Atomic Bomb and Nuclear Power – Blessing or Curse
DANNENBERG, Germany, Nov 14 (Reuters) – A force of 15,000 police sealed roads in part of northern Germany on Wednesday in a crackdown against protesters trying to disrupt the final leg of a shipment of nuclear waste. The security operation, one of Germany’s biggest in peacetime and likely to cost at least 50 million marks ($22.52 million), entered its third day with the highly radioactive waste set to make a 20 km (12-mile) road trip to a storage site at Gorleben. (Blenkinsop, 2001)
Like fire, radiation should be respected but not feared. All life has evolved in a sea of radiation that existed from the start of time. To ensure the safety of the public and of workers, and to protect the environment, the federal government regulates the ELECTRICAL UTILITIES and the hospitals, universities and other institutions, which use nuclear energy and radioisotopes. The regulations are based on internationally agreed standards; in Canada the regulatory body is the Atomic Energy Control Board. In addition, more than 10 public inquiries have been held in Canada, dealing with various aspects of the nuclear industry, from uranium PROSPECTING and MINING, through reactor safety to the disposal of nuclear HAZARDOUS WASTES. The overwhelming conclusion of these examinations has been that it is in the public interest to continue with the exploitation of nuclear energy, subject to proper regulation.” (ROBERTSON, 1997)
There have been numerous controversial issues in American history and throughout our society in the decades that followed after the end of World War II. Iraq was being staged as an attempt to stop a madman with the potential for creating weapons of mass destruction. North Korea recently announced that they have a fully functional nuclear bomb program. India and Pakistan are on the brink of nuclear war. The Atom bomb and nuclear energy can and often are called negative accomplishments — simply a curse on mankind. “Nuclear power is madness. There are no plans to deal with the waste. It’s like taking off in a plane, but having nowhere to land it,” said protester Jens Hoffmann.” (Blenkinsop, 2001) But, the atomic bombs and nuclear energy also have done positive things for our society. The two extremes are different views of the same thing. The atomic bomb and nuclear energy are both blessings and curses.
After World War II, we had been exposed to the potential devastating power of the Atomic bomb. But, in a sense, World War II had some positive effects on our society. “World War II ended the Great Depression of the 1930’s. During the 1930’s three totalitarian, militaristic powers had arisen in the world — Germany, Italy, and Japan. Germany, under Adolph Hitler and the National Socialist (Nazi) Party, invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, and Britain and France declared war upon Germany and its allies two days later.” (Schoenherr, 2003) It is funny that in Germany where it all began, the curse seems to be winning over the blessing. “Nuclear power is a controversial issue in Germany, where government and industry agreed last year to gradually to phase out all reactors by around 2025. (Blenkinsop, 2001)
The World War II was bloody and devastating affair so when it ended it was seen as blessing. It is believed that on May 5, 1945, Adolph Hitler committed suicide somewhere in an underground bunker in Berlin. Two days later on May 7th, the German military brain trust unconditionally surrendered to General Dwight Eisenhower in France. In the aftermath of the surrender, many assumed that the enemy as a hole gave up. But the United States and Britain were still officially at war with Japan.
The continuation of the pacific hostilities with the Japanese led to, on August 6, 1945, to the dropping of a Twenty-kiloton Atomic Bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The bomb was euphemistically called ‘Little Boy’. That one bomb caused an unprecedented eighty thousand fatalities in a single detonation. But, not to be out done, on August 9th, a second Twenty-two-kiloton bomb, nicknamed the ‘Fat Man,’ man was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan. Like its brother, this bomb was responsible for seventy thousand deaths. Less than one week later, on August 15, 1945, the Japanese Emperor formally surrendered.
