Nuclear technology

Nuclear technology

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Nuclear technology is technology that involves the reactions
Nuclear reaction
In nuclear physics and nuclear chemistry, a nuclear reaction is semantically considered to be the process in which two nuclei, or else a nucleus of an atom and a subatomic particle from outside the atom, collide to produce products different from the initial particles...

 of atomic nuclei
Atomic nucleus
The nucleus is the very dense region consisting of protons and neutrons at the center of an atom. It was discovered in 1911, as a result of Ernest Rutherford's interpretation of the famous 1909 Rutherford experiment performed by Hans Geiger and Ernest Marsden, under the direction of Rutherford. The...

. Among the notable nuclear technologies are nuclear power, nuclear medicine, and nuclear weapons. It has found applications from smoke detector
Smoke detector
A smoke detector is a device that detects smoke, typically as an indicator of fire. Commercial, industrial, and mass residential devices issue a signal to a fire alarm system, while household detectors, known as smoke alarms, generally issue a local audible and/or visual alarm from the detector...

s to nuclear reactor
Nuclear reactor
A nuclear reactor is a device to initiate and control a sustained nuclear chain reaction. Most commonly they are used for generating electricity and for the propulsion of ships. Usually heat from nuclear fission is passed to a working fluid , which runs through turbines that power either ship's...

s, and from gun sights to nuclear weapon
Nuclear weapon
A nuclear weapon is an explosive device that derives its destructive force from nuclear reactions, either fission or a combination of fission and fusion. Both reactions release vast quantities of energy from relatively small amounts of matter. The first fission bomb test released the same amount...

s.

Discovery



The vast majority of common, natural phenomena on Earth only involve gravity and electromagnetism
Electromagnetism
Electromagnetism is one of the four fundamental interactions in nature. The other three are the strong interaction, the weak interaction and gravitation...

, and not nuclear reactions. This is because atomic nuclei are generally kept apart because they contain positive electrical charges and therefore repel each other.

In 1896, Henri Becquerel
Henri Becquerel
Antoine Henri Becquerel was a French physicist, Nobel laureate, and the discoverer of radioactivity along with Marie Curie and Pierre Curie, for which all three won the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics.-Early life:...

 was investigating phosphorescence
Phosphorescence
Phosphorescence is a specific type of photoluminescence related to fluorescence. Unlike fluorescence, a phosphorescent material does not immediately re-emit the radiation it absorbs. The slower time scales of the re-emission are associated with "forbidden" energy state transitions in quantum...

 in uranium
Uranium
Uranium is a silvery-white metallic chemical element in the actinide series of the periodic table, with atomic number 92. It is assigned the chemical symbol U. A uranium atom has 92 protons and 92 electrons, of which 6 are valence electrons...

 salts when he discovered a new phenomenon which came to be called radioactivity. He, Pierre Curie
Pierre Curie
Pierre Curie was a French physicist, a pioneer in crystallography, magnetism, piezoelectricity and radioactivity, and Nobel laureate. He was the son of Dr. Eugène Curie and Sophie-Claire Depouilly Curie ...

 and Marie Curie
Marie Curie
Marie Skłodowska-Curie was a physicist and chemist famous for her pioneering research on radioactivity. She was the first person honored with two Nobel Prizes—in physics and chemistry...

 began investigating the phenomenon. In the process, they isolated the element radium
Radium
Radium is a chemical element with atomic number 88, represented by the symbol Ra. Radium is an almost pure-white alkaline earth metal, but it readily oxidizes on exposure to air, becoming black in color. All isotopes of radium are highly radioactive, with the most stable isotope being radium-226,...

, which is highly radioactive. They discovered that radioactive materials produce intense, penetrating rays of three distinct sorts, which they labeled alpha, beta, and gamma after the Greek letters
Greek alphabet
The Greek alphabet is the script that has been used to write the Greek language since at least 730 BC . The alphabet in its classical and modern form consists of 24 letters ordered in sequence from alpha to omega...

. Some of these kinds of radiation could pass through ordinary matter, and all of them could be harmful in large amounts. All the early researchers received various radiation burn
Radiation burn
A radiation burn is damage to the skin or other biological tissue caused by exposure to radio frequency energy or ionizing radiation.The most common type of radiation burn is a sunburn caused by UV radiation. High exposure to X-rays during diagnostic medical imaging or radiotherapy can also result...

s, much like sunburn
Sunburn
A sunburn is a burn to living tissue, such as skin, which is produced by overexposure to ultraviolet radiation, commonly from the sun's rays. Usual mild symptoms in humans and other animals include red or reddish skin that is hot to the touch, general fatigue, and mild dizziness. An excess of UV...

