Nuclear Power Plants

Do you know an alternative energy source that when functioning and used correctly is a great alternative to solving our energy crisis? However does that energy source have multiple side effects such as explosiveness, radiation, and death? Yes, incase you have not figured out, I am writing to all of you about nuclear power plants. Nuclear power plants are one of the many alternatives that the Earth can use to generate clean energy without doing much harm to the environment.

However, nuclear power plants, although a great alternative energy source can be dangerous and deadly. In 1986, in Ukraine, the nuclear power plant known as Chernobyl exploded. Towards the end of the night, Reactor 4 was preparing for a routine test to supply energy to the main power lines. Due to mishandling by a worker, the test did not go as planned and the reactor exploded. Immediately following the accident, over 100,000 people were evacuated within the surrounding areas, due to the high amounts of radiation.

ukraine map

Along with many health effects caused by the explosion, there were many environmental effects. Many of the surrounding areas were evacuated due to the excess radiation. Along with the health impacts there were many agricultural impacts.Many agricultural products, meats, and milks were contaminated in areas around Chernobyl including the countries Belarus, Russia, and many other places. However, years after the accident, the radiation levels in agricultural plants and animals began to decrease due to the decay. Since the accident, according to the article,about 4000 cases of thyroid cancer had been diagnosed in exposed children by 2000. That study took place many years after the accident. What would the number be at now? Would it continue to increase or would it plateau out?

path_of_exposure

Although nuclear energy is a good alternative energy source that would help solve the Earth’s downward spiral. Is it really worth it? I don’t think so. What if one day you had to evacuate your home and only bring things you could carry on your back? That is the risk that you run whenever you generate energy from such a dangerous energy source.

 

http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/Safety-and-Security/Safety-of-Plants/Chernobyl-Accident/

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/16/VOA_Markosian_-_Chernobyl02.jpg

From Cotton Field to Vagina to Landfill: The Story of Tampons and Other Sanitary Products

Wait, My Menstrual Cycle Is Contributing to Environmental Degradation?

I know this not a topic that everyone wants to talk about. However, it has been a fact of life since the beginning of time. The average woman menstruates for 38 years in her lifetime. Unfortunately, in today’s world, 38 years’ worth of menstrual cycles translates into a lot of waste and energy. To be exact, there is approximately 62,415 pounds of sanitary products that end up in landfills[1]. Not to mention the countless tons of fuel that goes into producing these necessities. The truth of the matter is that sanitary items are one of the most unsustainable used products. In North America, over 20 billion pads and tampons are only used once before they are tossed. [2] But how exactly do sanitary items hurt our environment?

How the Waste Affects the Environment

 Cotton

Since most pads and tampons are made up of conventionally produced cotton, there has already been damage done before it even reaches the store self. Conventional cotton farmers usually treat the cotton with toxic pesticides such as aldicarb, phorate, methamidophos and endosulfan[3]. These chemicals are harmful to the people working with them and wildlife. Once sprayed, these toxins often move through the air to other nearby communities contaminating water sources, killing soil micro-organisms, bees, and other beneficial insects.[4]

This image displays all of the toxic chemicals that can be found in pads.

This image displays all of the toxic chemicals that can be found in pads.

Also, most of the cotton is then bleached with chlorine gas.[5] Once the cotton bleached chlorine enters a landfill, it becomes deadly to organisms living in water and the soil.[6] Another harmful chemical found in most sanitary products is called dioxin. Dioxin is a carcinogen that over time accumulates in the food chain. Within an organism it can trigger biological effects such as hormonal disturbances and alterations in cell functions[7] as well as adding to the risk of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and liver damage in humans.[8]

