Unintended Consequences of Nuclear Energy

The development and implementation of nuclear energy programs has proved to be a double edged sword. Although harvesting the potential energy of nuclear fissions original intention served to gain advantage in war, scientists shifted their aims to utilize nuclear power as an energy source. Nuclear energy is not only more efficient than fossil fuels, but also proves much less harm to the atmosphere. Governments, unaware of the potential consequences of running large nuclear power plants (NPPs), installed them primarily in Russia, the United States, France, Germany, and Japan. The immediate consequences of NPPs remained practically non-existent—experts knew radiation exposure could be a fatal and is why nuclear arms were tested in remote, uninhabited areas. Containment and control were primary safety concerns during the establishment of NPPs, but scientists and the public failed to predict the potential consequences of nuclear energy. Due to nuclear fuel emissions, inadequate operations, and devastating nuclear disasters, the unintended ramifications of nuclear energy development manifest themselves in the form of radioactive wastes, contaminating gasses and emissions, and harmful environmental effects both on fauna, plant life, and humans.[1] Another issue scientist took into calculation but failed to control proved to be the long-term effects of fallout on the environment and humans resulting from nuclear weapons testing. Although isolated locations were chosen to execute tests for observatory purposes, nearby humans developed side effects from the draft of nuclear fallout. These include growths, irritation, ulcers, cancer and other health risks.[2]

Radiation Burns from a victim in Hiroshima.

Radiation Burns from a victim in Hiroshima.

The largest concern for nuclear weapons testing and nuclear meltdowns remains the delayed effects of fallout, or radioactive products that have settled to the ground.[3] BRAVO, a thermonuclear bomb tested above Bikini Atoll in 1954, unpredictably gave the children in the proximate Marshall Islands thyroid nodules, lesions, and lasting medial problems. The radius of destructing was thirty times what scientists estimated, and an unpredicted shift in wind patterns carried fallout over two hundred kilometers away. The skin of fisherman over eighty miles away was scorched to blistering, as white as enveloped them and contaminated their catch.[4]

BRAVO Nuclear Test

BRAVO Nuclear Test

Burns are a short-term symptom, coupled with blast injuries and radiation illness. Lasting, unintended injuries plague the victims of nuclear weapons as well. Ionization radiation damages chromosomes by radioactive particles breaking up molecules and creating free radicals, which “damage DNA and disrupt cellular chemistry in other ways – producing immediate effects on active metabolic and replication processes, and long-term effects by latent damage to the genetic structure.”[5] Victims of radioactive fallout are also extremely susceptible to hair loss, due to the effects from disturbance in lymphatic tissues, blood, and the immune system, leading to continual cell division.

Hair loss from radiation

Hair loss from radiation

Although damage to chromosomes can heal over time, side effects can manifest themselves many years later, and it is quite possible to develop cancer due to cell division.

Thyroid Cancer

Thyroid Cancer

Contrary to popular belief, the genetic disturbances nuclear radiation has on human DNA rarely causes mutations due to high rates of genetic variability and uncertainty. Another reason is because high levels of exposure usually damage reproductive tissues to the point of sterilization, which prevents the transmission of genetic defects.[6] These fallout effects are not exclusive to nuclear weapons testing and use; they are also a product of large-scale nuclear accidents.

Birth defects as a result of Chernobyl

Birth defects as a result of Chernobyl

In 1989, reactor four of the infamous Chernobyl nuclear power plant experienced a melt down due to improper management. The Chernobyl nuclear catastrophe in 1986 introduced extremely large amounts of radioactive waste into the atmosphere, which continue to have unpredicted consequences throughout the Soviet Union and Western Europe.

Nuclear Reactor 4 Meltdown at Chernnobyl

Nuclear Reactor 4 Meltdown at Chernnobyl

Effects on agriculture, the environment, and health risks are three of the major unintended consequences that are a byproduct of nuclear radiation fallout from large-scale nuclear accidents. The disaster destroyed forests, contaminated water supplies and had devastating effects on wildlife. Britain experienced effects from fallout a week after the disaster, resulting in a dip in the economy due to radiation in the livestock, crops, and food. [7]

Chernobyl Fallout Map

Chernobyl Fallout Map

The consumption of contaminated meats and food inevitably leads to side effects, and the agricultural markets of Great Britain fell as farmers, who were hit hard by the fallout as their livestock ate plant life with radiation and became contaminated. Groundwater, and especially plant and animal life all suffered detrimentally as a result of the nuclear meltdown. Although the effects on the drinking water were seen to be generally non-threatening in the immediate aftermath due to the insolubility of the radioactive particles in water, the accumulation of radiation in fish in the nearby areas made them too dangerous to eat. The famous “Red Forest” is a direct product of the Chernobyl meltdown, a four-kilometer area of woods that died after the incident.