, and thought little of it.

The new phenomenon of radioactivity was seized upon by the manufacturers of quack medicine (as had the discoveries of electricity
Electricity
Electricity is a general term encompassing a variety of phenomena resulting from the presence and flow of electric charge. These include many easily recognizable phenomena, such as lightning, static electricity, and the flow of electrical current in an electrical wire...

 and magnetism
Magnetism
Magnetism is a property of materials that respond at an atomic or subatomic level to an applied magnetic field. Ferromagnetism is the strongest and most familiar type of magnetism. It is responsible for the behavior of permanent magnets, which produce their own persistent magnetic fields, as well...

, earlier), and a number of patent medicine
Patent medicine
Patent medicine refers to medical compounds of questionable effectiveness sold under a variety of names and labels. The term "patent medicine" is somewhat of a misnomer because, in most cases, although many of the products were trademarked, they were never patented...

s and treatments involving radioactivity were put forward.
Gradually it was realized that the radiation produced by radioactive decay was ionizing radiation
Ionizing radiation
Ionizing radiation is radiation composed of particles that individually have sufficient energy to remove an electron from an atom or molecule. This ionization produces free radicals, which are atoms or molecules containing unpaired electrons...

, and that even quantities too small to burn posed a severe long-term hazard
Nuclear safety
Nuclear safety covers the actions taken to prevent nuclear and radiation accidents or to limit their consequences. This covers nuclear power plants as well as all other nuclear facilities, the transportation of nuclear materials, and the use and storage of nuclear materials for medical, power,...

. Many of the scientists working on radioactivity died of cancer
Cancer
Cancer , known medically as a malignant neoplasm, is a large group of different diseases, all involving unregulated cell growth. In cancer, cells divide and grow uncontrollably, forming malignant tumors, and invade nearby parts of the body. The cancer may also spread to more distant parts of the...

 as a result of their exposure. Radioactive patent medicines mostly disappeared, but other applications of radioactive materials persisted, such as the use of radium salts to produce glowing dials on meters
Radium Girls
The Radium Girls were female factory workers who contracted radiation poisoning from painting watch dials with glow-in-the-dark paint at the United States Radium factory in Orange, New Jersey around 1917....

.

As the atom came to be better understood, the nature of radioactivity became clearer. Some larger atomic nuclei are unstable, and so decay
Radioactive decay
Radioactive decay is the process by which an atomic nucleus of an unstable atom loses energy by emitting ionizing particles . The emission is spontaneous, in that the atom decays without any physical interaction with another particle from outside the atom...

 (release matter or energy) after a random interval. The three forms of radiation
Ionizing radiation
Ionizing radiation is radiation composed of particles that individually have sufficient energy to remove an electron from an atom or molecule. This ionization produces free radicals, which are atoms or molecules containing unpaired electrons...

 that Becquerel and the Curies discovered are also more fully understood. Alpha decay
Alpha decay
Alpha decay is a type of radioactive decay in which an atomic nucleus emits an alpha particle and thereby transforms into an atom with a mass number 4 less and atomic number 2 less...

 is when a nucleus releases an alpha particle
Alpha particle
Alpha particles consist of two protons and two neutrons bound together into a particle identical to a helium nucleus, which is classically produced in the process of alpha decay, but may be produced also in other ways and given the same name...

, which is two proton
Proton
The proton is a subatomic particle with the symbol or and a positive electric charge of 1 elementary charge. One or more protons are present in the nucleus of each atom, along with neutrons. The number of protons in each atom is its atomic number....

s and two neutron
Neutron
The neutron is a subatomic hadron particle which has the symbol or , no net electric charge and a mass slightly larger than that of a proton. With the exception of hydrogen, nuclei of atoms consist of protons and neutrons, which are therefore collectively referred to as nucleons. The number of...

s, equivalent to a helium
Helium
Helium is the chemical element with atomic number 2 and an atomic weight of 4.002602, which is represented by the symbol He. It is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, non-toxic, inert, monatomic gas that heads the noble gas group in the periodic table...

 nucleus. Beta decay
Beta decay
In nuclear physics, beta decay is a type of radioactive decay in which a beta particle is emitted from an atom. There are two types of beta decay: beta minus and beta plus. In the case of beta decay that produces an electron emission, it is referred to as beta minus , while in the case of a...

 is the release of a beta particle
Beta particle
Beta particles are high-energy, high-speed electrons or positrons emitted by certain types of radioactive nuclei such as potassium-40. The beta particles emitted are a form of ionizing radiation also known as beta rays. The production of beta particles is termed beta decay...

