BRAZILIAN NUCLEAR POWER: THINK ABOUT IT ONCE AGAIN!
A reflection on my visit to the Brazilian nuclear power plants in Angra dos Reis.
By Carlos Henrique Vilas Boas
Is it possible that you change your view about whether nuclear power is a good solution to the increasing demand of energy in a world so eager to keep its high levels of development without causing much damage to the environment? I have to confess that, until I visited Angra dos Reis nuclear power plants, I had never viewed the generation of electricity in nuclear power plants as something really positive. And why was that? Although I was only eleven at the time of the accident in Chernobyl, it is still fresh in my mind the terrible images of the aftermath caused by the explosion of the nuclear reactor in Ukraine. How could one forget the scary footages of ghost towns and deserted villages within a huge perimeter surrounding the area of the catastrophe? Televised debates and documentaries on the disastrous effects of the radioactive leak on the environment were also very frequent at that time. As a result, everybody feared contamination by the consumption of livestock and crops somehow exposed to the radioactive cloud that hovered over Europe. It was really hard to have a good opinion of nuclear power in such a terrifying context.
Times have changed, and any issue is always to be analyzed from multiple perspectives. Is it still worth thinking about having more nuclear power plants built? I would say yes. Of course, it would be much better if we could generate enough clean energy to meet the demands of superpowers and developing countries. However, clean energy still has some way to go in terms of technology before it is ready to satiate at viable costs the voracious appetite of rapidly growing economies.
Global warming has also imposed that the projects to generate energy should be less harmful to the environment. It is no longer environmentally sustainable to keep coal power plants running. The huge amounts of CO2 that they dump into the atmosphere have been one of the main contributing factors of climate change. In addition, the waste spewed by such plants pollutes the air with particles of coal and other poisoning substances. Although they seems to be cheaper to built and run in the beginning, coal power plants cause severe damage to public health and the development of other economic activities in the vicinities of the area where they operate.
In Brazil many antagonists of nuclear power declare that our country does not need projects like the one in Angra dos Reis because we can count on the hydroelectric power provided by the innumerable plateau rivers within our territory. It is undeniable that most of the power available in Brazil is generated this way. But one cannot forget that hydroelectric power plants are not dependable in times of draught and the necessary investment to construct one of them is not easy to get in countries where scarcity of resources is a constant reality. The best sites where a hydroelectric plant can be built are generally far from the consuming centers and imply the creation of an extensive power line system. Moreover, the construction of their dams usually floods large areas of tropical forests and arable land causing the death of animals and the displacement of people.
But what are the advantages of nuclear power when compared to all other methods of generating electricity? After visiting Angra, you can learn that its pros are not to be looked over. The first thing is that the construction on nuclear power plant requires much less investment than a hydroelectric one. It occupies a very small area. Besides, it can be built anywhere, provided that there is water around to cool the reactors. The fuel necessary to generate energy is uranium and the power originated from the nuclear fission of its atoms produces an incredible amount of energy. As you have a massive concentration of power in very small quantities of uranium, the costs to produce energy decrease drastically.
Nuclear power plants certainly boast quite attractive advantages over other ways of having energy generated, but they also have their cons. Nevertheless, the downside of nuclear power can be very easily handled with strict safety measure and well trained personnel. The first concern that people may have when they think about nuclear energy is the possibility of accidents like the one in Chernobyl in 1986. It is nearly impossible that such a thing should occur in Angra dos Reis because the nuclear plants there operate with a system of the redundancies. The protective structure that involves the reactors is a good example of that. They are covered with successive layers of different materials such as concrete and steel. The outer layers are always on stand-by if the inner ones fail to contain a radioactive leak for example. The principle of redundancy is applied to all the processes in the power plants. Levels of radioactivity are carefully monitored and safety is something taken very seriously in all the areas of the plant.
Perhaps the most controversial point in the operation of a nuclear power plant is what to with nuclear wastes. So far the best solution to this problem has been the construction of deposits deep underground. That significantly raises the price of the project of nuclear power plant and must be considered at the initial stages of the project. Nevertheless, there has been a meaningful breakthrough in the technology of recycling uranium. In a near future, nuclear waste will be a less inconvenient problem in the production of electricity in nuclear power plants.
Another positive point in the Angra dos Reis nuclear power plants is the emphasis on the training of personnel. It takes at least four years before an employee gets the credentials that will allow him to work in the power plant control room. Prior to that phase, they are prepared in an internationally renowned training center where simulators replicate situations that they are to face in the control room of the actual power plants. In one of the residential villages for the plant workers, there is a center for environmental studies where biologists and chemists do researches on the impact of the plant activities on the environment.
Nuclear power is a relatively cheap way of generating electricity and there are other strategic developments associated to it. The manufacturing of other technological gadgets somehow related to nuclear fission are extremely important to the progress of science in Brazil. Besides, the manipulation of nuclear technology applied to the military field is undoubtedly of extremely important to our national security. If you are still skeptical about the importance of nuclear energy to the economic and scientific growth of our country, I recommend that you should visit our nuclear power plants in Angra dos Reis and reconsider your position.
Escrito por Carlos Henrique Vilas Boas às 19h58
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