Power plants are driven by fossil fuels that are in finite supply, such as coal, natural gas, and oil. The negative effects of power plants on the environment due to the use of these fuels are enormous; not only that, but there are also a variety of health problems associated with power plants and are not a long-term solution to energy needs.
As these fuels become harder to find, prices will rise and political problems associated with market manipulation from domestic and overseas sources will only increase.
In this article, we want to examine the negative effects of the power plant on the environment. Unfortunately, you won’t find this on your daily news website. The negative effects of power plants on the environment are real and serious. Here’s how they affect us all:
Table of Contents
10 Negative Effects of Power Plants on the Environment
Power plants can have a negative impact on the environment during their construction and operation. These effects will either be temporary or permanent and will include the following:
- Effect on the Soil
- Noise Pollution
- Increases Fossil Fuels
- Effect on Human Health
- Generation of waste
- Impact on Climate
- Air Pollution
- Impact on Marine Life
- It affects the Quality of Water
- Power Plants and I’ts auxiliary components take up space
1. Effect on the Soil
Fly ash from these plants will pollute the soil when it settles on land. This is certain to happen if the land to be used for the power plant is a ‘greenfield’ an undeveloped parcel with mostly vegetation (crops, pasture, or old-field vegetation). Sulfur dioxide SO2 from power plants is deposited as SO4 on the soil, which affects farming. It also has an impact on the land use patterns and population of an area.
2. Noise Pollution
There can be high noise levels due to the release of high-pressure steam and the running of fans, turbines, crushers, boilers, and motors. And regular exposure to such high noise levels emanating from power plants from the usage of this equipment, which is above the permissible environmental noise limit, affects people working in the plants and the population of the communities nearby the power stations.
3. Increases Fossil Fuels
A new power plant introduction provides us with more readily available power in the marketplace. As a result of more energy being readily available from fossil fuels, society has few incentives to conserve or to find more sustainable substitutes.
Feeding short-term demand by increasing fossil fuel power production does not provide a long-term solution. Conservation, energy efficiency increases, and the development of renewable power sources are the only real ways to break our unsustainable energy consumption and production cycles.
4. Effect on Human Health
Burning fossil fuels at power plants creates emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOX), particulate matter (PM), carbon dioxide (CO2), mercury (Hg), and other pollutants.
These chemical pollutants such as NOX and SO2 emissions contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone and fine PM, which can lead to respiratory such as asthma, chronic bronchitis, lung cancer, cardiovascular problems such as cardiac disease, congestive heart failure, and exposure to mercury can increase the possibility of neurological disorder, reproductive disruption damaging sperm cells, endocrine, and immune system damage.
On the contrary, the power sector has significantly reduced many of these pollutants over the past two decades, however, important health concerns persist. Minority, low-income, and indigenous populations frequently bear a disproportionate burden of these adverse health outcomes, including greater numbers of emergency room visits and hospital admissions, and possibly premature deaths.
5. Generation of waste
In the case of nuclear power stations high volume of waste is been generated, the solid high-level waste from nuclear power stations is hot and very radioactive, so must be isolated from people and the environment indefinitely.
It is stored for 40–50 years, during which the radioactivity decays to less than 1 percent of its original level. Then it is finally disposed of deep underground, well away from the biosphere.
6. Impact on Climate
On January 27, 2021, Climate Day, President Biden issued an Executive Order, entitled “Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad”, that addresses climate change policy and environmental justice.
The release of emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOX), particulate matter (PM), carbon dioxide (CO2), mercury (Hg), and other pollutants through fossil fuel combustion by the power plant is a major contributor to the gradual heating up of the earth’s temperature, as these pollutants are not just pollutants but are also classified as greenhouse gases, which absorb or trap heat from the sun, leading to global warming and finally to climate change.
7. Air Pollution
Power plants burn fossil fuels, which release several pollutants into the air. These pollutants include Sulfur Dioxide (SO ), Carbon Monoxide (CO), Oxides of Nitrogen (NOx), Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), and Ozone (O). Suspended Particulate Matter (SPM), lead, and non-methane hydrocarbons are also released.