, a high-energy electron
Electron
The electron is a subatomic particle with a negative elementary electric charge. It has no known components or substructure; in other words, it is generally thought to be an elementary particle. An electron has a mass that is approximately 1/1836 that of the proton...

. Gamma decay releases gamma rays, which unlike alpha and beta radiation are not matter but electromagnetic radiation
Electromagnetic radiation
Electromagnetic radiation is a form of energy that exhibits wave-like behavior as it travels through space...

 of very high frequency
Frequency
Frequency is the number of occurrences of a repeating event per unit time. It is also referred to as temporal frequency.The period is the duration of one cycle in a repeating event, so the period is the reciprocal of the frequency...

, and therefore energy
Energy
In physics, energy is an indirectly observed quantity. It is often understood as the ability a physical system has to do work on other physical systems...

. This type of radiation is the most dangerous, and most difficult to block. All three types of radiation occur naturally in certain elements.

It has also become clear that the ultimate source of most terrestrial energy is nuclear, either through radiation from the Sun
Sun
The Sun is the star at the center of the Solar System. It is almost perfectly spherical and consists of hot plasma interwoven with magnetic fields...

 caused by stellar thermonuclear reactions or by radioactive decay of uranium
Uranium
Uranium is a silvery-white metallic chemical element in the actinide series of the periodic table, with atomic number 92. It is assigned the chemical symbol U. A uranium atom has 92 protons and 92 electrons, of which 6 are valence electrons...

 within the Earth, the principal source of geothermal energy.

Fission



In natural nuclear radiation, the byproducts are very small compared to the nuclei from which they originate. Nuclear fission is the process of splitting a nucleus into roughly equal parts, and releasing energy and neutrons in the process. If these neutrons are captured by another unstable nucleus, they can fission as well, leading to a chain reaction
Chain reaction
A chain reaction is a sequence of reactions where a reactive product or by-product causes additional reactions to take place. In a chain reaction, positive feedback leads to a self-amplifying chain of events....

. The average number of neutrons released per nucleus that go on to fission another nucleus is referred to as k. Values of k larger than 1 mean that the fission reaction is releasing more neutrons than it absorbs, and therefore is referred to as a self-sustaining chain reaction. A mass of fissile material large enough (and in a suitable configuration) to induce a self-sustaining chain reaction is called a critical mass.

When a neutron is captured by a suitable nucleus, fission may occur immediately, or the nucleus may persist in an unstable state for a short time. If there are enough immediate decays to carry on the chain reaction, the mass is said to be prompt critical
Prompt critical
In nuclear engineering, an assembly is prompt critical if for each nuclear fission event, one or more of the immediate or prompt neutrons released causes an additional fission event. This causes a rapid, exponential increase in the number of fission events...

, and the energy release will grow rapidly and uncontrollably, usually leading to an explosion.

When discovered on the eve of World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, this insight led multiple countries to begin programs investigating the possibility of constructing an atomic bomb — a weapon which utilized fission reactions to generate far more energy than could be created with chemical explosives. The Manhattan Project
Manhattan Project
The Manhattan Project was a research and development program, led by the United States with participation from the United Kingdom and Canada, that produced the first atomic bomb during World War II. From 1942 to 1946, the project was under the direction of Major General Leslie Groves of the US Army...

, run by the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 with the help of the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 and Canada
Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

, developed multiple fission weapons which were used against Japan
Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

 in 1945. During the project, the first fission reactors
Nuclear reactor
A nuclear reactor is a device to initiate and control a sustained nuclear chain reaction. Most commonly they are used for generating electricity and for the propulsion of ships. Usually heat from nuclear fission is passed to a working fluid , which runs through turbines that power either ship's...

 were developed as well, though they were primarily for weapons manufacture and did not generate electricity.

However, if the mass is critical only when the delayed neutrons are included, then the reaction can be controlled, for example by the introduction or removal of neutron absorbers. This is what allows nuclear reactor
Nuclear reactor
A nuclear reactor is a device to initiate and control a sustained nuclear chain reaction. Most commonly they are used for generating electricity and for the propulsion of ships. Usually heat from nuclear fission is passed to a working fluid , which runs through turbines that power either ship's...

s to be built. Fast neutrons are not easily captured by nuclei; they must be slowed (slow neutrons), generally by collision with the nuclei of a neutron moderator
Neutron moderator
In nuclear engineering, a neutron moderator is a medium that reduces the speed of fast neutrons, thereby turning them into thermal neutrons capable of sustaining a nuclear chain reaction involving uranium-235....

, before they can be easily captured. Today, this type of fission is commonly used to generate electricity.

