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Nuclear Energy

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Nuclear energy by definition is the energy

consumed or produced in modifying the

composition of the atomic nucleus. Nuclear energy

is used for things such as atomic bombs, hydrogen

bombs and other nuclear weapons. Nuclear

energy can also be used for powering

electricity-generating plants all over the world.

There are many arguments for and against nuclear

power. Nuclear power is an inexpensive clean

source of power. Others feel that because of the

hazardous radiation emitted during the producing

of the power and the radioactivity of the material

used that nuclear power is not as good as the

alternatives which are fossil fuels and solar

power.(Hansen, 1993)

If matter changes state or composition, it is

accompanied by the production of energy.

Processes such as combustion produce energy by

rearranging the atoms or molecules of that

substance.(Brain, 1998) An example of this is the

combustion of methane (natural gas)

CH(4) + 2O(2) = CO(2) + 2H(2)O + energy

In this example the amount of energy released is

eight electron volts or 8 eV. The electron volt unit

is the unit used by nuclear physicists. The electron

volt represents the gain in kinetic energy when an

electron is accelerated through a potential drop of

one volt.(Brain, 1998)

The most common nuclear reaction is nuclear

fission. Nuclear fission is the process in which a

heavy nucleus combines with a neutron and

separates the heavy nucleus into two lighter

nuclei.(Roy, 1993) The most typical fission

reaction is that of uranium-235 it is as follows:

92 U235 + 1 neutron = 38 Sr96 + 54 XE138 + 2

neutrons + energy

Another type of nuclear reaction is nuclear fusion.

Nuclear fusion occurs when two light elements

combine to form a heavier atom.(Grisham, 1993)

An example of this is:

1 H(2) + 1 H(3) = 2 He(4) +1 neutron + energy

Nuclear Fission

Nuclear fission is a complex process, but many

products are formed during this process. Not only

the two nuclei but also neutrons, beta particles,

neutrinos and gamma rays are created during the

fission process.(Roy, 1993) There are more than

fifty different ways a nucleus may undergo fission.

Some of the ways are much more common than

others. During the fission process the nucleus

breaks into to unequal parts, one lighter fragment

and a heavier fragment. These nuclei are formed

with excess energy that they do not usually have in

their ground state they must lose the extra energy.

They release this extra energy in the form of

gamma radiation or sometimes neutron emission.

The primary fragments are rich in neutrons and are

radioactive. Uranium-235 which contains 92

protons and 143 neutrons are more likely to under

go fission when bombarded by low-energy

neutrons.(Hansen, 1993)

Nuclear Fission Used in Bombs

The fission process was discovered in the late

1930s. In late 1939 two scientists Otto Frisch and

Lise Meitner discovered the fissioning of uranium

into lighter particles while they were doing an

experiment involving neutron irradiation of

uranium. The possibility of a self-sustaining chain

reaction was apparent this caused an accelerated

rate of research.(Hansen, 1993)

The United States Government researched into the

possible applications of nuclear fission at the

beginning of World War II. In order for the

weapon to be able to work properly it would

require a self-sustaining fission reaction to be

created and also that an adequate amount of




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