The Miracles of Nuclear Fission and Fusion Nuclear fission and fusion promise an abundance of rare compounds and

a clean, efficient alternative to burning oil for energy. By bombarding a heavy nucleus with slow neutrons, nuclear fission may be achieved, and the nucleus will split apart. By inducing the collision of multiple nuclei with medium masses, nuclear fusion may be achieved, and a larger nucleus will form. These processes are highly essential to life on Earth. The research which has been conducted on the subjects of nuclear fission and nuclear fusion has been very interesting, educational, and important. Firstly, they are interesting because the mere thought of melding together and breaking apart nuclear particles is one which inspires the hearts and minds of people everywhere. This is not surprising, considering that nuclear fission may produce rarities such as gold from otherwise valueless elements such as lead. Secondly, they are educational because the breakthroughs which have made nuclear power plants possible have educated mankind about the nature of elements. Scientists now know that elements are not simply separate entities but can be converted into other elements. Lastly, the processes involved in nuclear fission and fusion are extremely important to the Earth and human race. A large number of critical compounds will soon be used up. Nuclear fission and fusion brings hope to the equation, because abundant elements can be put together or broken apart to form more atoms of specific elements. Then, the newly formed atoms may be bound to form rare and useful compounds. Also, the processes of nuclear fission and fusion create so much energy that environment-polluting oil would be obsolete. One can see that nuclear fission and fusion are extremely important to life on Earth. Perhaps nuclear fission and fusion can be better appreciated through the understanding of their history and methods. The first nuclear reaction was one which was neither efficient nor

useful. Enrico Fermi, an Italian physicist, was a pioneer in the field of nuclear physics. In 1938, Fermi won the Nobel Prize in Physics for his “demonstrations of the existence of new radioactive elements produced by neutron irradiation, and for his related discovery of nuclear reactions brought about by slow neutrons” (Wikipedia). However, he was not the first to successfully perform nuclear fission. On December 17, 1938, Otto Hahn, jointly with Lise Meitner and Fritz Strassmann, bombarded a uranium nucleus with several neutrons to produce traces of the element barium. Although the experiment was a significant advancement in the study of nuclear physics, the reaction was very impractical. Enrico Fermi is best known for his research and work on the first nuclear reactor. In 1942, Fermi, along with his associates Martin Whittaker and Walter Zinn, supervised the construction and operation of Chicago Pile-1 (CP-1). The world’s first successful artificial and self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction was initiated by CP-1 on December 2, 1942. The experiment changed how the world looked at nuclear reactions. Further research was conducted to discover more efficient and safe methods to induce nuclear fission, leading to the world’s first electricity-generating nuclear power plant, Experimental Breeder Reactor I (EBR-I). All of the scientists’ research and work led to the general consensus that nuclear fission is when “a very heavy nucleus splits into more-stable nuclei of intermediate mass” (Davis 717). For example, to split a uranium-235 nucleus, one must bombard the nucleus with slow neutrons. The uranium-235 nucleus may capture one of the neutrons, making it highly unstable. The nucleus splits into two medium-mass parts with the emission of more neutrons. The mass of the products is less than the mass of the reactants, therefore, the missing mass has been converted to energy, according to Einstein’s equation (E=mc2).

Although nuclear fission has been harnessed and is employed in nuclear power plants, safe nuclear fusion remains a mystery to scientists. The process of nuclear fusion emits even more energy per gram of fuel than nuclear fusion, making it ideal to use in nuclear weapons, but unsafe for electricity production. Stars, including our sun, utilize nuclear fusion naturally to produce helium nuclei. Scientists have yet to overcome the obstacles that stand in the way of safe nuclear fusion on Earth. One of the problems is that no known material can withstand the extreme temperature, about 108 K, required to induce nuclear fusion. Methods that induce fusion at lower temperatures are being researched. Although the miracles of nuclear fission and fusion are tremendously important and useful to mankind, many say that nuclear waste, a byproduct of nuclear reactions, may harm the environment. Nuclear waste is stored at many certified waste storage areas around the world. The waste is generally stored in dry casks underground to prevent degradation of the environment. However, scientists say that the nuclear waste storage containers are not enough to stop leakage into the environment. Researchers at Cambridge University have found that zirconium silicate, which the nuclear industry had hoped could safely store radioactive waste, becomes a less reliable material after 1,400 years instead of the desired 250,000 years. More reliable storage materials are currently being researched. As can be deduced from current research and news headlines, there is much work to be done in order to fully capture the potential of nuclear fission and fusion. However, what has been accomplished through the combined efforts of scientists such as Enrico Fermi and Otto Hahn is an extraordinary step forward for mankind. The miracles of nuclear fission and fusion have been discovered and their potential has been realized. With the world’s supply of oil dwindling, there is a need for a new energy source. The process of burning currently used fossil

fuels releases harmful pollutants such as carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Once the technology to safely store nuclear waste and to conduct safe nuclear fusion is discovered, the world will be a cleaner and more inhabitable place for its population of almost seven billion people. Nuclear fission and fusion are truly life-saving miracles.

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Bibliography – Works Cited

"Chicago Pile-1." Wikipedia. 20 Dec. 2006. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 15 Jan. 2007. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicago_Pile-1>. "Enrico Fermi." Wikipedia. 15 Jan. 2007. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 15 Jan. 2007. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enrico_Fermi>. Davis, Raymond E., H. C. Metcalfe, John E. Williams, and Joseph F. Castka. Modern Chemistry. Austin: Holt, Rinehart and Winston. 701-719. Frew, Wendy. "Nuclear Waste Containers Will Not Work, Say Scientists." The Sydney Morning Herald 17 Jan. 2007. 16 Jan. 2007. <http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/nuclear-wastecontainers-will-not-work-say-scientists/2007/01/16/1168709754669.html>. "Otto Hahn." Wikipedia. 11 Jan. 2007. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 15 Jan. 2007. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Otto_Hahn>.

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