Fusion


If nuclei are forced to collide, they can undergo nuclear fusion
Nuclear fusion
Nuclear fusion is the process by which two or more atomic nuclei join together, or "fuse", to form a single heavier nucleus. This is usually accompanied by the release or absorption of large quantities of energy...

. This process may release or absorb energy. When the resulting nucleus is lighter than that of iron
Iron
Iron is a chemical element with the symbol Fe and atomic number 26. It is a metal in the first transition series. It is the most common element forming the planet Earth as a whole, forming much of Earth's outer and inner core. It is the fourth most common element in the Earth's crust...

, energy is normally released; when the nucleus is heavier than that of iron, energy is generally absorbed. This process of fusion occurs in star
Star
A star is a massive, luminous sphere of plasma held together by gravity. At the end of its lifetime, a star can also contain a proportion of degenerate matter. The nearest star to Earth is the Sun, which is the source of most of the energy on Earth...

s, which derive their energy from hydrogen
Hydrogen
Hydrogen is the chemical element with atomic number 1. It is represented by the symbol H. With an average atomic weight of , hydrogen is the lightest and most abundant chemical element, constituting roughly 75% of the Universe's chemical elemental mass. Stars in the main sequence are mainly...

 and helium
Helium
Helium is the chemical element with atomic number 2 and an atomic weight of 4.002602, which is represented by the symbol He. It is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, non-toxic, inert, monatomic gas that heads the noble gas group in the periodic table...

. They form, through stellar nucleosynthesis
Stellar nucleosynthesis
Stellar nucleosynthesis is the collective term for the nuclear reactions taking place in stars to build the nuclei of the elements heavier than hydrogen. Some small quantity of these reactions also occur on the stellar surface under various circumstances...

, the light elements (lithium
Lithium
Lithium is a soft, silver-white metal that belongs to the alkali metal group of chemical elements. It is represented by the symbol Li, and it has the atomic number 3. Under standard conditions it is the lightest metal and the least dense solid element. Like all alkali metals, lithium is highly...

 to calcium
Calcium
Calcium is the chemical element with the symbol Ca and atomic number 20. It has an atomic mass of 40.078 amu. Calcium is a soft gray alkaline earth metal, and is the fifth-most-abundant element by mass in the Earth's crust...

) as well as some of the heavy elements (beyond iron and nickel
Nickel
Nickel is a chemical element with the chemical symbol Ni and atomic number 28. It is a silvery-white lustrous metal with a slight golden tinge. Nickel belongs to the transition metals and is hard and ductile...

, via the S-process
S-process
The S-process or slow-neutron-capture-process is a nucleosynthesis process that occurs at relatively low neutron density and intermediate temperature conditions in stars. Under these conditions the rate of neutron capture by atomic nuclei is slow relative to the rate of radioactive beta-minus decay...

). The remaining abundance of heavy elements, from nickel to uranium and beyond, is due to supernova nucleosynthesis
Supernova nucleosynthesis
Supernova nucleosynthesis is the production of new chemical elements inside supernovae. It occurs primarily due to explosive nucleosynthesis during explosive oxygen burning and silicon burning...

, the R-process
R-process
The r-process is a nucleosynthesis process, likely occurring in core-collapse supernovae responsible for the creation of approximately half of the neutron-rich atomic nuclei that are heavier than iron. The process entails a succession of rapid neutron captures on seed nuclei, typically Ni-56,...

.

Of course, these natural processes of astrophysics are not examples of nuclear "technology". Because of the very strong repulsion of nuclei, fusion is difficult to achieve in a controlled fashion. Hydrogen bombs obtain their enormous destructive power from fusion, but their energy cannot be controlled. Controlled fusion is achieved in particle accelerator
Particle accelerator
A particle accelerator is a device that uses electromagnetic fields to propel charged particles to high speeds and to contain them in well-defined beams. An ordinary CRT television set is a simple form of accelerator. There are two basic types: electrostatic and oscillating field accelerators.In...

s; this is how many synthetic element
Synthetic element
In chemistry, a synthetic element is a chemical element that is too unstable to occur naturally on Earth, and therefore has to be created artificially. So far 30 synthetic elements have been discovered—that is, synthesized...

s are produced. A fusor
Fusor
The Farnsworth–Hirsch fusor, or simply fusor, is an apparatus designed by Philo T. Farnsworth to create nuclear fusion. It has also been developed in various incarnations by researchers including Elmore, Tuck, and Watson, and more recently by George H. Miley and Robert W. Bussard...

 can also produce controlled fusion and is a useful neutron source
Neutron source
A Neutron source is a device that emits neutrons. There is a wide variety of different sources, ranging from hand-held radioactive sources to neutron research facilities operating research reactors and spallation sources...

