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Environmental impacts of nuclear power: past experience and future prospects

Environmental impacts of nuclear power: past experience and future prospects

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The environmental impacts of nuclear power generation are considered for the whole fuel cycle, from the mining of uranium to provide fuel for nuclear reactors right through to the disposal of radioactive wastes and the decommissioning of power stations. This is done for existing reactor types and possible future developments. The radiological impact of routine low level discharges of activity into the environment is small compared with that from natural background radioactivity, while risks to operators arising from exposure to ionising radiation are comparable with those experienced in other safe industries. The quantities of waste produced by the nuclear industry are modest compared with many other industries, and the disposal of most of it is a routine operation; the decommissioning of nuclear power stations at the end of their useful lives can be seen as a large waste management exercise. The potential for an accident in the UK, on the scale of the Chernobyl incident, is remote. Overall, nuclear power is well controlled and can be seen to have environmental benefits compared with other forms of power generation. Its many advantages include the reduction in greenhouse gases which contribute to global warming and other atmospheric pollutants which contribute to acid rain. Nuclear power adds desirable diversity to electricity supply, increasing the reliability of meeting energy needs.

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