weather, but the first crakes and caves appeared after a short time.
A steel sarcophagus was built in 2016 to protect the old sarcophagus, to avoid dangerous water infiltrations, which could cause the collapse of some unsafe parts of the building and create uncontrolled and potentially lethal chemical reactions with the remaining uranium rods and molten fuel. In the last few days, the reactor four has become active and the Ukrainian authorities, with the help of international experts, are keeping it under a strict surveillance; also, it is not excluded that, soon, robots may go in the nuclear power station meanders for emergency interventions.
The tragedy of Fukushima was caused, instead, by both the earthquake and consequential tsunami which deeply damaged the nuclear power station and its infrastructures in 2011. Reactors immediately went off, but a leakage of radioactive material occurred and many people, probably about half a million, were evacuated from their homes. Indeed, the tsunami violently hit the nuclear power station, it destroyed, almost completely the cooling system of the reactors and there were jets of hydrogen vapours; there was also a fusion of three reactors and a leakage of radioactive material into the air that, also in this case, made the area unbearable.
The surveys to try to understand the damage volume were immediately started after the disaster, with the land reclamation operations; researchers found out that most of the contamination was concentrated in the subsoil, with the serious risk of polluting the groundwater on which both human and animals depend. To avoid the overheating of reactor cores and radioactive material storage pools, where enormous values of radiation are recorded, it is necessary to keep on introducing water, but the same water absorbs radiation while becoming toxic to any form of life.
The last few days decision of dumping contaminated water into the sea has provoked controversy and protests.
When it comes to nuclear energy, the debate on safety is always intense: on one hand there are those who say that this source of energy is safe and relatively non-polluting, on the other hand there are those who condemn this energy source and consider it as dangerous, unstable and the big problem of waste disposal makes the environment even more threatened.
But in today’s world, renewable energies are gradually taking the place of nuclear power to ensure a truly clean energy from water, wind, sun, biomasses… A green turn is sweeping the world and it is involving more and more people asking for stable and sustainable energy sources to help planet, nature, but also ourselves to take back our space and our time.
Nature is no longer an enemy but rather an ally and, as such, it must be treated and respected for a new relationship, a new calm coexistence between all creatures.