. However, both of these devices operate at a net energy loss. Controlled, viable fusion power
Fusion power
Fusion power is the power generated by nuclear fusion processes. In fusion reactions two light atomic nuclei fuse together to form a heavier nucleus . In doing so they release a comparatively large amount of energy arising from the binding energy due to the strong nuclear force which is manifested...

 has proven elusive, despite the occasional hoax
Cold fusion
Cold fusion, also called low-energy nuclear reaction , refers to the hypothesis that nuclear fusion might explain the results of a group of experiments conducted at ordinary temperatures . Both the experimental results and the hypothesis are disputed...

. Technical and theoretical difficulties have hindered the development of working civilian fusion technology, though research continues to this day around the world.

Nuclear fusion was initially pursued only in theoretical stages during World War II, when scientists on the Manhattan Project (led by Edward Teller
Edward Teller
Edward Teller was a Hungarian-American theoretical physicist, known colloquially as "the father of the hydrogen bomb," even though he did not care for the title. Teller made numerous contributions to nuclear and molecular physics, spectroscopy , and surface physics...

) investigated it as a method to build a bomb. The project abandoned fusion after concluding that it would require a fission reaction to detonate. It took until 1952 for the first full hydrogen
Hydrogen
Hydrogen is the chemical element with atomic number 1. It is represented by the symbol H. With an average atomic weight of , hydrogen is the lightest and most abundant chemical element, constituting roughly 75% of the Universe's chemical elemental mass. Stars in the main sequence are mainly...

 bomb to be detonated, so-called because it used reactions between deuterium
Deuterium
Deuterium, also called heavy hydrogen, is one of two stable isotopes of hydrogen. It has a natural abundance in Earth's oceans of about one atom in of hydrogen . Deuterium accounts for approximately 0.0156% of all naturally occurring hydrogen in Earth's oceans, while the most common isotope ...

 and tritium
Tritium
Tritium is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen. The nucleus of tritium contains one proton and two neutrons, whereas the nucleus of protium contains one proton and no neutrons...

. Fusion reactions are much more energetic per unit mass of fuel
Nuclear fuel
Nuclear fuel is a material that can be 'consumed' by fission or fusion to derive nuclear energy. Nuclear fuels are the most dense sources of energy available...

 than fission reactions, but starting the fusion chain reaction is much more difficult.

Nuclear weapons



A nuclear weapon is an explosive device that derives its destructive force from nuclear reaction
Nuclear reaction
In nuclear physics and nuclear chemistry, a nuclear reaction is semantically considered to be the process in which two nuclei, or else a nucleus of an atom and a subatomic particle from outside the atom, collide to produce products different from the initial particles...

s, either fission
Nuclear fission
In nuclear physics and nuclear chemistry, nuclear fission is a nuclear reaction in which the nucleus of an atom splits into smaller parts , often producing free neutrons and photons , and releasing a tremendous amount of energy...

 or a combination of fission and fusion
Nuclear fusion
Nuclear fusion is the process by which two or more atomic nuclei join together, or "fuse", to form a single heavier nucleus. This is usually accompanied by the release or absorption of large quantities of energy...

. Both reactions release vast quantities of energy from relatively small amounts of matter. Even small nuclear devices can devastate a city by blast, fire and radiation. Nuclear weapons are considered weapons of mass destruction
Weapons of mass destruction
A weapon of mass destruction is a weapon that can kill and bring significant harm to a large number of humans and/or cause great damage to man-made structures , natural structures , or the biosphere in general...

, and their use and control has been a major aspect of international policy since their debut.

The design of a nuclear weapon
Nuclear weapon design
Nuclear weapon designs are physical, chemical, and engineering arrangements that cause the physics package of a nuclear weapon to detonate. There are three basic design types...

 is more complicated than it might seem. Such a weapon must hold one or more subcritical fissile masses stable for deployment, then induce criticality (create a critical mass) for detonation. It also is quite difficult to ensure that such a chain reaction consumes a significant fraction of the fuel before the device flies apart. The procurement of a nuclear fuel
Nuclear fuel
Nuclear fuel is a material that can be 'consumed' by fission or fusion to derive nuclear energy. Nuclear fuels are the most dense sources of energy available...

 is also more difficult than it might seem, as no naturally occurring substance is sufficiently unstable for this process to occur.

One isotope
Isotope
Isotopes are variants of atoms of a particular chemical element, which have differing numbers of neutrons. Atoms of a particular element by definition must contain the same number of protons but may have a distinct number of neutrons which differs from atom to atom, without changing the designation...

 of uranium
Uranium
Uranium is a silvery-white metallic chemical element in the actinide series of the periodic table, with atomic number 92. It is assigned the chemical symbol U. A uranium atom has 92 protons and 92 electrons, of which 6 are valence electrons...