If you look closely you can see the radiated area of the Red Forest

If you look closely you can see the radiated area of the Red Forest

Due to caesium-137 particles, which were absorbed into the environment, scientists are estimating it will take roughly one hundred years to for these woods to recover.[8]The unintended human death toll due to cancer as a result of fallout rests at higher rates than most are aware of.

The Internal Agency for Research on Cancer released its estimation that 16,000 cancer deaths by the year 2065 are a result of the Chernobyl accident in the Journal of Cancer in 2006.[9] These estimations, however, wane quite significantly. The actual effects that Chernobyl fallout has had on the population is still a debated topic, with sources conflicting drastically. The most conservative estimates claim only four thousand cancer related deaths as a result of the Chernobyl meltdown, where as the higher estimates range up to 200,000. In contrast to The World Health Organization estimated that there were roughly four thousand cancer related deaths as a result of the accident, the Chernobyl Forum estimated that throughout Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus, radiation poisoning could have killed between 10,000-200,000 people.[10]  The plant and wildlife in Europe was also widely affected by this disaster as well.

The animals closer to the Chernobyl accident experience many physical health issues. Many horses in the nearby area died because their thyroid glands were destroyed by radiation. Thyroid damage and thyroid cancer is a common side effect of exposure to higher doses of radiation, and inhibited the physical maturation of cattle in the nearby area as well. In Germany, 2010, one in every approximately 450 boars hunted were too radioactive to eat. In Norway, 2009, a total of 18,000 livestock had to be fed special, clean, radioactive free food until the radioactive contaminants had been purified from their systems before consumption. [11] One way of preventing future radioactive issues is by properly containing nuclear waste, making nuclear waste storage extremely important in the long term due to the long lasting nature of the radioactive particles.

Radioactive waste is an all-encompassing term, as it refers to “the leftovers from the use of nuclear materials for the production of electricity, diagnosis and treatment of disease, and other purposes.”[12] A common strategy is to reduce the volume of waste through the methods of compaction and incineration. The two different types of waste, high and low level, are handled differently. Low-level waste products such as radioactively contaminated clothes or handled items. High-level waste is primarily nuclear reactor fuel and is usually kept at nuclear power plants due to their lack of proper disposal.

High Level Nuclear Storage

High Level Nuclear Storage

Low-level wastes are placed in radioactive waste containers and are often stored at the production zone or a NPP. In order to avoid further radioactive waste leakage and prevent future environmental damage, more methods need to be developed to store nuclear waste.[13]

Low Level Waste Storage

Low Level Waste Storage

The consequences of nuclear energy programs have been quite significant in terms of environmental and human affliction. Although scientists intended for the immediate short-term effects of nuclear weapons to take place, and even the longer ones—they did not accurately predict the impact it would leave on the environment and people resulting from theoretically harmless tests. The NPP programs were intended to be entirely harmless, but resulted in most likely tens of thousands of deaths worldwide, although that number is still being determined. Radiation leads to the destruction of water sources, environments, and society on a smaller scale. Humans have been developing cancer from the fallout, contributing to excess deaths potential, low-grade mutations and infertility, especially in zones proximate to the meltdowns. Storage of radioactive waste is still challenging scientists and the government. Its potency lasts as long as the contaminated particle remains radioactive, which is usually hundreds of years or more. It remains imperative to master the transportation and storage of nuclear waste to make our nuclear programs more sustainable. Had scientists been aware of these potential ramifications, they would have approached the development and control of the nuclear industry with more caution.

Chernobyl Disaster

[1] Wikipedia. “Environmental Impact of Nuclear Power” Last modified November 26, 2013

[2] Sublette, Carey. “Section 5.0 Effects of Nuclear Explosions”. Nuclear Weapon Archive. Last modified May 15, 1997.

[3] Sublette, Carey. “Section 5.0 Effects of Nuclear Explosions”. Nuclear Weapon Archive. Last modified May 15, 1997.

[4] Cavanaugh, Jamie, Suzie Genyk, and Emma Uman. “Environmental Impacts of Nuclear Proliferation.” University of Michigan.

