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Essay on Atomic Energy
Harry Manoni

Science Fair - Atomic Energy

December 2, 1996

Mr. Morgan

Atomic Energy

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


Manoni 2

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.

Manoni 3

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.
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