Plastic

It’s not only the cotton that’s harmful, but it is also the plastic applicators and the plastic wrapping. The manufacturing process of producing these disposables consumes a lot of energy[9] and nonrenewable resources which contributes to global warming. Most disposable pads and tampons are made from 90 percent plastic derived from crude oil.[10] When crude oil based plastics reenter the environment it releases large amounts of toxic pollutants which ultimately leads to devastating damage to wildlife and the natural landscape.[11] Combined with other super absorbent materials, the manufacture of sanitary items releases greenhouse gases: nitrogen oxide, sulphur dioxide, and carbon dioxide which are causing our planet to heat up.[12]

Alternatives

I too was shocked to realize that not only are these feminine products not good for the environment, but they are also harmful to my own health. Fortunately, there are healthier and eco friendlier alternatives. Natracare is a company that produces organic chemical-free pads and tampon. These products are more eco-friendly because they are bio degradable and do less damage to the environment since they are bleached without harsh chemicals or sprayed with pesticides.[13]

However, the best alternatives are menstrual cups or reusable pads which have life uses of 15 years. Products such as the Keeper menstrual cup claims those 40 years’ worth of disposables can easily be converted into as few as four menstrual cups![14] Similar to The Keeper, Lunapads claim to divert more than 1 million disposable pads and tampons from landfills every month. Over the course of one year, that is more than 12 million less feminine products contributing to environmental issues. [15]

This image shows how 4 menstrual cups can replace a truck load's worth of sanitary waste.

This image shows how 4 menstrual cups can replace a truck load’s worth of sanitary waste.

Justice is Justice

The University of Minnesota conducted a study analyzing the relationship between census data and nitrogen oxide concentration.   The study showed that race was the most important factor in who is affected by air pollution in America. “The difference in exposures to nitrogen dioxide (N2O) between whites and nonwhite was 38%.” (theeconomist) In order to understand the implications of this study, it’s imperative to understand the effect of N2O on the human body and the racial disparities within American society today.

In the United States, urban areas are “disproportionately non-white, with over 52 percent of blacks and 21 percent of whites residing in central-city neighborhoods; while suburbs are disproportionately white, where 57 percent of whites but just 36 percent of blacks reside.” (nhi) Basically, more Blacks than Whites live in urban areas. These urban areas are heavily polluted, because they are generally in closer proximity to highways and power plants; which are large sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Greenhouse gases trap heat in the atmosphere and keep the earth warm, this is called the greenhouse effect. When sunlight reaches the earth, land and water absorb it. Sunlight not absorbed is reflected back to space. The earth’s surface warms up and gives off infared radiation, greenhouse gases trap some of these infared rays in the atmosphere making the planet warmer. Figure 1 illustrates this process.

Figure 1

GreenhouseEffect-1

The University of Michigan Study focused on nitrogen dioxide, a common greenhouse gas, as the polluting agent.  Nitrogen dioxide moves throughout the nitrogen cycle, a “natural circulation of nitrogen among the atmosphere, plants, animals and microorgnaisms.” (epa.gov) Figure 2 briefly illustrates this process.

Figure 2

nitrogen-cycle

Fossil fuels include oil, coal and natural gas. The burning of fossil fuels, also called combustion, is used industrially and residentially for electricity and heating. In urban areas, fossil fuel combustion releases nitrogen dioxide.  This pollutes breathing air and adds nitrogen to the nitrogen cycle. The result of this is climate change attributable to the greenhouse effect and health issues for the people exposed to the nitrogen dioxide. Exposure to nitrogen dioxide causes health afflictions ranging from airway inflammation to asthma and heart problems. For instance, in New york the admittance rate for asthma is 1.8 per 1000. However, in the South Bronx, a predominantly Black and industrial neighborhood, the admittance rate for asthma is three times that rate. (nihl)

The correlation between race and exposure to pollution is tied to the prevalence of poverty in urban areas. Pollution and climate change are issues seemingly tied only to environmental justice. Environmental justice and social justice, however, are undoubtedly connected. The problems that pollution and climate change wreak on the globe leave the disadvantaged more vulnerable, even within the boarders of the U.S.  Tamara Rodriguez Reichberg articulates this idea when she says:

“Racial and environmental injustice are linked to the same systemic problems of our society…both manifest in disease, and both are concerns to public health. Racial injustice as we know it is expressed through institutional racism and structural violence that affect the health of Black and Latino patients. Environmental injustice, too, disproportionately impacts Black and Latino patients.” (nhi)

Recognizing that environmentalism reaches the heights of social justce is motivation enough to become more energy efficient.  Think about it this way, turning off a light is not only an act of environmental activism but also a step towards civil justice.