, namely uranium-235, is naturally occurring and sufficiently unstable, but it is always found mixed with the more stable isotope uranium-238. The latter accounts for more than 99% of the weight of natural uranium. Therefore some method of isotope separation
Isotope separation
Isotope separation is the process of concentrating specific isotopes of a chemical element by removing other isotopes, for example separating natural uranium into enriched uranium and depleted uranium. This is a crucial process in the manufacture of uranium fuel for nuclear power stations, and is...

 based on the weight of three neutrons must be performed to enrich
Enriched uranium
Enriched uranium is a kind of uranium in which the percent composition of uranium-235 has been increased through the process of isotope separation. Natural uranium is 99.284% 238U isotope, with 235U only constituting about 0.711% of its weight...

 (isolate) uranium-235.

Alternatively, the element plutonium
Plutonium
Plutonium is a transuranic radioactive chemical element with the chemical symbol Pu and atomic number 94. It is an actinide metal of silvery-gray appearance that tarnishes when exposed to air, forming a dull coating when oxidized. The element normally exhibits six allotropes and four oxidation...

 possesses an isotope that is sufficiently unstable for this process to be usable. Plutonium does not occur naturally, so it must be manufactured in a nuclear reactor
Nuclear reactor
A nuclear reactor is a device to initiate and control a sustained nuclear chain reaction. Most commonly they are used for generating electricity and for the propulsion of ships. Usually heat from nuclear fission is passed to a working fluid , which runs through turbines that power either ship's...

.

Ultimately, the Manhattan Project
Manhattan Project
The Manhattan Project was a research and development program, led by the United States with participation from the United Kingdom and Canada, that produced the first atomic bomb during World War II. From 1942 to 1946, the project was under the direction of Major General Leslie Groves of the US Army...

 manufactured nuclear weapons based on each of these elements. They detonated the first nuclear weapon in a test code-named "Trinity
Trinity test
Trinity was the code name of the first test of a nuclear weapon. This test was conducted by the United States Army on July 16, 1945, in the Jornada del Muerto desert about 35 miles southeast of Socorro, New Mexico, at the new White Sands Proving Ground, which incorporated the Alamogordo Bombing...

", near Alamogordo, New Mexico
New Mexico
New Mexico is a state located in the southwest and western regions of the United States. New Mexico is also usually considered one of the Mountain States. With a population density of 16 per square mile, New Mexico is the sixth-most sparsely inhabited U.S...

, on July 16, 1945. The test was conducted to ensure that the implosion method of detonation would work, which it did. A uranium bomb, Little Boy
Little Boy
"Little Boy" was the codename of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 by the Boeing B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay, piloted by Colonel Paul Tibbets of the 393rd Bombardment Squadron, Heavy, of the United States Army Air Forces. It was the first atomic bomb to be used as a weapon...

, was dropped on the Japan
Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

ese city Hiroshima
Hiroshima
is the capital of Hiroshima Prefecture, and the largest city in the Chūgoku region of western Honshu, the largest island of Japan. It became best known as the first city in history to be destroyed by a nuclear weapon when the United States Army Air Forces dropped an atomic bomb on it at 8:15 A.M...

 on August 6, 1945, followed three days later by the plutonium-based Fat Man
Fat Man
"Fat Man" is the codename for the atomic bomb that was detonated over Nagasaki, Japan, by the United States on August 9, 1945. It was the second of the only two nuclear weapons to be used in warfare to date , and its detonation caused the third man-made nuclear explosion. The name also refers more...

 on Nagasaki. In the wake of unprecedented devastation and casualties from a single weapon, the Japanese government soon surrendered, ending World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

.

Since these bombings
Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
During the final stages of World War II in 1945, the United States conducted two atomic bombings against the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, the first on August 6, 1945, and the second on August 9, 1945. These two events are the only use of nuclear weapons in war to date.For six months...

, no nuclear weapons have been deployed offensively. Nevertheless, they prompted an arms race
Arms race
The term arms race, in its original usage, describes a competition between two or more parties for the best armed forces. Each party competes to produce larger numbers of weapons, greater armies, or superior military technology in a technological escalation...

 to develop increasingly destructive bombs to provide a nuclear deterrent. Just over four years later, on August 29, 1949, the Soviet Union
Russia and weapons of mass destruction
Russia possesses the largest stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction in the world. The country declared an arsenal of 39,967 tons of chemical weapons in 1997, of which 48% have been destroyed. The Federation of American Scientists, a renowned organization for assessing nuclear weapon...

 detonated its first fission weapon. The United Kingdom
Nuclear weapons and the United Kingdom
The United Kingdom was the third country to test an independently developed nuclear weapon, in October 1952. It is one of the five "Nuclear Weapons States" under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which the UK ratified in 1968...

 followed on October 2, 1952; France
France and weapons of mass destruction
France is known to have an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. France is one of the five "Nuclear Weapons States" under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty; but is not known to possess or develop any chemical or biological weapons. France was the fourth country to test an independently...

