The Uncertain Future of Nuclear Power Essay

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The Uncertain Future of Nuclear Power

Dwight Eisenhower launched the Atoms for Peace initiative in 1953 with a bold declaration: “the atom stands ready to become man’s obedient, tireless servant, if man will only allow it” (Joppke 709). After a frenzied ride on the coattails of the development of the atomic bomb, nuclear power was poised as the technology of the future, human ingenuity powering growth in a new era. Half a century and a few oil wars later, the United States stands proud as a first-world bastion of antinuclear sentiment. This swing in public opinion, effected by the accident at Three Mile Island, debates over nuclear-arms proliferation, and concerns over nuclear waste storage, has left nuclear power at an uncertain
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It was not until June of 1932 that this mass-energy conversion was managed in a laboratory. John D. Cockroft and Ernest T. S. Walton collided artificially-accelerated protons with Lithium nuclei, causing the Lithium nuclei to split into Helium nuclei ( ). The process released terrific amounts of energy, validating Einstein’s equation with the first laboratory disintegration of stable nuclei by proton bombardment (Scientific History). In a 1933 experiment, Irène and Frédéric Joliot-Curie became the first to photograph the process (fig. 1). The same year, Leo Szilard, a Hungarian-American physicist, imagined chain-reactions of splitting nuclei, releasing massive amounts of energy (Adler 158). This is essentially the reaction that drives the atomic bomb. Although in complete scientific infancy, the field of nuclear power was already in contentious coexistence with the field of nuclear weaponry.

In February of 1936, Niels Bohr published his Compound Nucleus Theory. Up to that point, the nucleus had been viewed as a single entity instead of a collection of protons and neutrons. Conceptually, this was a large step forward. One can imagine a single particle colliding with the compound nucleus, dispersing its energy amongst the protons and neutrons. This extra energy makes the nucleus unstable and forces it to decay and release energy (Scientific