Uranium was discovered in 1789 by Martin Klaproth, a German chemist.
Work in Nuclear Energy has been on since 1895. However, it was the last six years leading to 1945, that saw a lot of strides. To mention a few:
Ionising radiation was discovered by Wilhelm Rontgen in 1895,
Then in 1896 Henri Becquerel found that pitchblende (an ore containing radium and uranium) caused a photographic plate to darken, due to beta radiation (electrons) and alpha particles (helium nuclei) being emitted.
1911 Frederick Soddy discovered that naturally-radioactive elements had a number of different isotopes (radionuclides), with the same chemistry.
It is important to note that the strides taken in understanding atom (as listed above), helped greatly in the development of Nuclear Energy.
By March 1941 one of the most uncertain pieces of information was confirmed - the fission cross-section of U-235. Peierls and Frisch had initially predicted in 1940 that almost every collision of a neutron with a U-235 (Uranium 235) atom would result in fission, and that both slow and fast neutrons would be equally effective. It was later discerned that slow neutrons were very much more effective, which was of enormous significance for nuclear reactors but fairly academic in the bomb context. Peierls then stated that there was now no doubt that the whole scheme for a bomb was feasible provided highly enriched U-235 could be obtained.
Results of the study, led to two conclusion: the enriched Uranium could be used for power generation, and bomb making: Thus the rise of the Manhattan Project, followed by the Nuclear arms race of the cold war era.
Nuclear Fission : nuclear fission is a nuclear reaction in which the nucleus of an atom splits into smaller parts, often producing free neutrons and lighter nuclei, which may eventually produce photons (in the form of gamma rays). Fission of heavy elements is an exothermic reaction which can release large amounts of energy both as electromagnetic radiation and as kinetic energy of the fragments (heating the bulk material where fission takes place). Fission is a form of nuclear transmutation because the resulting fragments are not the same element as the original atom.
Nuclear fission produces energy for nuclear power and to drive the explosion of nuclear weapons. Both uses are made possible because certain substances called nuclear fuels undergo fission when struck by free neutrons and in turn generate neutrons when they break apart. This makes possible a self-sustaining chain reaction that releases energy at a controlled rate in a nuclear reactor or at a very rapid uncontrolled rate in a nuclear weapon.
Nuclear Fusion : nuclear fusion is the process by which multiple like-charged atomic nuclei join together to form a heavier nucleus. It is accompanied by the release or absorption of energy, which allows matter to enter a plasma state. Nuclear fusion occurs naturally in stars. Artificial fusion in human enterprises has also been achieved, although has not yet been completely controlled.
The rising cost of energy, effects of green gas emission, and the dependence of foreign oil, has prompted many to think of other sources of energy. One of the energy sources under consideration, is Nuclear Energy.
Nuclear energy (if harnessed) has the potential to meet a lot of human needs, with regards to energy generation, and greenhouse gas emission.
However, there exists a strong opposition against the accession of Nuclear energy, as the main energy source in US.
Radiation Poisoning : This is perhaps one of the biggest issues plaguing Nuclear energy. Radiation Poisoning is a form of damage to organ tissue due to excessive exposure to ionizing radiation. The term is generally used to refer to acute problems caused by a large dosage of radiation in a short period, though this also has occurred with long term exposure. In the Chernobyl accident of 1986, as many as 200,000 people took in high doses of radiation poison.
Water use : Uranium mining can use large amounts of water - for example, the Roxby Downs mine in South Australia uses 35 million litres of water each day and plans to increase this to 150 million litres per day. In a world that finds itself (increasingly) in need of water for other needs that statistic poses problems.
Waste :One of the biggest disadvantages of nuclear energy is the waste. Although the output of waste is relatively small, it releases harmful radiation as it decays. There is no method to get rid of the radioactivity of the waste or speed up the rate of decay. The waste must be sealed and buried in a safe location to prevent contamination of the environment and other people. Currently, there are no suitable locations that provide a permanent storage site for nuclear waste.
There are 104 commercial nuclear power plants producing 20 percent of all electricity and over 70 percent of the emission-free electricity generated in the United States. They are located at 64 sites in 31 states.
More than 400 nuclear power plants worldwide produce 16 percent of the world’s electricity—while reducing CO2 emissions by more than 2 billion metric tons per year.
Nuclear energy supplies electricity each year to serve 60 million homes.
Nuclear energy has one of the lowest environmental impacts of any electricity source. For example, a wind farm would need 235 square miles to produce the same amount of electricity as a 1,000-megawatt nuclear power plant.
Nuclear energy is by far the nation’s largest source of electricity that does not emit any controlled air pollutants, providing 73 percent of the electricity from all carbon-free sources, including hydroelectric, wind and solar.
Nuclear power plants provide low-cost, predictable power at stable prices and are essential in maintaining the reliability of the U.S. electric power system.
Nuclear power plants are able to produce abundant and low cost energy source because they use an enriched form of uranium for fuel. One uranium fuel pellet – the size of the tip of your little finger – is equivalent to 17,000 cubic feet of natural gas, 1,780 pounds of coal, or 149 gallons of oil.
You would have to live near a nuclear power plant for over 2,000 years to get the same amount of radiation exposure that you get from a single diagnostic medical x-ray.
There are nearly 100 different nuclear medicine imaging procedures available today. An estimated 10 to 12 million nuclear medicine imaging and therapeutic procedures are performed each year in the United States.