Nuclear energy was discovered in the process of creating the atomic bomb. After scientists conducted more experiments, they found that nuclear power was a clean and efficient way to produce energy. “The first nuclear reactor was created on December 2, 1942, at the University of Chicago by Enrico Fermi.” (Editors of Scientific America, 1995). The discovery of nuclear energy provided a new source of energy and an alternative to the use of natural resources: such as coal, oil, water, and wood. At the same time, nuclear energy could be used in a destructive way, such as the atomic bomb.
At that time, the discovery of a new source of energy was a very significant event. By using a small amount of plutonium and uranium, two radioactive elements, an enormous amount of energy could be obtained. Nuclear energy can be produced in two different ways, by the fission or fusion process. Fission involves the breaking up of heavier atoms into lighter atoms. In a nuclear fission reaction, two smaller nuclei of approximately equal mass are formed from the splitting of a large nucleus. This splitting of an atom produces a large amount of energy. This process is the most common form of nuclear power. Fusion is a method that combines lighter atoms into heavier atoms. In a nuclear fusion reaction, a large nucleus is formed from two small nuclei joined together. Fusion reactions are difficult to produce because of the repulsion of the atom’s negatively charged electron clouds and the positively charged nucleus. (LeMay, Beall, Robblee, Brower, 1996). Fusion is mostly used to create the hydrogen bomb. (The World Book Encyclopedia, 1990). The byproduct of nuclear energy is radiation. Radiation is created from the particles (strontium-90, cesium-137, radon-222, krypton-85, and nitrogen-16) that are given off as a result of the splitting of atoms. (Gale Encyclopedia of Science, 1996) (Demmin, 1994).
As time went on, the attitudes of people towards nuclear energy changed. There were many positive and negative aspects for the use of nuclear power. Recently, people worldwide have started questioning the continued use of nuclear power. Due to the deaths resulting from the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear reactor accident, as well as the adverse effect the aftermath of the accident had on the environment, there has been a public outcry concerning the safety of society. As with many controversial issues, this topic has been widely debated, but a solution has not been determined.
The positive aspects of the use of nuclear energy are that the supply of natural resources does not have to be depleted, and also it is clean. It takes a great amount of natural resources to create a small amount of energy. On the other hand, a very small amount of plutonium and uranium is necessary for the creation of a large amount of nuclear energy. This is important since there are relatively small amounts of plutonium and uranium in the earth’s crust. Compared to the production of power using coal, the creation of power generated by nuclear energy does not pollute the air. As coal burns, there are poisonous fumes that could cause sickness, if the area is not properly ventilated. As the cost of electricity rose, the government was forced to look for an alternative source of energy, which they discovered in nuclear reactors.
One of the major disadvantages of a reactor is the disposal of the nuclear waste which harms the environment. “There are 434 nuclear reactors in the world and 110 of them are in the United States.” (Wasserman, 1996) Not a single one is functioning without polluting the environment. Attempts to store nuclear wastes have not been very successful. One such attempt is to bury the nuclear waste underground, but the leakage of nuclear waste has poisoned the groundwater. Another attempt is to put the nuclear waste into deep ocean water. Later, this was rejected by the public and also, in violation of an international treaty because of the possibility of harming the ocean. Another problem to the environment is the leakage of radioactive waste from space. This problem is not pollution to the earth’s environment, but pollution of space. There is no way to dispose of the nuclear waste in space.