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Nuclear Energy

Another major form of energy is nuclear energy, the energy that is trapped inside each atom. One of the laws of the universe is that matter and energy can't be created nor destroyed. But they can be changed in form. Matter can be changed into energy. An atom's nucleus can be split apart, when this is done a tremendous amount of energy is released. The energy is both heat and light energy. Einstein said that a very small amount of matter contains a very Large amount of energy. This energy, when let out slowly, can be harnessed to generate electricity. When it is let out all at once, it can make a tremendous explosion as in an atomic bomb.

A nuclear power plant uses uranium as a "fuel." The word fission means to split apart. Inside the reactor of an atomic power plant, uranium atoms are split apart in a controlled chain reaction. In a chain reaction, particles released by the splitting of the atom go off and strike other uranium atoms splitting those. Those particles given off split still other atoms in a chain reaction. In nuclear power plants, control rods are used to keep the splitting regulated so that it doesn't go too fast. If the reaction is not controlled, you could have an atomic bomb. The reaction also creates radioactive material. This material could hurt people if released, so it is kept in a solid form.

Nuclear Hazards and Safety Measures

Nuclear radiations are so energetic that they can penetrate our bodies and cause irreparable damage to the cells. Such dangerous radiations must not be allowed to leak from the reactors. To prevent the leakage of radiations, reactors are shielded with thick concrete walls. But accidents can occur due to faulty design of the reactor or due to slight carelessness in operation.

Two major accidents have so far occurred in reactors; one in the U.S.A. at the nuclear power plant on the Three Mile Island and the other at Chernobyl in the erstwhile Soviet Union. The devastation caused by the toxic radiations released in these accidents to the present generation and possibly to future generations has not been fully assessed yet.

Apart from accidents, there are other serious dangers of harmful waste produced in various stages of the production of nuclear energy such as mining of uranium ore, enrichment of uranium and nuclear reactions inside the reactor. These processes generate a number of substances, collectively called as nuclear waste. These substances emit nuclear radiations, which pollute our environment. They cannot be stored or dumped in rivers and seas because they will then damage aquatic life. Nuclear waste products are, therefore stored in very thick concrete containers. But how much waste can we store and for how long? The disposal of nuclear waste is a serious problem and it has not been effectively tackled yet.

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