The standard of living in modern cities is increasingly high. And, with this high standards are consequent financial responsibilities. For many, this has strengthened their resolve to live far away from the City centre. Apart from the serenity and lower cost of living, the outskirts are characterized by lower crime rates, lesser congestion and more closely knit communities. What’s not to like?
Spurred on by these ‘advantages’, more and more houses are now being sited in close proximity to oil and gas drilling locations, radiological health centres and even nuclear power plants. For some, settling around these places is not entirely of their design. Regardless, is living close to a nuclear power plant the best course of action?
In the 1950’s, there was huge enthusiasm for nuclear energy. As opposed to the other methods of generating electricity, it was cleaner- producing no direct atmospheric emissions (under normal operating conditions). And it had far better yields. One pound of uranium-235 can produce over two million times more electricity as one pound of coal or oil. However, radiation fears and the subsequent fallout from the Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters tempered this enthusiasm. And understandably so.
Vast improvements have since been made in nuclear technology. Between the plethora of barriers and sophisticated safety systems in operation, regulatory oversight from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the increased levels of operator training, it is highly unlikely that a disaster would occur. However, no system is fail proof. No system is perfect. And, for a variety of reasons: natural disasters near the power plant, human error and plant mismanagement, amongst others, an accident may occur.
In the unlikely event of an accident, living close to a nuclear power plant puts you at enormous risk. An uncontrolled nuclear reaction could result in widespread contamination of air and water. Besides, direct radiation from the damaged reactor is a possibility in this scenario. Depending on the distance from your house to the reactor and the level of radiation, the effects may not be devastating.
More ominously however, is the prospect of ingesting a radioactive isotope. The most common isotopes released during a nuclear accident are Iodine-131 and Caesium-137. Accumulation of the former may cause thyroid cancer and the latter can interact with DNA; causing a malfunction and eventually lead to cancer.
Studies have shown that there is in fact no direct correlation between cancer and living close to a nuclear facility. However, the associated dangers in operating a nuclear power plant and the likelihood of human error mean it’s hardly the best of ideas.
The Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania, 1979 remains the most serious nuclear disaster in US history and a survey carried out in 2010 showed that there have been at least 55 other accidents involving nuclear reactors in the United States.
All the same, there are more than 120 million Americans living within 50 miles of a reactor, and if you are among these ‘brave’ Americans, there are several ways you can protect yourself, in the unfortunate event of an uncontrolled reaction.
The Environmental Protection Agency recommends understanding- and applying the principles of time, distance and shielding.
Limiting the exposure time gives you a greater chance of escaping unscathed, as it reduces the dose from the radiation source.
Moreover, the further away you are from the radiation, the safer you’d be. If your house is in close proximity to the reactor, this may not be practical. Nonetheless, maintaining adequate barriers between yourself and the radiation source could be effective. Barriers may include lead, or concrete. Herein, is the design of your house important.
Furthermore the EPA suggests staying indoors, taking a shower, eating sealed foods and drinking bottled water. And of course, staying tuned for further instructions.
The protective measures and ‘pros’ notwithstanding, living close to a nuclear power plant is not ideal. And, in a normal world, wouldn’t be an option. But, it is. And, more and more people are living right next to active reactors. Technology, eh?
Precious Marho is a freelance copywriter. He covers the safety, oil and gas and green energy industries.