On August 6, 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima nearing the end of WWII. This use of nuclear energy created mass destruction in Japan. Nuclear energy is described as energy in the core of an atom, released as fission or fusion. Radioactive emissions from the bomb caused problems lasting years after such as cancer and radiation sickness.
Nuclear energy can be used for destruction but it can also be used for fueling our economy. Fission and fusion are the two types of ways nuclear energy can be produced. Simply put, fission is the splitting of an atom and fusion is the combining of atoms. Fusion, the source of energy in the stars, has nearly limitless amount of fuel supply once we learn how to control it in a confined space. Fusion also creates less radioactive material than fission. Nuclear energy is mostly used in the form of fission.
To generate electricity power plants control nuclear chain reactions, series of nuclear fissions, to produce the amount of heat desired. The isotope of uranium, U-235, is used as fuel in nuclear power plants because its bond is easier to break. This heat is then used as steam to spin a turbine.
Mechanical energy from the turbine is converted into electrical energy used to power our homes. In the United States 19.7 percent of power used is nuclear. Nuclear energy has tremendous potential but the knowledge in this area has yet to be harnessed. Nuclear energy is also the new and upcoming source of energy used for mass destruction in war.
The isotope of plutonium, Pu-239, is used for nuclear weapons. Nuclear explosions are thousands of times more powerful than conventional detonations, such as TNT. The energy from a nuclear weapon is 50 percent blast energy, 35 percent thermal energy, and 15 percent nuclear radiation.
One kilogram of nuclear fission fuel can release energy 20,000,000 times more than one kilogram of TNT (trinitrotoluene) used in conventional bombs. Radiation is also a big concern of using nuclear energy. Nuclear radiation is the process during which the nucleus of an unstable atom spontaneously breaks down in an attempt to form a more stable nucleus.
During a natural operation, nuclear power plants produce radioactive gases and liquid wastes. To decrease the radioactivity level, the radioactive material is stored. Radioactivity led to the discovery of nuclear fission, and most radioactive emissions are so energetic they can pass through many types of matter including skin and muscle. These emissions include alpha particles, beta particles, gamma ray emission, and positron emission. There are many reasons why and why we shouldn’t use nuclear energy. The use of nuclear energy doesn’t emit greenhouse gases.
Once built, nuclear power plants have low operating costs and nuclear waste is recyclable. The amount of fuel required by nuclear power plants is a lot less than what is required by other plants.When a new facility is opened it creates jobs. Even though nuclear waste is recyclable one big problem is what to do with it. Uranium is expensive to mine and can cause environmental contamination if not handled properly and fossil fuels are cheap. Uranium is also nonrenewable.
Nuclear reactors are costly to build. It costs about $6 billion to $8 billion to build a new one. They only last 40-60 years and it takes 20 years to decommission one. Nuclear stations need to be replaced every 50 years and it takes 6-12 years to build one. More nuclear reactors also mean more nuclear weapons. Nuclear energy has tremendous potential in the area of fueling our economy but seeing how it is so powerful, it can be built in a way to take down our economy. Nuclear energy has a lot of possibilities that science can’t wait to unleash.