Social, Economic and Political Concerns


So here we are one hundred years later and nuclear chemistry applications have touched the vast majority of developed societies. There is no denying that the benefits we have derived from it's unique properties have been a boon to humanity. It would be a difficult task to imagine stepping back in time and in the process losing all that we have gained. How far we have some in such a short time. This road that has lead to intimate understanding and knowledge has been an exciting, yet sometimes turbulent journey.

Looking back, one can see the first half of this century as a time of exploration and intellectual adventure. Then World War II swept over the globe, and with it the first atomic weapons were born. Since this time humanity has wrestled with the social, economic and political ramifications that nuclear chemistry, by it's very nature, has left us.

So don't turn back now, for the remainder of this material will employ interesting and thought provoking questions that contemporary societies are struggling to answer.

Hair Dryers Vs. Global Warming

As every year goes by the demand for energy increases as the global population increases. How do we as a society provide for our energy needs? Do we burn more and more fossil fuels such as coal, natural gas or petroleum? If so then we almost certainly run the risk of global warming. Current research shows that the combustion of fossil fuels liberates CO2, and that CO2 is one of the main culprits of global increases in temperature. Lets not forget the problem of acid rain! Current theories attribute the combustion of fossil fuels to our continued increase in acid raid pollution.

Alright, maybe we should just build more nuclear power generators whcih do not add to the global warming or acid rain problems. If we take this approach we can certainly reduce or even eliminate our dependance on fossil fuels. At what cost though? Although we have solved a couple of serious environmental problems another problem arises. What do we do with all the nuclear waste that is generated? And what about the economic costs involved with building and maintaining nuclear reactors? Fossil fuel power stations are significantly less expensive to build and operate. It is becoming apparent that the solution to this dilemma is not as easy as it may appear. There is an opportunity cost to every choice we make.

You Tell Us :

How many fossil fuel power stations are in your state or country?
How many nuclear power stations are in your state or country?
How much has CO2 increased since the industrial revolution?
How many lakes in your state or country have died from acid rain pollution?
Make a list of all the risks that society faces from each type of power station.

Can't we just send it to the moon?

What do we do with all the nuclear waste that has been generated by the nuclear generators throughout the United States? This problem still remains unanswered! The current situation is that all the waste is essentially in temporary storage until a permanent solution is found. So what do we do?

One possible solution is to bury the stuff deep underground in an area that is geographically quiet (i.e. no earthquakes or water penetration). After it is buried, then seal it up forever. But is this the right thing to do? The answer may not be as easy as it appears. What if in a couple of hundred years a bright young chemistry student figures out a way of turning this waste into a new power source that produces virtually no hazardous by-products. Surely our energy needs in the future will be more critical. Alright then, maybe we should bury it but leave it in a retrievable fashion. Yeah..that sounds better. Hey wait a minute, if we leave it in a retriveable fashion any Tom, Dick, or a terrorist might be able to access this material and use it to a bad end. Alright already, lets put guards around it and make it a permanent military outpost. Yea, that makes more sense. Just a second! Who is going to pay for all this?? You guessed it, we all are.

As you can see there is no easy answer to this problem. If there was it would have been done a long time ago. So as we contemplate this dilemma the waste continues to pile up.

By the way...sending it up in the space shuttle is probably not a good idea either.

Your Turn :

Where in the United States is a burial sight being proposed?
Make a list of concerns about this proposal both positive and negative


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