[5] Sublette, Carey. “Section 5.0 Effects of Nuclear Explosions”. Nuclear Weapon Archive. Last modified May 15, 1997.

[6] Nuclear Weapons Archive.org

[7] Chris C. Park. Chernobyl: The Long Shadow (London, New York: Routledge, 97-99).

[8] Wikipedia. “Environmental Impact of Nuclear Power.” Last modified October 16, 2013.

[9] Wikipedia. “Environmental Impact of Nuclear Power.” Last modified October 16, 2013.

[10] Wikipedia. “Chernobyl Disaster.” Last modified December 12, 2013.

[11] Wikipedia. “Environmental Impact of Nuclear Power.” Last modified October 16, 2013.

[12] U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. “Radioactive Waste.” Last modified February 21, 2013.

[13] U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. “Radioactive Waste.” Last modified February 21, 2013.

Development of Nuclear Waste and Sustainability in Russia

radiation experinments

From the radiation of its food to the radiation of its rivers, Russia has built itself into a competitive nuclear power through a tumultuous history of trial and error.[1] Much of the initial funding for Soviet nuclear energy came in an effort to match the United States’ atomic project. But, after developing “the bomb”, nuclear resources in the USSR were applied to a number of areas. These often gave poor results. From such failures, modern Russia has striven to provide a nuclear industry that is safe, clean, and sustainable. In fact, the head of Rosatom’s used fuel management has set a goal of 100% efficiency in the company’s fuel cycle; where all spent fuel is reprocessed into the system — no waste.[4] To understand these, at first, outlandish expectations, we should consider the damages and adaptations that the industry has incurred since its inception in the 1940s.

In the earliest days of the Soviet nuclear industry, one of the most practiced efforts was the irradiation of food. This gave food stuffs a much longer shelf life and they exhibited fewer incidents of contamination due to bacteria or spoiling. But, this also exposed many citizens to harmful levels of radiation after sustained consumption.

In an effort to appease the growing “green movements” in the Soviet Union, Stalin once pursued an aggressive hydro-electric policy. To map the currents in possible rivers, the Soviets had opted to use radioactive isotopes instead of foreign nutrients. These isotopes gave far more accurate readings than the nutrients which would dissolve more quickly in the water. Unfortunately, these tests also irradiated the sites on which they were conducted.

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Nuclear Waste Sustainability in Russia

This brief draft concerns the economic interests in Russia and how they have, and will shape, the development of nuclear policies in the country. In this early work, I acknowledge that I often seem to repeat myself. This, I believe, is the result of presenting the same information a number of times, but considering it from different standpoints. Upon revision I hope to condense what is said to become a briefer part of the overall project.


Nuclear Waste and Sustainability in the Russian Nuclear Industry


Of the scholarly websites and books that I am using for this project I have found a number of similarities. Many of these sources are a form of anthology, where books have chapters the web sites have pages. But, a very distinct feature of the web site is its growth and development. Where a book would have to be republished, or have additional volumes, a web site allows for scholars to access and revise a number of times with relative ease. Additionally, on some internet outlets, the sites allow for commenting on articles or provide links to response pieces. This illustrates an evolving dialogue in the field that a book is, by nature, unable to provide.


In looking for the number of multimedia sources that this project has prescribed I have developed a number of skills that have already begun to help me in other areas of my research. I have found that much of a topic’s philosophy and history is easiest found in reliable scholarly texts, but having websites or scholarly blogs provide more contemporary and evolving views.

As for my review of Evernote, I must say that it has been difficult to preserve the bibliographies’ citation format while using the program. I have found it useful for storing snippets of information for personal use, as I can access it across platforms. I did not find myself using Evernote to discover other information gathered by users that might pertain to my research, but I can see such a service being useful. Ultimately, the service falls short of our primary need for it — class sourcing — when our primarily shared document, the bibliography,  is so negatively affected.

I have begun plotting a timeline. By going through each source and plotting relevant data on a time scale, I can identify patterns of change. Already I have found correlations between the evolution of reactor designs and the “Green Movement” starting in the 1980, which was unexpected. Many of my preconceptions of Soviet nuclear policy have been changed by the research I’ve done and I feel far more open to interpreting the information than using it to support what I believed to be true.


Here’s a link to my bibliography:


Nuclear Waste in Russia

I hope to explore the development of the way nuclear wastes have been produced and disposed of since the industry’s inception during the early Soviet Union.