Although there have been accidents in the past, nuclear energy is said to be one of the safest sources of energy. It should be noted that in a country that is filled with nuclear reactors all over, only one reported accident is tragic but minimal nonetheless. But make no mistake about the fact that if proper measures are not practiced with intense caution by all the workers of a nuclear plant, it can lead to devastating initial and after effects.
Nuclear energy was brought into power production as an alternate source of energy because we will run out of fossil fuels in a few hundred years or so. Fossil fuels like coal and oil are still the main sources of electricity in most countries including the United States, but these fossil fuels are not only depleting, using them also causes pollution in the form of acid rain, greenhouse effect, ozone layer depletion and much more. Therefore nuclear energy from radioactive elements like uranium, which do not pollute the earth in the same way, is considered to be a safer source of energy.
The first instance that can cause safety hazards from a nuclear power plant is failure to control the rate of the nuclear reaction. It is absolutely vital to maintain control of the rate of the nuclear reaction so that it never crosses the maximum limit. If, by any chance, the reactions do get out of control, a “meltdown” may follow. Such an accident may result into uncontrollable fires and leakage of extremely harmful radioactive materials onto the nearby areas. To reduce and control the intensity of the nuclear flux, control rods capable of absorbing neutrons are inserted into the core these days and thus the nuclear plants are safer because of the procedure. It is also important that the reactor is cooled in a proper way with water or sodium salts so that the tremendous amount of heat generated in the reactor is brought down.
A nuclear reactor is enclosed within a lot of barriers that are specifically designed to keep the harmful radioactive elements from getting outside the control environment. Reinforced concrete walls and attached vacuum buildings to suck in the escaping radiation are common measures of safety in a standard nuclear core reactor now. A more pressing problem that presents itself even with all the necessary precautions is the disposal of the radioactive nuclear wastes that are formed in these plants. They remain radioactive for centuries, therefore the waste from nuclear plants also pose a significant threat to public health if they are exposed to it.
The final issue regarding the safety of nuclear energy is more a question of security. Some nuclear reactors contain substances and technology that can at times be manipulated to make weapons of mass destruction. What this means is that useful security is required to protect such potent nuclear plants from terrorist attacks.
The Three Mile Island Incident in 1979 probably resulted from lack of necessary precautions and also a lack of necessary technology, which by the way is available today. Although it is much safer today, the incident remains nonetheless, a warning to all of us that things can go wrong if you are not careful enough.