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.
The most significant drawback on this controversial issue is the
threat of a disaster. The two most serious situations were the
accident at Chernobyl and the explosion of the hydrogen bomb on
Hiroshima. The first time that people discovered the dangers of
nuclear power was when the atomic bomb was dropped, August 6, 1945, on
Hiroshima. The effects of the bomb was that it destroyed 4.7 square
miles of the city. Approximately 70,000 people were killed and about
another 70,0000 people were injured. Many people died later as a
result of nuclear radiation and radiation sickness. (The World Book
Encyclopedia, 1990). The most serious nuclear disaster was the
Chernobyl accident that occurred April 26, 1986 in the Soviet Union.
(Medvedev, pp.83-89.). An accurate number of deaths as a result of
this accident is very hard to determine due to the secrecy of the
U.S.S.R. surrounding this accident. (Marples, 1996). A study done by
a team of scientists from both the United States and Japan has shown
that there has not been any evidence found of genetic mutation, which
are changes in heredity, in the children of the survivors of the
bombing of Hiroshima. (Science News, 1996).
Following the Chernobyl accident, Soviet scientists suggest that
there is evidence that radiation has exhibited genetic mutation in the
parents who were exposed to radiation. According to them, the
mutation was found in sperm and egg cells, which contain the genetic
building blocks of future generations. The child’s DNA is a
combination from both parents’ genetic makeup. When there is any
sequence that the child has, but that sequence was not found in either
parent, then this is called germline mutation. Ten years after the
accident that occurred at Chernobyl, evidence of mutation, in the
exposed areas of the country, indicates that radiation changed
genetic makeup and that this has passed onto future generations.
(Science News, 1996). Also, there has been an explosive increase in
childhood thyroid cancer in Belarus, Ukraine and the Russian
Federation since 1986. This cancer is present in brothers and sisters
of the same family, which indicates that the cancer is a result of the
accident at Chernobyl. (Balter, 1995).
Whether the atom is used for peace or for war, man must contend
with the hazards of nuclear radiation. This radiation may cause
burns, diseases, and death. It may harm future generations by causing
In peacetime, the escape of radioactive particles from nuclear
plants is the main radiation hazard. More nuclear power plants will
be built if a significant amount of the world’s power is to come from
uranium. As a result of these plants, huge amounts of radioactive
material will be produced. The power plants must take necessary
precautions to insure the communities are safe from the radiation that
In wartime, the most serious danger from radiation is near or
below the place where the atomic bomb has exploded. If people are not
killed by the bomb, then they have to deal with the radioactive
fallout. Even at a distance from the blast, the injury can be
The use of radiation has many positive attributes, but at the
same time, the significance of the drawbacks are overwhelming. No
government nor scientist can guarantee the safety of nuclear plants.
Without this guarantee, there is an immediate concern for the welfare
of the world. I believe countries around the world should begin a
gradual process of shutting down nuclear plants and begin making a
much greater effort to develop widespread use of other sources of
energy, such as wind and solar power.
In the last decade, public concern for the use of nuclear energy
has increased dramatically. Few can debate that nuclear energy is
clean, and can be produced without using hardly any natural resources.
Likewise, few can debate that radiation is harmful to the
environment, unsafe, and a great danger for all living things.
Scientists and mankind have to weigh the positive as well as the
negative aspects of nuclear radiation, and then decide what source of
energy the future holds that will benefit not only all living things,
but also the environment.
Balter, Michael. ( 1995). “Chernobyl’s Thyroid Cancer Toll.” Science.
vol. 270, no. 5243, pp. 1758-1759.
Demmin, Peter E. (1994). Reviewing Chemistry. Amsco School
Publications, Inc. New York. P. 85.
LeMay, Eugene H. Jr., Beall, Herbert, Robblee, Karen M., and Brower,
Douglas C. (1996). Chemistry Connections to Our Changing World.
Prentice Hall. New Jersey. Pp. 792-798.
Marples, David R. (1996). “The Decade of Despair.” The Bulletin of the
Atomic Scientist. vol.52, no.3, pp.22-31.
Medvedev, Grigori. (1991). The Truth About Chernobyl. Basic Books. A
Division of Harper Collins Publishers. pp. 83-89.
Science News. (1996). “Radiation Damages Chernobyl Children.” editors
of Science News. vol. 149, no. 17, p. 260.
Scientific American. (1995). “Disposing of Nuclear Waste.” Editors of
Scientific American. p. 177.
The Gale Encyclopedia of Science. (1996). Bridget Travers, editor. New
York. vol. 5, pp. 3008-3009.
The World Book Encyclopedia. (1990). Field Enterprises Educational
Corporation. Chicago. vol. 9 p. 230. and vol. 1 p. 832.