April 26, 1986 was the date in history when the Chernobyl Nuclear Power plant in the Ukraine suffered an explosion. Subsequently, the area was evacuated, but, many people who lived nearby suffered extreme radiation poisoning. Four hundred times the amount of radioactive fallout occurred compared to Hiroshima and it spread over a large geographic area. This was deemed the worst nuclear reactor accident in history. The results of radiation exposure are increased cancers and increased chromosomal problems and birth defects in offspring of people exposed to increased radiation. It is hard to pinpoint exactly how many people were affected due to this accident, however, there were many accident workers who died initially of radiation poisoning, there were thyroid cancers in many people and increased birth defects in babies born after the accident in nearby countries as well as in the Ukraine.
Looking at the problems associated with nuclear energy in the context of radioactivity we have 2 basic issues that have to be considered:
- Nuclear reactions that are started in power plants to produce energy have to be controlled to keep them at a stable and safe level. Even a small error here can lead to a chain reaction that rapidly escalates the energy being released and the can lead to a huge disaster that would endanger the lives of millions.
- The waste products produced in nuclear plants are highly radioactive and remain so for 1000s of years. The waste has to be kept in specially built facilities that are very expensive to create and maintain. As the risk of radioactive poisoning is very high, proper sites have to be found which are not only away from human settlement but which cannot contaminate water reservoirs, rivers and the water table below the ground in case of an accident.