Uses of nuclear energy
Nuclear energy was first harvested for widespread commercial power in 1950, by utilizing the heat from split uranium atoms. Today, nuclear energy provides a significant percentage of the world’s total energy. The contributions of nuclear energy, however, have become far more widespread than simply lighting homes and businesses, and are often overlooked by the average person. Two of its particular products, radiation and radioisotopes, have found applications in all corners of the modern world, including:
- Diverse scientific research
Indeed, the uses of nuclear energy span multitudes of other far ranging categories that help to improve peoples lives.
Nuclear Energy and Radioisotope
For starters, isotopes are defined as: “any of two or more forms of a chemical element, having the same number of protons in the nucleus, orthesame atomic
number, but having different numbers of neutrons in the
nucleus, or different atomic weights.”
While some isotopes are unchanging, or ‘stable,’ others are extremely unstable, changing a large spectrum of rates of milliseconds to millennia. Unstable isotopes emit charged waves or particles, making them radioactive by nature, or ‘radioisotopes.’ This inherent instability gives them the ability to be used in a wide variety of technology, provided they are incorporated into safer material. Commercial uses of radioisotopes include:
- Pest Control
- Smoke Detectors
- Geological Dating
- Radioactive Tracers (in growing food)
George De Hevesy and Radiation
In 1911, practical application of radioisotopes was first discovered by George de Hevesy, a Hungarian student working with naturally radioactive materials in Manchester, England. As a poor student, he lived in a boarding house, taking all of his meals with his landlady. He was secretly suspicious of the food she served, as many meals appeared to return very regularly, possibly from leftovers days or even weeks old. Being a student of science, he decided to test his hypothesis by placing a small amount of radioactive material into his leftovers one night. Using a simple gold leaf electroscope, he reasoned that he should be able to detect radiation. Several days later, the same dish was served to him. His gold leaf detection worked, and his meal was found to contain the same radiation he place inside it days earlier, likely to the chagrin of his thrifty landlady.
De Hevesy later went on to win the Nobel Prize in 1943, followed by the Atoms for Peace award in 1959. His simple gold leaf detector would be refined into a more sophisticated radiation detector, which is now routinely used in the field of environmental science, and one of the most important practical uses of nuclear energy.
Today, many new beneficial uses of nuclear energy are being discovered by scientists, so that the lives of millions of people across the globe can be improved.