Nuclear Power and Radioisotopes

1 January 2017

Radioisotopes are considered as a double-edged sword. They can be the greatest innovation in science, or the cause of death. Radioisotopes are isotopes that are produced artificially or naturally through the process of synthesis and separation. These combinations of protons and neutrons are unstable and give off a radioactive wave. Radioisotopes can be used for many different functions such as an atomic bomb or to help in the field of medicine. They are very important and without them, doctors would have lost a very important tool.

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In the field of medicine, radioisotopes are used to provide information about the functioning of a person’s specific organs or to treat disease. The idea of using radioisotopes is to “image internal structures and processes” in the human body (Ioffe). This is similar to using an X-rays. The advantage to using radioisotopes is that it can show all of the internal structures. X-rays can only see hard tissue like bones but radioisotopes can show a diagram of all soft tissue like muscle. Radioisotopes are not only limited to imaging processes. Another use is to treat diseased organs or tumors by “killing cancerous cells” (Ioffe).

This process is called radiation therapy. Some examples of the radioisotopes in this process are “Iodine-131, phosphorus-32” and for “more radical uses, Boron-10 to specifically attack tumor cells” (Ioffe). In the process, radioactive elements are inserted near the tumor. Radiation is more harmful to growing cells and cancerous cells grow at an uncontrolled rate, giving them a disadvantage to radiation exposure. The cancerous will start to be destroyed and when it is all gone, there is no chance for the tumor to grow back again. An important factor in radiation therapy is that the radiation kills all cells indiscriminately.

Although it is impossible to control the isotope to only kill the bad cells, the hope is that the radiation kills off more cancerous cells and less of the healthier cells. Without Radioisotopes, tumors would have to be removed in a different way. Tumors would have to be surgically removed. The down side to this process is that if all of the cancerous cells were not removed, the tumor has a chance of growing again. Making diagrams of the internal structure would also be hindered without radioisotopes. Technologies such as MRI scanners and CAT scans would not exist without radioisotopes.

These clearer and more advanced imaging would not be available. Without radioisotopes, the field of medicine would have been left in a huge disadvantage. Although radioisotopes can be very beneficial, it has caused a lot of controversy throughout the world. Using radioisotopes causes radioactive waste. All isotopes have half-lives, the time taken until the amount is half of the initial amount. Half-lives can vary from each isotope. There are isotopes that have low half-lives where level of radiation “drops to less than 1% of the original amount in a matter of hours or days” (Newton).

These can be stored safely until the amount can be safely thrown away. Other isotopes have half-lives over a millennium such as Uranium-235 which has a half-life of 713,000,000 years (Newton). These radioisotopes continue to emit harmful radiation for practically forever. To safely dispose of such long lasting isotopes require “burying them deep in the earth, a procedure that still has not been satisfactorily demonstrated” (Newton). There is no way to safely dispose of or to store these isotopes. As a result, the environment is harmed by the radiation that will never fade.

These long lasting radioisotopes also happen to frequently be used in nuclear energy plants, which is also a very controversial topic. The energy given is a great amount but with dangers. Chernobyl and Fukushima are examples the negative side of nuclear energy. When disaster stuck, much off the radiation started to affect the environment and the people. Chernobyl had to be evacuated and even now after twenty-five year, the area is still dead. There is much fear that comes with radioisotopes and how they are used. There are not only positive results that come with using radioisotopes. Many problems can be created.

Radioisotopes can also help out the future generations of humanity. As mentioned before, the nuclear power plants causes’ controversy, but it also produces solid results. The world faces a problem with pollution. Nuclear energy, however, produces no pollution from the process of creating energy. Today, the energy produced by nuclear power plants exceeds “360 gigawatts” (Merriman). This is a huge amount of energy that makes clean energy as well; much different than fossil fuels that creates many tons of carbon waste. For a better future, carbon emissions have to be cut down. Nuclear energy is also gaining popularity.

Overseas and in Britain, “by 1990 it was obtaining more than 70 percent of its electricity” through nuclear energy (Merriman). This is an example of the potential that nuclear energy has. Over half of the electricity supplied in a whole nation was coming from nuclear energy. The future generations will gain a great asset to obtaining a clean and powerful energy source. Radioisotopes can be used for various functions. The isotopes can also cause many problems. The question is whether the isotopes give more than it takes away. As a chemistry student, I feel that radioisotopes are very important.

They are the reasons why such advance technologies in medicine and energy are available. Even though there are negative aspects in using the radioisotopes, the benefits outweigh the downsides. Radioisotopes can kill the patient when applied too much dosage, but without radioisotopes, there may not have been a chance for recovery. That should make incentive for more research to go into radioisotopes and making them safer. There is no reason to be afraid of them. With more research, the safety of using radioisotopes can be increased. There are present dangers to using radioisotopes but it is still beneficial to use them

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