, on February 13, 1960; and China  component to a nuclear weapon. Approximately half of the deaths from Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
During the final stages of World War II in 1945, the United States conducted two atomic bombings against the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, the first on August 6, 1945, and the second on August 9, 1945. These two events are the only use of nuclear weapons in war to date.For six months...

 died two to five years afterward from radiation exposure. A radiological weapons is a type of nuclear weapon designed to distribute hazardous nuclear material in enemy areas. Such a weapon would not have the explosive capability of a fission or fusion bomb, but would kill many people and contaminate a large area. A radiological weapon has never been deployed. While considered useless by a conventional military, such a weapon raises concerns over nuclear terrorism
Nuclear terrorism
Nuclear terrorism denotes the use, or threat of the use, of nuclear weapons or radiological weapons in acts of terrorism, includingattacks against facilities where radioactive materials are present...

.

There have been over 2,000 nuclear tests conducted since 1945. In 1963, all nuclear and many non-nuclear states signed the Limited Test Ban Treaty, pledging to refrain from testing nuclear weapons in the atmosphere, underwater, or in outer space
Outer space
Outer space is the void that exists between celestial bodies, including the Earth. It is not completely empty, but consists of a hard vacuum containing a low density of particles: predominantly a plasma of hydrogen and helium, as well as electromagnetic radiation, magnetic fields, and neutrinos....

. The treaty permitted underground nuclear testing
Underground nuclear testing
Underground nuclear testing refers to test detonations of nuclear weapons that are performed underground. When the device being tested is buried at sufficient depth, the explosion may be contained, with no release of radioactive materials to the atmosphere....

. France continued atmospheric testing until 1974, while China continued up until 1980. The last underground test by the United States was in 1992, the Soviet Union in 1990, the United Kingdom in 1991, and both France and China continued testing until 1996. After signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty
Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty
The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty bans all nuclear explosions in all environments, for military or civilian purposes. It was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 September 1996 but it has not entered into force.-Status:...

 in 1996 (which had as of 2011 not entered into force), all of these states have pledged to discontinue all nuclear testing. Non-signatories India
India and weapons of mass destruction
India possesses nuclear weapons and maintains short- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles, nuclear-capable aircraft, surface ships, and submarines under development as possible delivery systems and platforms...

 and Pakistan
Pakistan and weapons of mass destruction
Pakistan began focusing on nuclear weapons development in January 1972 under the leadership of Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who delegated the program to the Chairman of PAEC Munir Ahmad Khan...

 last tested nuclear weapons in 1998.

Nuclear weapons are the most destructive weapons known - the archetypal weapons of mass destruction
Weapons of mass destruction
A weapon of mass destruction is a weapon that can kill and bring significant harm to a large number of humans and/or cause great damage to man-made structures , natural structures , or the biosphere in general...

. Throughout the Cold War
Cold War
The Cold War was the continuing state from roughly 1946 to 1991 of political conflict, military tension, proxy wars, and economic competition between the Communist World—primarily the Soviet Union and its satellite states and allies—and the powers of the Western world, primarily the United States...

, the opposing powers had huge nuclear arsenals, sufficient to kill hundreds of millions of people. Generations of people grew up under the shadow of nuclear devastation, portrayed in films such as Dr. Strangelove and The Atomic Cafe
The Atomic Cafe
The Atomic Cafe is an American documentary film produced and directed by Jayne Loader, Kevin Rafferty, and Pierce Rafferty.-Synopsis:The film covers the beginnings of the era of nuclear warfare, created from a broad range of archival film from the 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s - including newsreel...

.

However, the tremendous energy release in the detonation of a nuclear weapon also suggested the possibility of a new energy source.

Nuclear power



Nuclear power is a type of nuclear technology involving the controlled use of nuclear fission to release energy for work including propulsion, heat, and the generation of electricity. Nuclear energy is produced by a controlled nuclear chain reaction which creates heat—and which is used to boil water, produce steam, and drive a steam turbine. The turbine is used to generate electricity and/or to do mechanical work.