Natural nuclear reactors predated the man-made variety by about 2 billion years.” (ROBERTSON, 1997) Never once had nature create such a diversion. One may feel that one hundred and fifty thousand deaths in a three-day span may be considered a curse. In Japan, this is obviously true. However, in the United States, the newly employed citizens that suffered a long financial depression welcome the atomic power plants and bomb making plants. They were considered a blessing. “The Clinton Engineer Works was built in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. It was renamed the Oak Ridge National Laboratory after World War II. The Clinton Pile, the first true plutonium production reactor, begins operation in November 1943. By March 1945, K-25 and other gaseous diffusion plants were in full operation. The Hanford Site is built in Richland, Washington by the Manhattan Project to produce plutonium. The first reactor began operation in September 1944.” (Schoenherr, 2003)
Ironically, forty-four years later the blessing has become a curse. “In 1988, radioactive contamination was found in the drinking water wells of residences near the federal government’s uranium enrichment plant in Paducah, Kentucky. In response, the Department of Energy (DOE) connected local residences to municipal water supplies and began a cleanup program to identify and remove contamination in the groundwater, surface water, and soils located within and outside the plant’s boundaries. Sources of the hazardous chemical and radioactive contamination included spills, leaks from contaminated buildings, buried waste, scrap yards, and waste lagoons. From 1988 through 1999, DOE spent about $388 million on these cleanup efforts.” (Unavailable, 2000)
But, back in the 1940’s, it was so important to harvest the vast potential power of the nuclear forces. And recovering form the depression was still a factor. Additional jobs were created when the military privatized the atomic boards that they created. “The Atomic Energy Act (AEA) was passed, establishing the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). The AEC replaces the Manhattan Project on December 31, 1946. The AEA placed further development of nuclear technology under civilian (not military) control.” (Schoenherr, 2003)
With civilians in control of our atomic programs, new developments that could be considered blessings began to be developed. “The Oak Ridge facility ships the first nuclear reactor-produced radioisotopes for civilian use to the Barnard Cancer Hospital in St. Louis. After World War II, Oak Ridge turns out numerous inexpensive radioactive compounds for medical diagnosis and treatment, and for research and industrial applications.” (Schoenherr, 2003) “Radioisotopes are extremely reliable sources of heat for certain applications. An isotope of plutonium (plutonium- 238) formed as a by-product in nuclear fission reactors is used to power heart pacemakers and space satellites. Cobalt- 60 can be used to power navigation buoys. If the radioisotope emits gamma radiation, equipment using it must incorporate shielding to protect anyone nearby.” (ROBERTSON, 1997)
With the threat of communism on the rise in the late forty’s and early fifty’s, the atomic initiatives began moving back to origins which would seem a curse. “President Truman orders the Atomic Energy Commission to develop the hydrogen bomb (H-bomb). And in February 1950, Senator Joseph McCarthy launches a crusade to rout out communism in America. “McCarthyism” is born.” (Schoenherr, 2003) Of course, even communism could not sto the more positive aspects of nuclear power from being produced. “The first usable electricity from nuclear fission is produced at the National Reactor Station, later called the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory.” (Schoenherr, 2003)
Communism scared our society into action. In 1953, “U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles announces U.S. policy of massive retaliation, that the United States would respond to any Communist aggression.” (Schoenherr, 2003) The first completely nuclear submarine, the U.S.S. Nautilus, was launched later that same year.
The 1954 witch-hunt called McCarthyism took a curse and turned into a blessing. After Senator McCarthy was publicly disgraced, in August of 1954, “The Atomic Energy Act of 1954 is passed to promote the peaceful uses of nuclear energy through private enterprise and to implement President Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace Program.” (Schoenherr, 2003) As a result, more blessings than curses seemed to gel, for example an Idaho town, Arco, became the world’s first town to be completely powered by nuclear energy and in July of 1957 The Sodium Reactor Experiment performed in Santa Susana, California generated its power from a completely civilian nuclear reactor.
