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Myths & Realities  By A Special Correspondent

Major Public Perceptions about Atomic Energy answering public concerns about nuclear energy means challenging four wide spread myths-

1. Nuclear energy fosters nuclear weapons proliferation.
2. Nuclear reactors are not safe.
3. Nuclear waste disposal is an insoluble problem.
4. Radiation is deadly. So any technology involving radiation is inherently dangerous and the products of such technology are essentially.

The first myth- ‘Nuclear reactors are likely to breed weapons’ has little foundation in experience.
The first five countries to build Atomic bombs did so before moving to electricity generation through nuclear power. Thus, technically speaking, power reactors were and are not necessary intermediate steps for making nuclear bomb.
The fear of nuclear proliferation is simply misplaced in the global warming debate. Most of the current carbon consumption is in countries which already have nuclear weapons. One of the largest growth markets in energy consumption are China and India, both of which already have weapon capabilities.
Thus almost every where the reduction in carbon emission could yield important benefits for climatic protection. Proliferation is not even an issue.

The second myth  - a nuclear power plant itself is like a bomb-likely, in case of an accident, to explode or to release massively fatal doses of radiation. These fears are based on the collective memories of accidents at Three Miles Island and Chernobyl.

The simple truth about Three Miles Island is that public health was not at all endangered. Despite a series of mistakes which seriously damaged the reactor, the only outside effect was an inconsequential release of radiation which was negligible when compared to natural radiation in the atmosphere.

The Chernobyl accident was a tragedy with serious human and environmental consequences. The reactor lacked the safety technology, the procedures and the protective barriers considered normal elsewhere. But we must remember that even this accident involving massive release of radiation did not result anywhere comparable to an atomic explosion.

The global nuclear industry with more than 430 operating reactors, having more than 8000 reactor years of operational time, has produced just one serious accident with not a very large number of causalities immediately or even many years after the accident.

Meanwhile, production and consumption of fossil fuels yields a constant flow of accidents and disease, in addition to the green house gases.

As per a WHO report, about three million people die each year due to air pollution from the global energy system dominated by fossil fuels.

Nuclear Waste Management
The third myth - the question of Nuclear Waste and its Management. As per the myth, nuclear waste is an insoluble problem a permanent and accumulating environmental hazard.

The reality is that of all the energy forms capable of meeting the world’s expanding energy needs, nuclear power yields the least and most easily managed waste.

On the contrary, it is the fossil fuel and not nuclear power that presents an insoluble waste problem. This has two aspects-
1. The huge volume of waste products, primarily gases and particulate matter.
2. Method of disposal which is dispersion into atmosphere.
Neither of the above two problems seems subject to amelioration through technology.

The fourth myth - radiation and any thing associated with it. No doubt, exposure to large doses of radiation can be dangerous as they may cause two types of biological effects-
1. Somatic effect - where person exposed is affected, and
2. Genetic effect - which occurs in the descendants of the exposed persons.
Toxic chemicals released from chemical and petrochemical industries, coal fuelled power stations and burning of fire wood and cow dung can also cause similar biological effects.
We must remember that -
Radiation has always been a part of the natural environment.
The effects of radiation are better understood and the regulations and safety measures are more complete and advanced compared to all other potentially harmful agents.
The benefits of the use of radiation and radioactive materials under controlled conditions greatly outweigh the risks.


We live in a naturally radioactive world.

We are exposed to radiation from the sun and outer space, also from the naturally occurring radioactive materials present in the earth, the house we live in, the buildings where we work, the food and drink we consume.

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   RNI No. WBENG/2008/27737
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Editor: Gouri Shankar Das