BRAMA, Apr 24, 2004, 1:00 pm ET
Chornobyl and Three Mile Island anniversaries are reminders of the risks of nuclear power and the need to shift to sustainable energy sources
Takoma Park, MD April 26 is the 18th anniversary of the 1986 nuclear accident at the Chornobyl nuclear power plant in Slavutych, Ukraine. It followed by seven years the accident at the Three Mile Island (TMI) nuclear power plant near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on March 28, 1979. Both anniversaries serve as reminders of the dangers of nuclear power and the need to invest in safer alternatives.
The Accident at the Chornobyl Reactor
The Chornobyl accident in 1986 was the result of a flawed design in a reactor operated with inadequately trained personnel and without proper regard for safety.
Reactor Four at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant began to fail in the early hours of April 26, 1986. Seven seconds after the operators activated the 20-second shut down system, there was a power surge. The chemical explosions that followed were so powerful that they blew the 1,000 ton cover off the top of the reactor. Design flaws in the power plant's cooling system probably caused the uncontrollable power surge that led to Chernobyl's destruction.
According to the Ukrainian Parliament and Ukrainian Ministry of Health, as quoted by Greenpeace International:
A total of 600,000 emergency workers who helped in the cleanup and building a cover to seal the destroyed reactor ''must be constantly monitored for the effects of exposure to radiation'';
Between 1986 and 2000, 1,400 young people who were children at the time of the accident had their thyroid glands removed;
More than three million people are registered as direct victims of Chernobyl;
Over 2.5 million hectares of rich agricultural land have been withdrawn from cultivation;
Cases of children suffering from severe immune disorders have become two to 3 1/2 times more common;
Approximately 380,000 children have an increased level of leukemia, thyroid problems and anemia;
Deaths from usually non-fatal common diseases have resulted from a weakened immune system, so much so, that today the death rate in Ukraine exceeds, the birth rate.
About three million children require treatment and 3.5 million people live on Ukrainian territory still contaminated by radiation.
Birth defects and growth problems in children have increased 230% in Ukraine.
Overall, according to former Ukrainian Pprime Minister Viktor Yushenko, “Ukraine has lost more than $140 billion as a result of the Chornobyl nuclear accident. The Ukrainian government has already spent about $5 billion to clean up the fallout from the accident”.
Moreover, the worst health consequences for 7.1 million people may be yet to come. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, it will be several decades before the human health consequences of the Chernobyl accident are fully understood.
Despite the fact that a growing number of countries in the world are refusing to build new nuclear reactors in light of the Chornobyl and TMI accidents, the Ukrainian government continues to expand nuclear energy. This is best evidenced by the government's continuing endeavors to seek funding to complete two new reactors as part of the Khmelnitsky and Rivne nuclear power plants, commonly known as the K2R4 project.
However, greater efforts by the Ukrainian government to invest in sustainable energy options could obviate the need for nuclear power.
The U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration reports that, in terms of energy consumption per dollar of GDP, Ukraine ranks as one of the most energy-intensive countries in the world because of its inefficient, Soviet-era industries. Ukraine's energy intensity in 1999 at 101.3 thousand Btu/$1990 was more than 8 times that of the United States (12.6 thousand Btu/$1990) and more than 15 times that of Japan (6.5 thousand Btu/$1990). According to Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Washington, D.C., industry accounts for 60% of energy use in Ukraine. This suggests that Ukraine could easily cut its energy use in half through cost-effective investments in energy efficiency.
Furthermore, Ukraine has a great but largely untapped sources of renewable energy. Although Ukraine is now getting only about 2% of its energy from renewable sources, wind, solar, biogas, hydropower and geothermal energy have been shown to be theoretically sufficient to satisfy all of the country's energy needs. For instance, if 2,700 sq. km of shallow waters in the Black Sea and Sea of Asov were used for wind turbines, this would meet the entire electricity demand in Ukraine.
The Accident at Three Mile Island
On the morning of March 28, 1979, the Unit-2 reactor at the TMI nuclear power facility near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, suddenly overheated and the plant came within 30 minutes of a full meltdown. The reactor vessel was destroyed, and large amounts of unmonitored radiation was released directly into the community. During the tension-packed week that followed, scientists scrambled to prevent the nightmare of a nuclear meltdown, officials tried to calm public fears and more than one hundred thousand residents fled the area. Equipment failure, human error, and bad luck would conspire to create an event that stunned the nation.
TMI-2 was built at a cost to rate payers of US$700 million and had been on-line for just 90 days, or 1/120 of its expected operating life, when the March 1979 accident occurred. One billion dollars was spent to defuel the facility. Three months of nuclear power production of TMI-2 has cost close to US$2 billion dollars in construction and cleanup bills or the equivalent of more than US$10.6 million for every day TMI-2 produced electricity. The abovementioned costs do not include nuclear decontamination or restoring the site to greenfield conditions.
The accident effectively marked the beginning of the end for nuclear power in the United States. No new nuclear plants have been ordered since that time and all plants that had under order between 1974 and 1979 were subsequently cancelled. While most plants that had been ordered prior to 1974 and were still under construction in 1979 have since been completed and brought on-line, more than a half-dozen other operating facilities have been shut down during the past quarter-century.
Not coincidentally, while nuclear power has stagnated since the TMI accident, sustainable energy technologies have boomed. Over the past three decades, improvements in energy efficiency are now saving at least 39 quadrillion BTUs of energy each year, or 40% of the U.S.'s actual energy use, and are contributing more value to the U.S. economy and the environment than any energy source, because they have saved more energy than production has increased in nuclear or, for that matter, oil, natural gas, and coal. In addition, renewable energy presently provides more than 8% of the nation's domestic energy production while technologies such as wind, biofuels, and photovoltaics are among the nation's fastest growing sources of energy supply. For example, over the last five years, U.S. wind capacity has expanded at an annual average rate of 28%. Ethanol is now blended in 30% of the nation's gasoline, and the global photovoltaics grew by 34% last year.
As two of the worst mishaps in the history of commercial nuclear power, these twin anniversaries serve as a continuing reminder of the inherent risks of nuclear energy and the necessity for both Ukraine and the United States to increase reliance on safer, cleaner, more affordable, and sustainable energy efficient and renewable energy technologies.
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The Ukrainian-American Environmental Association is an international network of businesses, academic institutions, and both non-governmental and governmental organizations founded to support cooperative efforts on behalf of sustainable environmental development in Ukraine and the United States.
Sources: Ukrainian Parliament, Ukrainian Prime Minister, Ukrainian Ministry of Energy and Nuclear Safety, Ukrainian Ministry of Health, U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration, Three Mile Island Alert, Alliance to Save Energy, American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, American Wind Energy Association, Renewable Fuels Association, SolarBuzz.com.
Ukrainian-American Environmental Association, 8606 Greenwood Avenue, #2; Takoma Park, MD 20912 USA; 301-588-4741, email@example.com