Sources

http://thinkprogress.org/health/2014/04/17/3427918/why-air-pollution-is-a-racial-issue/

http://www.economist.com/news/united-states/21602735-air-getting-cleaner-less-so-non-whites-colour-pollution

http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2014/04/study-people-of-color-breathe-air-that-is-38-percent-more-polluted-than-white-peoples/

http://grist.org/climate-energy/how-to-set-aside-your-anxieties-and-join-the-black-lives-matter-movement/

http://personal.ce.umn.edu/~marshall/NO2_white_nonwhite.php

http://www.swac.umn.edu/classes/soil2125/doc/s13chap3.htm

http://epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/gases/n2o.html

http://www.epa.gov/climatestudents/basics/today/greenhouse-effect.html

http://www.kidsgeo.com/geography-for-kids/0161-the-nitrogen-cycle.php

Energy Production Gone Wrong… Surprised?

March 11, 2011, a major earthquake, followed by a 15-meter tsunami, destroyed the power supply and cooling of three Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power reactors, causing a nuclear catastrophe. The plants at Fukushima were Boiling Water Reactors (BWR, shown in Figure 1.). A BWR produces electricity by boiling water with nuclear fuel and uses the steam from the water to drive a turbine, which creates electricity. The steam then is cooled and condenses back into water until it is heated by nuclear fuel again. The nuclear fuel is uranium oxide, a radioactive mineral.

Figure 1: Model of a Boiling Water Reactor used at Fukushima.

Figure 1: Model of a Boiling Water Reactor used at Fukushima.

The devastation from Fukushima released unmanageable amounts of radiation, and about 80% of the radiation is still being released into the Pacific Ocean through ground water. Yet, why is this relevant to us? 300 tons of radioactive water from Fukushima enters the Pacific Ocean every day, and it has started to affect the United States. According to the Nuclear Emergency Tracking Center, radiation levels all over the U.S. are elevating, specifically the west coast. (Shown in Figure 2.). The total amount of radioactive material from Fukushima is increasing everyday in the U.S., and it is steadily building up in our food chain, which could cause radiation poisoning in innocent civilians all over America.

Figure 2.  Caution Symbols Key: Yellow/Green = Normal levels of Radiation Yellow/Black = Rising levels of Radiation Yellow/Red = Elevated levels of Radiation Black/Red = Concern/Watch levels of Radiation

Figure 2.
Caution Symbols Key:
Yellow/Green = Normal levels of Radiation
Yellow/Black = Rising levels of Radiation
Yellow/Red = Elevated levels of Radiation
Black/Red = Concern/Watch levels of Radiation

With an increase of radioactive material in our food chain, people will have a high risk of developing cancer or other health problems due to the high exposure of nuclear radiation. These possible risks are already being foreshadowed by the effects the nuclear radiation is having on the ecosystems along the west coast. On the Alaskan coastline, polar bears, seals, and walruses are beginning to suffer from alopecia (loss of fur) and skin lesions, and along the California coastline there has been a tragic amount of sea-lion deaths. For example, 45% of the pups born during the summer have died, when usually pup deaths are below 33%. Also, many types of fish are being affected by the radiation. Along the Canada and Alaska coastlines, the population of sockeye salmon is at a “historic low.” Along the west coast of Canada, fish are suddenly bleeding from their gills, bellies, and eyeballs, and the cause is predicted to be nuclear radiation. A test in California found that 15 out of 15 Bluefin tuna were contaminated with radiation from Fukushima and plankton found in the Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and the West Coast had very high levels of cesium-137 (radioactive metal). With these cases of death, disease, and illness within the ecosystems of the west coast of North America, soon enough, nuclear radiation may begin to affect innocent people.

