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The question of whether Long Island should have nuclear power plants is controversial. There are two sides that can be taken; however, both sides have their own share of problems. If we were to chose not to have nuclear plants, then eventually all natural resources will run out. Oil supplies as of right now will run out in two hundred years.
But that is if we keep on using the same amount of oil that is consumed today. Our use of oil is certainly not being diminished; in fact each year the amount of oil used goes up. So oil supplies probably won’t even last that long. The natural resources that we use now are still harmful to the earth. The gasoline that we use to run our cars pollutes the air, and considering the amount of cars that are driven each day on the expressway. That is a lot of barrels of oil.
However, if Long Island decided to use nuclear energy, then there is a great danger of toxic waste invading our drinking water, and also the chance of a spill similar to Chernobyl or Three Mile Island. As we saw with Chernobyl there is great danger when using nuclear energy. If this were to happen on Long Island the risk of mortality would be even worse. There is no place on Long Island that is a good spot with no inhabitance.
On Long Island there would be no escape, the roads simply would not support that amount of traffic. These are the fears of Long Islanders. Which brings us to another question.
What did Long Islanders know about the Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant?
LILCO (long island lighting company) first announced its plan to build a nuclear power plant in 1965. They bought 455-acres in Shoreham, Wading River, and started construction in 1968. (pg 16 Aron) The plant was engineered and built by Stone & Webster Engineering Corp. They have helped ten prior electric companies, to build nuclear plants before 1985. Long Islanders at first were for having cheap energy, and did not disagree with the construction. But as time past and politics changed. The views towards nuclear power in the mid 1980s changed on Long Island. Shoreham power plant, which help to lower taxes and employed many local people. Now LILCO was getting negative press every other day. It was not what was going on at Shoreham but rather the rest of the world.
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In 1979, Three Mile Island reactor in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania lost coolant in one of its two reactors and a partial meltdown occurred on March 28, 1979. Large amounts of radioactive noble gases were released to the containment atmosphere and environment. The resulting contamination led to a very expensive ten-year clean up plan. The first re-entry of the building took place in July of 1980. “More than 40,000 curies of radioactive gases are vented from the reactor building in preparation for cleanup crews.”(Washington Post)
That did not compare to the tragic accident at the Soviet’s Chernobyl power plant in 1986. "The accident which immediately killed three hundred and twenty one persons, caused about 130,000 cases of irradiation and led to the displacement of hundred of individuals" (Paddock). The Chelyabinsk-40 reactor was located near the Ural Mountains in the city of Kyshtym, Russia. A tank holding radioactive gases exploded, contaminating land thousands of miles around the plant. Until 1988, Russia officials dared not to admit that this event even took place. Many things are still unknown about this disaster. What we do know, however, is that the region around the reactor is sealed, and more than 30 towns in the area around it have disappeared from the Soviet map (Paddock 74). “The post Chernobyl brain syndrome arose because of the high amounts of radiation.
In the city of Gomel, Belarus, near the Chernobyl power plant, a survey revealed that out of fifteen hundreds of children, only twenty-four were in good health (Paddock). The Belarus children keep eating the contaminated food. The Chernobyl plant did not have the massive containment structure common to most nuclear power plants elsewhere in the world.
Nuclear power plants generate only about eleven percent of the world’ electricity.
There are around 316 nuclear power plants in the world that create 213,000 megawatts of electricity. (pg 18 Aron ) Shoreham was a low-pressure boiling water reactor. It was the same kind of nuclear reactor that has been producing electricity in Millstone, Connecticut since the late 1980s. Here are the steps of how Shoreham would have made electricity.
Nuclear fission occurs when atoms’ nucleus’ split and cause a nuclear reaction. When a free neutron splits a nucleus, energy is released along with free neutrons, fission fragments that give off beta rays, and gamma rays. A free neutron from the nucleus that just split splits another nucleus. This process continues on and is called a chain reaction. (World Book vol. 14, 588) The fission process is used to create heat, which boils water inside the nuclear reactor. The steam that boiling the water makes is used to turn turbines, which in turn, generate electricity. Fission happens inside a carefully monitored nuclear reactor core. The core in the Shoreham plant was made of ceramic fuel pellets. Which is different from the unstable graphite core used in Cherynobyl. Nuclear and oil plants work the same way except for the heat source.
One of the concerns for Long Islanders was that Shoreham could be used as a bomb or would just spontaneously combust. The truth is that commercial nuclear power plants are designed to control fission reactions. The nature uranium fuel that are used in a commercial power plant make it chemically impossible for a plant to explode like a bomb. (Shoreham safety report) To create a chain reaction, that would be required for a nuclear explosion. The natural uranium would have to be enriched by the isotope U- 235 to a level of at least 90%. In Shoreham’s reactor, the fuel was enriched to only 3% of U-235. The isotope would be to diluted to cause any kind of explosion.
Shoreham had a series of five barriers designed to contain radioactive materials. The first was the nuclear fuel itself. The radioactive fission products are bound within the ceramic fuel pellets. (Shoreham safety report) These pellets would only melt at extremely hot temperatures. So if they got out of control the operator only had to lower the core in the water below to stop the reaction. The second barrier was the fuel rods in which the fuel pellets were sealed. These contained the relatively small amount of fission products that escaped from the pellets during normal operation. The third barrier was a steel pressure vessel. Sixty-nine feet high and 18feet in diameter, with walls nine inches thick, it contains the water to cool the core. The fourth barrier was the primary containment unit. It was steel lined with reinforced concrete four to seven feet thick. The last was the outside, which was very plain and cold looking. This is where the operators would measure for any radiation leaks.
LILCO was the first utility company in America to draft its own emergency plan. They even were going to rely on their employees to perform all the emergency functions. Such as directing traffic, blocking roads, activating sirens, and broadcasting messages over the radio waves.(Arron pg 73) The New York Supreme Court found to this plan to go against state law. A private corporation could not perform functions that were in the state’s police power. It is the states job to protect it citizens, not a private company. But nether New York State, or Suffolk County wanted to be part of the contingence plan of evacuating Long Island in a nuclear melt down.
After discovering all of the benefits and how it would have improved life on Long Island. It was apparent that Long Islanders again made the wrong decision, and were only thinking of the here and now. They did not think of how oil, natural gas, and other energy means will be used up in the near future. Not to mention the job cuts and unemployment that was coursed by shutting down the plant. The people of Long Island will suffer not only from not having a power plant that could produce cheaper electricity. But they ultimately are the ones who are paying the 6 billion dollar bill for the abandon nuclear plant.
Aron, Joan. Licensed To Kill The Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Shoreham Power Plant. PA, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1997
Einhorn, Robert J. The Nuclear Roundtable.[Online]Available http://www.stimson.org/rd-table/jul97-ru.htm, October 4, 1998
Paddock, Richard C. Russia’s nukes: Fear proliferates.[Online]Available
http://www2.thestar.com, October 8, 1998
Shoreham Safety Report ( LILCO) 1985