NUCLEAR POWER – A SAFE SOLUTION?
Ever since the first atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, governments have been trying to stress that the atom has a peaceful as well as a warlike side. In early propaganda films, which were made to gain the support of the public round the idea of a nuclear research programme, we were shown pictures of a high speed train travelling around the world.

It was said that the train was powered by the equivalent of the energy contained in a glass of water. And it was claimed that this energy, which was won by ‘harnessing the power of the atom’, would be cheap, efficient, clean, and above all, safe. Besides, men would not have to labour beneath the ground in dirty and dangerous conditions to win the coal which would fuel our industry.

The nuclear power stations of the future would not cause a decrease in the world’s natural resources since they did not depend on burning fossil fuels like coal or oil. Thus, our resources would last much longer. ît ali took a lot longer to happen than predicted. The first disappointment, of course, was that a power station could not actually be fuelled with a glass of water. The power’stations still had to be fuelled with radioactive and potentially dangerous substances which were won from the ground by accident-prone miners, just like coal.

 

 

These substances had to be transported to the power stations by train in special containers. Many cf the early objections and protest campaigns came from the inhabitants of villages through which such trains passed, as they feared that in the event of a collision the containers of radioactive substances would break and spill radiation or to surrounding houses and countryside. The railway authorities were fairly successful in reducing such fears and showing that the containers they used could never break, not even in a head-on collision.

Concern was almost never directed at the power stations themselves and we were assured that scientists had foreseen everything that could possibly go wrong and taken the necessary precautions. What the nuclear power station designers and engineers had not taken into account, however, was Murphy’s Law, which states that if a thing can possibly go wrong, sooner or later it will.

At Three Mile Island in the USA, and Windscale in the UK, accidents happened despite all precautions. Radiation spilt into the atmosphere arid we heard for the first time of the China Syndrome – the dreadful possibility of a nuclear accident burning through the earth all the way to China. This seemed to be quite a weak possibility until Chernobyl, the world’s worst nuclear accident so far. We saw pictures of a ‘melt-down’, where the entire core of the reactor becomes molten and uncontrollable, and also heard for the first time of a ‘melt-through’, where the radioactive mass melts through the earth’s crust, and at the very least, contaminates the ground water of an entire river basin system, making thousands of square miles uninhabitable for decades and totally destroying the agriculture of an entire region.

The fact that it was not quite as catastrophic as what is described above is due to the incredible and heroic self-sacrifice of the Soviet fire-fighters who tunnelled beneath the molten mass, entering the radioactive zone, to build a shield of concrete beneath the power station and wall it off forever. In the meantime, the plume of radioactivity had risen high above western Europe and, with the rain, dropped, deadeningly, in Sweden.

Europe and the world were faced with an ecological disaster which could be much greater than that caused by an accidental firing of a powerful military weapon. Suddenly, the ‘peaceful uses of atomic energy’ did not seem so peaceful any more. 

 

– QUESTIONS –

Mark the best choice.

1. Propaganda films were made in order to .

a) show the effects of atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki

b) introduce the peaceful side of the atom to public

c) support the public to carry out nuclear research

d) publicize high speed trains that could travel round the world

 

2. It was stated that nuclear power stations would .

a) lead to an increase in the amount of natural resources

b) provide better living conditions for coal miners

c) be fuelled with a much more efficient form of energy

d) still have to be fuelled with coal and oil

 

3. Accident-prone miners .

a) were those who were likely to have accidents

b) were carefully protected from radioactive substances

c) refused to work under the ground to avoid accidents

d) still had to mine coal which would be used in the stations

 

4. Radioactive substances were transported in special containers ______ .

a) as there was little risk of collision with other trains

b) after the objections and protest campaigns of villagers

c) which wouldn’t let out their contents in the event of a collision

d) to spill radiation on to surrounding houses and countryside
5. According to the third paragraph, .

a) it was believed that scientists had done everything to make nuclear power stations safe

b) the accident in the United Kingdom was more destructive than that in the United States of Amerba

c) accidents were due to the lack of careful designing

d) some people were doubtful about the safety of nuclear power stations

 

6. During a melt-through, .

a) the core of a reactor gets out of control

b) agriculture should be carried out very carefully

c) ground water gets polluted by radioactive substances

d) the inhabitants of the area should be protected from nuclear waste

 

7. The Chernobyl accident was not extremely disastrous because .

a) there was no risk of a ‘melt-through’

b) a concrete shield had been built beneath the station during its construction

c) the radioactive area was covered with molten mass

d) the fire-fighters made a great effort to reduce its effects

 

8. Although atomic energy has peaceful uses, it .

a) threatens world peace

b) is as powerful as a military weapon

c) should only be used at times of war

d) is ecologically dangerous

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