Atomic Energy Essay, Research Paper
Science Fair – Atomic Energy
December 2, 1996
Atomic Power. Devastation. Destruction. Danger.
These are 3 common words that is often misleading and tangled up with atomic power.
The 3 “D”s that I just stated make atomic power look cruel. Misleading because in fact
atomic energy is very clean and extremely useful. There are, however, many questions to
be answered in atomic energy. Like, for example, how does it work? What are its major
uses and how did it come about? And most importantly, what is the reality of the
“Danger” we often associate with it? There are many other questions, but in my report I
will try to answer these basic questions.
Nuclear power is very important in the US, among other countries. First, it aids with
electric output. In fact, 12% of all of our electrical energy comes from nuclear power.
The US in #1 in the consumption of electrical energy in the world with 10 to the 9th
power x 1,614 kilowatt hours. Russia places second on the list. With 78 power plants
producing electrical energy by atomic fission, the US is quite dependent on atomic
energy. The world also depends on atomic energy, Russia being heavily involved with
atomic power. The production of electricity is probably the most important
advantage/use of atomic power. Secondly, atomic power plants require less land
compared to coal. Also, they do not release harmful chemicals into the air. The only
form of pollution that an atomic power plant produces is thermal, which can be reused or
cooled. Radioactivity, I will get to later, is another byproduct of this power. But if stored
correctly and handled correctly poses a less than serious threat to the environment.
Lastly, it is actually cheaper to run a nuclear plant than coal, oil, or natural gas. Atomic
power requires so much less fuel that coal, oil, or natural gas.
” Atomic energy began with scientists and engineers taking part in World War II for
the Manhatten Project under the football stands of Chicago University.” (Keifer 11) The
first demonstration of this kind of atomic power was the uranium fission bomb. “On
August 6, 1945 that bomb destroyed an area of 45 square miles and killed more than
90,000 men, women, and children and also injured many more.” (Weiss 19) Three days
later a bomb fueled with plutonium was dropped on Nagasaki. The same damages
A few key names to know who were involved with the splitting of the atom are Enrico
Fermi and Leo Szilard. Atomic energy is released by splitting an atom. Heat energy is
released in great amounts. Enrico Fermi was the first to split an atom by bombarding it
with neutrons. He also discovered that if you place water between the bombarding
neutrons and the element being bombarded itself, you could release even more energy.
The result of this would be the nuclei of Uranium fissions, atoms split producing heat
energy and water used as a moderator and coolant. “Leo Szilard (of London) came up
with an idea that by breaking apart one nuclei with one neutron, this could emit two
neutrons, then four, then eight, and so on, producing what we call today a chain retain.”
(18) Szilard later worked with Fermi create such a reaction and in 1939 on television
flashes of light showed the reaction was a success. But even the fact that the experiment
worked, there were two German scientists that had done it a year earlier but with the
secretive government of Germany would not release the information. These same ideas
of chain reactions that Szilard, Fermi, and the two German scientists produced in the late
1930’s are what occurs in a standard nuclear fission reactor of today.
Even though the majority of the facts point to atomic energy as being safe and clean
there are dangers to be aware of, and these dangers are what make people so paranoid of
atomic power. The first is radiation (mentioned earlier, a byproduct waste material of
nuclear energy). Radiation is a scary thought mainly because you can not see it, touch it,
taste it, or hear it. But it can, at certain levels and exposures, cause cancer. This may not
show up for spans of time. It is also dangerous to future generations, it interferes with
reproductive cells. But even with radiation, it is very difficult to pick up large doses.
You may not realize it, but radiation is all over. In your body, on a TV screen,
microwave oven, and even computers, but it hardly effects you. Radiation can even
come from the sun or a rock! A large radiation count could be picked up if you are
within ten miles of a meltdown. Most likely, if a meltdown ever occurred, it would be
contained immediately and no fatalities would occur. “TMI (Three Mile Island) near
Harrisburg, PA overheated causing a national debate over nuclear power in the US. This
caused public anxiety, but few radioactivity levels were recorded.” (Kiefer 6) It was that
accident that lead to the downfall of nuclear power in the United States.
Atomic energy not only aids in electrical energy, but in many other uses. Nuclear
reactors are used in submarines and surface ships as propulsion (pressurized water
reactors). Advantages were that subs could stay underwater for longer without
resurfacing. Also, greater speed advantage for both surface ships and submarines. In the
US today there are well over 100 nuclear submarines. Later on, a merchantship, The
Nautilus, used this form of power. Rocket propulsion started in the 1950’s in the NASA
program. Atomic energy also aides in helping doctors diagnose and treat cancer.
Radiation brought advantages in agriculture. Industry also had an advantage.
Atomic energy is an important part of modern life. Technology is based around it.
Overall, it is cheaper, cleaner, and generally the better source of electrical power. It
produces far more energy at a lower cost than fossil fuel. Also at a low cost of pollution.
We have yet to learn about this type of power, but the dawning of the atomic age brought
a new age of technology. Atomic energy is the advanced way to go in the future
generation of the planet.