In light of the hit show, Chernobyl, we look at the impact and influence of nuclear energy and more accurately here, nuclear power.
In 1932 Ernest Rutherford discovered a massive amount of energy was released when lithium atoms were split by protons from a proton accelerator. He determined the use of this power unlikely in the near future, a view that was echoed by none other than Albert Einstein. This initiated a chain of events that led to the exploration of neutron-bombarded uranium. Otto Hahn, Fritz Strassmann, Lise Meitner and Otto Robert Frisch discovered fission (the complete rupture of the nucleus) in 1938 which would catalyse a flurry of nuclear development.
The scientist, Leo Szilard, recognised that the fission reactions could lead to self-sustaining nuclear chain reactions – this was officially confirmed by Frederic Joliot-Curie in 1939. The first research reactor was made in the United States, named Chicago Pile-1, and would achieve self-sustaining power on December 2, 1942. This would sadly form a part of the Manhattan Project, the creation of the atomic bomb in World War II.
Nuclear energy provided a low greenhouse gas solution and self-sustaining energy production with a reduced amount of waste or pollution. The idea of nuclear power is scary to some because of the association with big disasters such as Chernobyl and Fukushima but it interestingly enough has resulted in fewer fatalities per unit of energy generated compared to fossil and hydropower.
There are over 150 nuclear reactors in operation. While some countries are looking to do away with nuclear power, Germany for example, all-together others, mostly in Asia, are in fact ramping up their production – even Japan post-Fukushima.
There is a big focus on fusion power currently which targets reduced waste, radioactivity and increased safety.