But nuclear power reactors suddenly showed that they might not be the complete blessing they were thought to be. “Radiation is released when the graphite core of the Windscale Nuclear Reactor in England catches fire.” (Schoenherr, 2003) A facility cleanup causes many uncertainties. “The extent, source, and nature of contamination yet to be cleaned up could affect the cleanup plan; the outcome of such uncertainties could increase cleanup costs.” (Unavailable, 2000) Other technical risks like planning and using unproven technologies often comes into play. “Even when the planned cleanup has been carried out, billions of dollars and many years will be needed to address areas that are not in the cleanup plan.” (Unavailable, 2000)
And the military was still up to their dirty work testing the might and killing power of the source. “The United States sets off first underground nuclear test in a mountain tunnel in the remote desert 100 miles from Las Vegas.” (Schoenherr, 2003) Because the potential threat of misuse was so strong, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was formed. The International Atomic Energy Agency was created to promote peaceful uses of nuclear energy. They also had the mission of providing safeguards and inspection systems to guarantee that nuclear materials were not used for military purposes.
With safety as a consideration, in 1957 the initial attempt at large-scale nuclear powerplants began operations Pennsylvania. Larger and larger power plants were being created and in 1959 “The Dresden-1 Nuclear Power Station in Illinois achieves a self-sustaining nuclear reaction. It’s the first U.S. nuclear power plant built entirely without government funding.” (Schoenherr, 2003)
The world has tried to reduce the chance of nuclear power being a curse. “The United States and Soviet Union sign the Limited Test Ban Treaty, which prohibits underwater, atmospheric, and outer space nuclear tests. More than 100 countries have ratified the treaty since 1963.” (Schoenherr, 2003) In 1968, “Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) — calling for halting the spread of nuclear weapons capabilities — is signed. By 1970, more than 50 countries had ratified the NPT. By 1986, more than 130 countries had ratified it.” (Schoenherr, 2003)
Skipping ahead to more recent events shows that the bugs have not been completely worked out. “Plant operations have introduced to the site radioactive and hazardous chemical wastes, including technetium-99, polychlorinated biphenyl’s (PCBs), uranium, and volatile organic compounds such as trichloroethene. In past years, a cleaning solvent containing trichloroethene — much like that used by dry cleaners — was used to degrease parts and equipment. In the plant’s half century of operations, these various waste materials have contaminated the area’s groundwater, surface water, soils, and air.”(Unavailable, 2000) In 1978, “Three Mile Island Nuclear Power plant near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania suffers a partial core meltdown. Minimal radioactive material is released.” (Schoenherr, 2003) “And in 1989, “Nuclear weapons production facilities at Rocky Flats Plant in Colorado and Fernald Feed Materials Production Center in Ohio cease production and change their missions to cleaning up their facilities.” (Schoenherr, 2003)
Nuclear power, if it has been conquered, can make a country a superpower. “Although U.S. officials are sporadically reviewing technical assistance projects in countries of concern to the United States, they are neither systematically reviewing technical assistance projects before their approval nor regularly monitoring ongoing technical assistance projects. Without a systematic review, U.S. officials may be unaware of specific instances in which IAEA’s assistance could raise concerns for the United States about nuclear proliferation and threats to nuclear safety. Most of the assistance that IAEA provides is not considered to be sensitive. However, in several cases, the technical assistance that IAEA has provided is contrary to U.S. policy goals. Moreover, since 1996, a portion of the U.S. funding has supported technical assistance projects that will ultimately benefit nuclear programs, training, and techniques in countries of concern to the United States, including Iran and Cuba.” (Not Available, Government Accounting Office Report, 1997)
Both the United States and the Soviet Union have used atomic energy as leverage. But what happens when a poor country attempts to use the bomb as leverage? The current North Korea issue is what will need to be dealt with now that the Iraq war has been won. President Bush recently announced that North Korea admitted that they have been operating a clandestine nuclear weapons program. “The White House’s announcement Wednesday that North Korea had admitted running a secret operation to enrich uranium – the fuel for atomic bombs – sparked expressions of concern from governments around the globe. State Department arms control chief John R. Bolton and Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia James Kelly were in Beijing yesterday, with North Korea’s revived nuclear weapons program at the top the agenda with Chinese officials.” (Not Available, 2002)
