If you use electricity but do not support nuclear power, then I do not understand your point of view.
Nuclear fission is a miraculous use of modern science to power our world.
It begins with Uranium: the heaviest element that is created by nature. Because it has so many protons (92) and neutrons (143), the Strong Nuclear Force that bonds these atomic particles has trouble keeping them together.
Uranium is eager to split apart. And, as Einstein told us, splitting an atom releases and extraordinary amount of energy.
Inside the core of a nuclear power plant, scientists shoot neutrons at Uranium atoms. A Uranium atom splits apart into two lighter elements, and the process releases energy and shoots more free neutrons off to hit other Uranium atoms. This is a chain reaction.
“Yes, but what about nuclear waste?” skeptics ask. Nuclear waste sounds scary, but the fear-mongers don’t recognize just how little waste is created.
Nuclear plants create an enormous amount of power from a tiny amount of fuel. One Uranium pellet creates as much electricity as a ton of coal, without creating any smoke.
If you didn’t know all of that, please do not feel bad. Neither did the Soviets in charge of Chernobyl power station.
On April 26, 1986 – during a routine safety test – the core of Chernobyl power plant exploded, releasing a steady radioactive cloud into the atmosphere. The Uranium chain reaction was happening out in the open air and there were no control rods to slow it down.
When the plant employees and firefighters were hospitalized with hideous radiation burns, it was clear that something horrible was happening. But everyone in the Soviet hierarchy – right up through Gorbachev – preferred to pretend that the problem was under control. People were more scared of the KGB than having every cell in their body get torn apart by loose neutrons, and that was a serious problem.
Thank goodness for honest scientist Valery Legasov (Jared Harris). He bravely stood in front of the most powerful men in the USSR and told them they were gravely underestimating Chernobyl’s danger. Legasov was sent to the Ukraine with a skeptical Party boss Boris Shcherbyna (Stellan Skarsgård) to develop a plan to minimize the mess.
The 5-part HBO mini-series “Chernobyl” is engrossing and splendidly written. The unlikely friendship between humorless Legasov and career communist Shcherbyna is the heart of the miniseries. They quietly saved as many lives as Jonas Salk.
But they didn’t save everyone. “Chernobyl” is a straight-forward reminder that the Soviet Union did not care at all about the health, safety, dignity, or lives of its male citizens. The same country that sent 10 million men to die in World War II also sent wave after wave of men to die in the Chernobyl aftermath.
In one telling scene, a clean-up robot stops working due to the extreme radiation. So what do they do? They send in a bunch of young men to do the job.
As he works to minimize the catastrophe, Legasov and fellow physicist Ulana Khomyuk (Emily Watson) slowly piece together how the reactor was allowed to explode to begin with.
In the bittersweet final episode, Legasov presents his findings to a Soviet court. He gives the full story – without omissions or propaganda – even though he knows the KGB will punish him immediately for his candor.
The Chernobyl disaster happened for four reasons:
1. The Soviets cut corners when they built Chernobyl to save money.
2. The safety test was delayed until after midnight, and the night shift workers had zero preparation.
3. The guy running the safety test was an arrogant bureaucrat who knew virtually nothing about fission and ignored the warnings of the plant workers.
4. Finally, the fail-safe button that was supposed to immediately halt power production in an emergency actually increased the nuclear reaction. The Soviet government knew this was a problem but they censored the report and fired the expert who wrote it.
In conclusion, “Chernobyl” is not a warning about the danger of nuclear power. It is an indictment of the Soviet regime, which was built on incompetence, lack of respect for human life, and systematic dishonesty.
Nuclear power remains the safest and most efficient source of electricity we have. Future generations will mock us for ignorantly and wastefully burning coal and natural gas to power our cities.