It is a terrifying thought how the production of energy can cause such devastation. In fact, it is ironic   how the nuclear plants, which hurt the environment, have been destroyed by the environment (natural disasters), and in result will affect us, the people whom are using the energy. Fukushima is an example of how energy production cannot only directly affect the environment, but also can directly affect the health of humans. How can we prevent this is the future? We can produce energy with safer and more renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind energy, a simple, yet expensive method. Although using more efficient energy sources can raise the bills, when it comes down to it, what is more important, health or money?

Efficient Energy Please, the Japanese Do it with Ease

Everyone these days seems to be obsessed with saving energy. The word “sustainability” and “go green” seem to be all that were hearing these days. Some people hear these ideas of being energy efficient and it goes straight in one ear and out the other. Some countries however, truly want to create  a sustainable, energy efficient environment, and currently Japan sets the highest standard as the most energy efficient country (Figure 1).

Figure 1:

Most-Energy-Efficient-Countries

Japan has always prided itself off being 30 years ahead of other global super powers in terms creating an energy efficiency initiative. After the 1970 increase in oil price (figure 2) it was evident that “if something wasn’t done, life wouldn’t be sustainable” . Japan and several other countries suffered economically and Japan’s economy in particular “was on the brink of collapsing. This prompted the Japanese government to take initiative and increase energy efficiency across their country.

Figure 2:

th

The Japanese government has had a great influence over the Japanese people and their energy efficiency. In doing so, the government established several movements and laws in hopes of creating a sustainable country. Several conservation laws were passed forcing factories to replace old inefficient boilers and assembly-line machinery with new energy efficient equipment. There is also a law put into place which requires each factory to hire an individual who is in charge of overseeing factory energy efficiency. This is a very demanding job as by law, Japanese factories are required to become more energy efficient by one percent every year.  Japanese individuals have also started movements such “Setsudan” which emerged to “encourage people and companies to conserve energy and prevent rolling power cuts”. Japanese individuals will increase temperatures in homes and offices, thin lighting by removing some of the bulbs, and stop using big screen and exterior lighting in hopes of cutting back on energy.  These cut backs in energy use are obviously working as”Japan’s industrial sector uses the same amount of energy as 40 years ago, despite the dramatic economic growth since then”. These laws and movements have now become a Japanese way of life as most families live and operate in energy efficient manners.

Japan faces extreme temperatures in the Summer however typical Japanese families rarely uses their Air Conditioners. Most Japanese have AC units in every room of their homes. In doing so this enables them to save energy in the long run. AC units are only turned on in rooms which are occupied this saves more energy compared to having constant central air. Not only this, but the Japanese also have power strips with individual on/off switches so that their appliances won’t waste energy. Most families also purchase LED lights as well to conserve light energy. Families even save water by sharing bathwater; some individuals even have bathtubs that talk to them and warn them when they are wasting energy (figure 3) . Families are also prompted to conserve energy because of the high energy bills which costs twice as much in Japan as in the US, because Japan imports nearly all of it’s fossil fuels. 

Figure 3:

 ofuro

No matter what the motivation is for the Japanese, whether it is fear of high energy bills, or the fear of living in an unsustainable environment, Japan is setting a great example for the rest of the world in terms of energy efficiency.  In fact, recently Obama mentioned Japan as a country we should strive to be like in terms of our own energy consumption in the US.  Although it could take sometime, I am very hopeful that with some new laws and green initiatives, the US can soon become a green, sustainable country which excels in energy efficiency as well.

Knowledge is Power!

