An atom is the tiniest component of any element. However, it contains a massive quantity of energy. There is a process known as fission, which involves splitting atoms. The fission process generates an enormous amount of light and heat. An example of the fission process was witnessed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. The dreadful terror stimulated through the two bombs on international community condemned the use of atomic weapons for the future.
However, scientists, engineers and governments are still trying to control and harness the energy of atoms. If ever it would be feasible to control fission energy it would be a revolutionary concept for world’s energy markets. It is even possible that one day nuclear energy could supersede fossil fuels. The first time ever that nuclear fission was used to produce electricity was in 1951 at the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory.
History of Nuclear Energy For America
The history of nuclear energy started with two dreadful atomic blasts in the final phase of the World-War II in 1945. However, it did not take long until nuclear energy turned into sources of energy. The first time nuclear energy was used to produce energy was in 1951. Only 3 years after in 1954, an Atomic Energy Act was passed to promulgate nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. This act was further enforced in 1957 by the establishment of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), an institution developed to assure that nuclear energy was used for peaceful purposes. They were responsible for inspecting various systems and to ensure that nuclear materials are only used for peaceful purposes and not for military use. This institute was subsequently substituted by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Energy Research and Development Administration. The Commission has since 1977 been known as the US Department of Energy.
In the late 1960s commercial nuclear power plants became a reality. There were a large number of commercial orders geared to establish nuclear power reactors in the United States at that time. However, fear appealed once again upon nuclear power in 1979. The Three Mile Island Facility in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania experienced a meltdown in one reactor. Attention was highlighted on the potential danger of radioactive materials that might kill or damage living tissues. It was forecasted that nuclear energy might have other more severe dangers lurking in the pipeline.
April 1986 confirmed this extremely severe danger of nuclear energy. Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the former Soviet Union experienced a complete meltdown of its reactor. The outcome of the detonation of radioactive materials was massive environmental damage. The aftermath of Chernobyl, led to a drastic fall in public support for nuclear energy.
Aftermath of Chernobyl in 1986
Nevertheless, during the recent 15 years, technological development has rendered nuclear reactors much safer. This has given nuclear energy a greater support in contributing to world’s energy supply. Nuclear energy has some benefits in comparison to fossil fuel, like the absence of greenhouse gas (carbon dioxide). However, the public resistance for nuclear energy is currently high.
More Information about Nuclear Energy
In order to create a nuclear fission some radioactive elements that are manmade or found naturally in our environment are required. The most widely used element for splitting atoms is Uranium. There are two main types of Uranium used (isotopes) U-235 and U-238. U-235 is the category of Uranium used for nuclear fission. It is used because it can easily split atoms and produce tremendous energy. The other type U-238 is barely radioactive. However, the world’s reserve of energy is mostly constituted of U-238, and less than a percent of the Uranium is U-235.
Other Sources of Nuclear Energy
The only alternatives for Uranium are Thorium and Plutonium. Plutonium utilized in nuclear reactors is manmade and derived from the nuclear reactor itself. Plutonium is not as safe as U-235 and much more complicated to use. The other alternative is Thorium. It has not yet turned into a widely used component for nuclear energy supply. However, it is being intensely scrutinized and is considered as a cleaner and safer option to Uranium. The most widely substance used in nuclear energy is still Uranium.
Other Challenges of Nuclear Energy
The hardest challenge of nuclear energy is to avoid environmental damage. Nuclear disasters like 1986 Chernobyl led to the disposal of extremely radioactive waste. The radioactive waste will take approximately 10,000 years until it is fully broken down into safe elements. It is a great challenge to store these waste materials for such a long time. The issue of storing radioactive waste is possible but where and how are questions that remain unresolved.
Another major short-term trouble is the depletion of Uranium. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development says that exploitable Uranium reserves will only last for roughly 60 years. A high demand for Uranium would render it expensive and therefore, unattractive as a global source of energy.
Governments are emphasizing more on nuclear energy today as the mushrooming global energy demand is peaking year- on- year. The potential power of Uranium might anticipate energy demand for some years. According to Energy Information Agency, in the league of Nuclear energy, United States top the list as the largest exploiter of Uranium followed by France, Japan, Germany and Russia. United States has 103 nuclear power plants. These plants produce approximately 20 tons of radioactive spent fuel per annum. The waste (spent fuel) is stored in cooling pools or rather temporary storages until alternatives are figured-out. No one knows yet what do to with the radioactive waste derived from nuclear energy plants.
Nuclear Fusion; More Promising Energy
There is another dimension of nuclear energy. It uses the same process as our sun or another star that gives life in a galaxy. It is called nuclear fusion. Fusion occurs when two lighter elements are fused together to produce a heavier element. This could be hydrogen fused to produce helium. The fusion process is only feasible under gigantic pressure and heat. It does also generate an unimaginable quantity of energy from light, heat and other radiations.
All stars in the universe are powered through nuclear fusion of hydrogen. The core of the sun transforms hydrogen into helium at an extraordinary heat of roughly 10 to 15 million degree Celsius. The fusion process emits enough energy to maintain life on earth. One type of energy released through the sun’s fusion is sunlight. However, sun’s nuclear fusion is also responsible for all other chemical elements present on earth.
Only 7 years after the Atomic explosion in Japan, in 1952 a hydrogen bomb was developed and tested by the United States. Fusing process of hydrogen atoms was slightly imitated. This hydrogen bomb could generate thousands of times the energy that conventional nuclear fission would produce. A single hydrogen bomb released would generate energy tantamount to 5 times the energy released by all the bombs used during the Second World War. It is auspicious that hydrogen bombs have not yet been used in warfare.
It is extremely difficult to produce a perfect simulation of the fusion process in the sun. The positive aspect about fusion energy over fission energy is that there are no dangerous radiation side effects. However, the main constraint is to initiate a fusion reaction in a small area, which can reach 180,000,000 degrees Fahrenheit. We do not yet have any substance that can support such a heat. All substances will either vaporize or meltdown at a few thousand degrees celsius.
Interesting Facts about Nuclear Energy
1. One Kilogram of Uranium fuel can provide an equal amount of energy as 100 metric tons of coal.
2. Plutonium is a man made substance. It is generated from U-238 Uranium’s by modifying it with other particles inside a nuclear reactor.
3. If fusion energy would be used to provide world’s energy supply the source materials would be enough to sustain energy for millions of years.