From 1987 through 1994, IAEA spent about $396,000 in technical assistance for two projects on uranium prospecting and exploration in North Korea. According to IAEA’s April 1997 project status reports, the objectives of these projects were (1) to enable North Korea to better assess the potential of its nuclear raw materials in view of its increasing commitment to nuclear power and (2) to provide support for North Korea’s uranium exploration program. Under the uranium prospecting project, which was completed in 1994, the status report shows that IAEA contributed a considerable amount of uranium exploration equipment to North Korea, as well as a microcomputer and software for data processing. IAEA spent more than one-third of the $87,000 budgeted for the follow-on project on uranium exploration before the project was canceled following North Korea’s withdrawal from IAEA.” (Not Available, Government Accounting Office Report, 1997)
The United States is paying for more than its designated share of the technical cooperation fund because many member states are not paying into the fund. Yet many of these states are receiving the benefits of IAEA’s technical assistance. This is contrary to the State Department’s position that all IAEA member states, particularly those that receive technical assistance, should provide financial support for the program. (Not Available, Government Accounting Office Report, 1997) With that support, North Korea has agreed to close one of their reactors and to completely stop the construction of another two.
Mr. Bush, who has named North Korea, Iraq and Iran as an “axis of evil,” took a low-profile approach to North Korea’s admission. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said he believes North Korea already has “a small number” of atom bombs. But he cautioned against comparing it with Iraq.” (Not Available, 2002) Unlike Sadaam Hussein, North Korea has agreed to allow the international inspectors review the nuclear facilities capabilities.
In conclusion, September 11th has brought to the forefront of everyone’s mind that nuclear power and atomic bombs are both a blessing and can be a curse. “The government has also been re-examining the safety of nuclear convoys and power plants in the wake of the September 11 suicide plane attacks on New York and Washington.” (Blenkinsop, 2001) “Nuclear energy offers a new energy source just when the limits of the chemical fuels, oil, natural gas and coal, are being realized. If recycled, the world’s nuclear fuels are virtually inexhaustible. However, the radiation from nuclear energy, like the fire of chemical energy, has its hazards as well as its benefits.” (ROBERTSON, 1997)
The country that has suffered the most obvious catastrophes is Japan. They have asked that the North Koreans heed the world’s warnings. “Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who made his own precedent – shattering visit to Pyongyang in a bid to improve bilateral ties last month, said he had been told of North Korea’s violations before making his trip. We hope North Korea will take a sincere stance toward dispelling suspicions over its nuclear program,” Mr. Koizumi told Japanese reporters yesterday, adding he will again discuss the matter in meetings with North Korean officials later this month.” (Not Available, 2002)
Blenkinsop, Philip (11-13-2001). German Police Mass For Final Leg Of Nuclear Convoy. Reuters.
Not Available (09-16-1997). Nuclear Nonproliferation And Safety – Concerns With The International Atomic Energy Agency’s Technical Cooperation. Government Accounting Office Report.
Not Available (10-18-2002). Powell Says Force Not Contemplated North Korea’s Nuclear Program ‘Troubling’ Bush. The Washington Times.
Not Available (10-23-2001). UN: Nuclear Power Alternative To Fossil Fuels, IAEA Director Informs General Assembly; Following Introduction Of Agency’s Annual Report, Most Speakers Express Support For Non-Proliferation, Additional. M2 PressWIRE.
Not Available. (1995). Nuclear Age Timeline. Retrieved at http://www.em.doe.gov
ROBERTSON, J.A.L. (09-06-1997). Nuclear Energy. The 1998 Canadian Encyclopedia.
Schoenherr. (April 9,03). World War II Timeline. Retrieved at http://history.acusd.edu/gen/WW2Timeline/start.html
Unavailable (04-28-2000). Nuclear Waste Clean-Up – Doe’S Uncertainties And Excludes Costly Clean-Up Activities. Government Accounting Office Report.
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