Algal blooms and consequential dead zones are a problem plaguing the globe. In order to understand what algal blooms and dead zones are, and the impact they have on the environment, you have to understand the nitrogen and phosphorus cycles.

Algal blooms are caused because of human disruptions in the nitrogen or phosphorus cycle. Nitrogen and phosphorus are two of the main chemical elements of earth. The nitrogen and phosphorus cycles are biochemical cycles; biochemical cycles are simply cycles in which matter moves through out the earth.   An algal bloom is a rapid increase in the amount of algae in an aquatic environment. These blooms often occur because excess amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus enter the aquatic environment, and stimulate the increased growth of algae. (Science Daily)

Nitrogen and phosphorus are naturally occurring elements but they become overabundant from nutrient pollution. An example of nutrient pollution is runoff from farms using fertilizer containing a large amount of fixed nitrogen or phosphorus. Nitrogen fixation is the first step in the nitrogen cycle; it is the process by which nitrogen oxide from the atmosphere is converted into nitrate or ammonia. In the form of ammonia or nitrate nitrogen can be used in fertilizer to stimulate the growth of producers.  Phosphorus is more readily dissolved by soil than by water, so even a small amount of phosphorus within fertilizer runoff can stimulate growth of producers. Nitrogen and phosphorus may be helpful as fertilizers, but they can deadly when entering an aquatic environment. Nutrient pollution can occur in different ways, but the end result is always the sane, an abundant amount of nitrogen or phosphorus stimulating the growth of algae, creating an algal bloom. The abundance of algae in the aquatic environment turns the water green or red, (Figure 1 illustrates this). (National Geographic)

Figure 1

algae-blooms-in-lakes-may-be-new-normal-aerial-boat_66470_600x450

What is a dead zone and how does an algal bloom create it? Well, once the algae produced in the algae bloom dies, it sinks to the bottom, and bacterium decomposes the algae through cellular respiration. The bacteria takes in dissolved oxygen and produces carbon dioxide and chemical energy. The excess amount of decomposition decreases the amount of dissolved oxygen, creating hypoxic zones, areas with low amounts of oxygen. This lack of oxygen causes mass amounts of organisms requiring oxygen to die, or find new habitats, leaving an aquatic wasteland: also known as a dead zone.Now that you have an understanding of what algal blooms and dead zones are, and why they occur, it’s important to understand their significant impact on the environment. In 2007, an algal bloom in China’s Lake Taihu, the third largest lake in the country left 2 million people without water. “Overnight the city had no drinking water… what happened is folks woke up in the morning to make tea and found green Jello-like stuff coming out of the faucet. “ said Hans Pearl, a professor of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. (Circle of Blue) Figure two shows an image of Lake Taihu:

Figure 2

China_Algae_JGanter_MG_3555-1000

Depriving an entire population of drinking water is a clear indication that something needs to be done in order to combat the nutrient pollution entering aquatic environments. Nonetheless, if you need something closer to home, in August, “a toxic bloom shut down the water supply system in Toledo Ohio. Since 2004 blooms of toxic algae shut down water supplies for more than 3 million people on three continents and have closed hundreds of inland lakes to recreation.” (Circle of Blue)

So, what should be done?

State legislation needs to be passed in order to allow government to regulate the amount of waste entering aquatic environments. But, because of the lack of political urgency in which this issue is viewed, nothing is being done. Teresa Fedor, a Democrat from Toledo articulates my view on the issue perfectly when she says, “We need regulations on seatbelts for cars to save lives, and on air pollution to shut down acid rain. So why would we not do this for the most fundamental, basic need of water?” ( Circle of Blue)

The only way to combat this issue is through limiting the use of fertilizers rich with nitrogen and phosphorus. Legislation passing laws limiting the use of such materials must enforce this. I think right now attention needs to be called to this issue; the people need to be informed of the environmental impact of algal blooms. If the people rally for it, politicians have no choice but to legislate. In this situation, knowledge is power!