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Radioactive Pollution and its Impact on Wildlife, Ecosystems and Humans
Radioactive pollution occurs when radioactive substances are released into the atmosphere during nuclear explosions, weapon production, mining of radioactive materials, accidents at nuclear power plants and many more. The destruction that radioactive pollution causes depends upon many factors, such as energy emitted by the radiation, type of radiation, closeness of those who are exposed to the radiation, etc. Here are its causes and effects on wildlife, ecosystems and humans.
Causes of radioactive pollution
1. Disasters in nuclear power generation facilities
Nuclear energy is considered one of the most potent energy sources due to its high power. But it also poses significant challenges, such as nuclear accidents and other risks. The world’s first nuclear disaster occurred on April 26, 1986, in Chernobyl, Ukraine (former Soviet Union). A sudden increase in power caused an explosion and fire in the plant, spreading radiation to many parts of Europe and the western soviet union.
Another significant nuclear accident happened in Fukushima, Japan, on March 11, 2011. The cause of the accident was the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami that led to failure in the electric grid, which shut down reactors and resulted in the nuclear accident.
2. Use of nuclear weapons for mass destruction
During the Second World War, a race to make nuclear weapons between countries started, which culminated with the successful creation of the atomic bomb by J. Robert Oppenheimer and his team. The newly invented atomic bomb was used by the United States of America in two cities of Japan- Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which ended the Second World War in 1945, and we still find its effects. Even today, many children are born with complications such as mental retardation in these cities. You will get to learn more about this incident in your science textbook, particularly in the best schools in Nalagarh.
3. Spillage of radioactive chemicals
You might have heard about the incidents of spillages in the ocean due to accidents. These accidents lead to the release of chemicals into the ocean, which cause threats to aquatic organisms. But most people don’t know that most of this spillage constitutes petroleum products, which are highly radioactive and cause danger to the ocean ecosystem.
4. Studies on radiation
Radiation plays a vital role when it comes to the treatment of cancer. We have harnessed the power of radiation through chemotherapy to obstruct the growth of uncontrolled cells in the body. Although there are many benefits to radiation, scientists working on it are at greater risk of getting exposed to it. Marie Curie, the first woman to win a Nobel prize, developed aplastic pernicious anaemia due to prolonged exposure to radiation during her work, which led to her death at the age of 66.
5. Nuclear disposal handling
When radioactive waste is not handled, stored or managed properly, it leads to radioactive pollution. This waste is generated from hospitals, nuclear power plants, research institutions, laboratories, nuclear weapon production, etc. If nuclear waste is not treated properly, the radioactive isotopes within it get leached into the groundwater, contaminating it and making it unfit for consumption.
Effects of radioactive pollution on wildlife, ecosystem and human beings
The soil that gets contaminated by the radioactive substances transfers its harmful effects to the plants growing on it. These plants undergo mutation, which affects their normal functioning. While some plants die due to radioactive pollution, some develop weak seeds. Eating fruits or any part of these plants causes potential health risks to animals, such as genetic mutation and reproductive issues. Also, when one animal eats contaminated plants, it accumulates in their body and can reach the entire food chain. Similarly, when radioactive material is leaked into water sources such as lakes, ponds, rivers and oceans, it can affect the entire aquatic life, from fish to coral and everything in between.
The effect of radioactive pollution on humans depends on several factors, such as the magnitude of exposure and duration of exposure. Low levels of exposure lead to issues, such as skin irritation, but long exposure can cause nausea, diarrhoea and many others. However, it can cause serious health problems if someone is exposed to a high level of radioactive radiation for a long time, such as cancer. Hisashi Ouchi, a nuclear fuel plant worker in Japan, was the first person in the world who was exposed to a high level of nuclear radiation when an accident occurred at the plant. After the accident, he got severely sick and suffered from multiple complications, which included organ failure and infections, and unfortunately died after 83 days.
The key takeaways
At last, radioactive pollution causes widespread damage to wildlife, ecosystems and humans, as discussed above. Therefore, it requires cooperation from governments, industries and communities. We should collectively work to address the challenges it poses and make a safe environment for every living creature.