Any combustion process is a source for the production of NOx. They are formed during the combustion of the nitrogen present in the fuel and the oxygen present in the air. The formation of NOx is greater with an increase in the combustion temperature.
Sulfur coal, is a common pollutant and the single-most significant source of acid rain, which has left hundreds of lakes unable to sustain life, Nitrogen oxides (NOx) from power plants vie with automobiles is the leading cause of smog, SPM from power plants are mainly soot, smoke, and fine dust particles and these cause asthma and respiratory illness.
Furthermore, power plants emit mercury, a neurotoxin that is now found in all our waterways, as well as millions of tons of carbon dioxide (CO2), the most significant greenhouse gas and a contributor to global climate change. These plants also emit arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, nickel, and chromium.
8. Impact on Marine Life
Rivers are often estuarine nurseries for many ocean fish species. There are millions of tiny fish eggs, larvae, and very young fish essentially adrift in the water, and therefore extremely vulnerable to power plant cooling water intakes. These small animals are often killed during their passage through a plant´s cooling system.
In certain species, reports document up to 60% mortality in a given year’s newborn fish stock due to power plants. Adult fish are also trapped and pinned to intake screens by the force of the suction. For instance, the Hudson River is an estuarine nursery for many ocean fish species.
There are millions of tiny fish eggs, larvae, and very young fish essentially adrift in the water, and hence extremely vulnerable to power plant cooling water intakes. These small animals are often killed by the passage through a plant´s cooling system.
In certain species, reports document up to 60% mortality in a given year´s newborn fish stock due to power plants. Adult fish are also trapped and pinned to intake screens by the force of the suction.
Also, in a coal power plant, water is used for washing coal, and circulates in the boiler furnace to produce steam and cooling of the equipment. The dust from coal-cleaned water contaminates groundwater. The hot water, if let out into water bodies without cooling, causes a rise in temperature and affects aquatic flora and fauna.
9. It affects the Quality of Water
Every day, millions of gallons of water are used to cool power plants! As this water is discharged back into the river, thermal (heat) pollution occurs. This plume of warmer water can create ice-free pockets in winter, which can attract and then trap many species when the flow slows or stops.
The hot water can add to eutrophication (oxygen deficiency) in the river during summer, thereby choking fish and aquatic life. The discharge of heavy metals and chlorine in cooling water also has a negative effect on river life. Also, water used for washing coal, if directly let into water bodies, will contaminate them and pollute them.
10. Power Plants and I’ts auxiliary components take up space
Power plants are massive industrial complexes that include natural gas pipelines, water intakes and discharges, coal delivery and storage systems, new transmission lines, and waste disposal sites, with buildings, stacks, and other structures on a scale that often dwarfs everything nearby. This is both on the ground and in the air.
The plant’s footprint on the ground eliminates opportunities for others to purchase or use the land. It can also affect the existing or future uses of adjoining and nearby land parcels. Nearby homes and sites of historic significance are devalued because of the plant’s inappropriate size, use, and architecture. The plant’s height may result in safety concerns for aircraft or visual impacts for local landowners.
The universe of community concerns, including environmental and health-related issues, must never be dismissed without an extremely compelling case for power. As this generation of heat and power is not sustainable, there is a need to implore another sustainable form of heat generation so as to secure and conserve the environment.
Negative Effects of Power Plants on the Environment-FAQs
What is the most harmful power plant?
The most harmful power plant is coal, accounting for 2.8–32.7 deaths per kilowatt-hour.
How does power plants cause global warming?
The process of generating heat or electricity by burning fossil fuels releases a large chunk of greenhouse gases, such as carbon (IV) oxide, nitrous oxide, etc., which are abundant in the atmosphere. These greenhouse gases act as a blanket to the earth, thereby trapping heat, which in the long run leads to an increase in the earth’s temperature, which is known as “global warming.”
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Ahamefula Ascension is a Real Estate Consultant, Data Analyst, and Content writer. He is the founder of Hope Ablaze Foundation and a Graduate of Environmental Management in one of the prestigious colleges in the country. He is obsessed with Reading, Research and Writing.