Currently nuclear power provides approximately 15.7% of the world's electricity (in 2004) and is used to propel aircraft carrier
Aircraft carrier
An aircraft carrier is a warship designed with a primary mission of deploying and recovering aircraft, acting as a seagoing airbase. Aircraft carriers thus allow a naval force to project air power worldwide without having to depend on local bases for staging aircraft operations...

s, icebreaker
Icebreaker
An icebreaker is a special-purpose ship or boat designed to move and navigate through ice-covered waters. Although the term usually refers to ice-breaking ships, it may also refer to smaller vessels .For a ship to be considered an icebreaker, it requires three traits most...

s and submarine
Submarine
A submarine is a watercraft capable of independent operation below the surface of the water. It differs from a submersible, which has more limited underwater capability...

s (so far economics and fears in some ports have prevented the use of nuclear power in transport ships). All nuclear power plants use fission. Despite years of effort and the occasional hoax (i.e. cold fusion
Cold fusion
Cold fusion, also called low-energy nuclear reaction , refers to the hypothesis that nuclear fusion might explain the results of a group of experiments conducted at ordinary temperatures . Both the experimental results and the hypothesis are disputed...

), no man-made fusion reaction has produced more energy than it consumed and been a viable source of electricity.

Medical applications


The medical applications of nuclear technology are divided into diagnostics and radiation treatment.

Imaging - medical and dental x-ray imagers use of Cobalt-60 or other x-ray sources. Technetium-99m
Technetium-99m
Technetium-99m is a metastable nuclear isomer of technetium-99, symbolized as 99mTc. The "m" indicates that this is a metastable nuclear isomer, i.e., that its half-life of 6 hours is considerably longer than most nuclear isomers that undergo gamma decay...

 is used, attached to organic molecules, as radioactive tracer in the human body, before being excreted by the kidneys. Positron emitting nucleotides are used for high resolution, short time span imaging in applications known as Positron emission tomography
Positron emission tomography
Positron emission tomography is nuclear medicine imaging technique that produces a three-dimensional image or picture of functional processes in the body. The system detects pairs of gamma rays emitted indirectly by a positron-emitting radionuclide , which is introduced into the body on a...

.

Radiation therapy is an effective treatment for cancer.

Industrial applications


Oil and Gas Exploration- Nuclear well logging
Well logging
Well logging, also known as borehole logging is the practice of making a detailed record of the geologic formations penetrated by a borehole. The log may be based either on visual inspection of samples brought to the surface or on physical measurements made by instruments lowered into the hole...

 is used to help predict the commercial viability of new or existing wells. The technology involves the use of a neutron or gamma-ray source and a radiation detector which are lowered into boreholes to determine the properties of the surrounding rock such as porosity and lithography.http://hps.org/publicinformation/radterms/radfact154.html

Road Construction - Nuclear moisture/density gauges are used to determine the density of soils, asphalt, and concrete. Typically a Cesium-137 source is used.

Commercial applications


An ionization smoke detector
Smoke detector
A smoke detector is a device that detects smoke, typically as an indicator of fire. Commercial, industrial, and mass residential devices issue a signal to a fire alarm system, while household detectors, known as smoke alarms, generally issue a local audible and/or visual alarm from the detector...

 includes a tiny mass of radioactive americium
Americium
Americium is a synthetic element that has the symbol Am and atomic number 95. This transuranic element of the actinide series is located in the periodic table below the lanthanide element europium, and thus by analogy was named after another continent, America.Americium was first produced in 1944...

-241, which is a source of alpha radiation. Tritium
Tritium
Tritium is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen. The nucleus of tritium contains one proton and two neutrons, whereas the nucleus of protium contains one proton and no neutrons...

 is used with phosphor
Phosphor
A phosphor, most generally, is a substance that exhibits the phenomenon of luminescence. Somewhat confusingly, this includes both phosphorescent materials, which show a slow decay in brightness , and fluorescent materials, where the emission decay takes place over tens of nanoseconds...

 in rifle sights to increase nighttime firing accuracy. Luminescent exit signs use the same technology.

Food processing and agriculture


Food irradiation
Food irradiation
Food irradiation is the process of exposing food to ionizing radiation to destroy microorganisms, bacteria, viruses, or insects that might be present in the food. Further applications include sprout inhibition, delay of ripening, increase of juice yield, and improvement of re-hydration...

 is the process of exposing food to ionizing radiation
Ionizing radiation
Ionizing radiation is radiation composed of particles that individually have sufficient energy to remove an electron from an atom or molecule. This ionization produces free radicals, which are atoms or molecules containing unpaired electrons...

 in order to destroy microorganism
Microorganism
A microorganism or microbe is a microscopic organism that comprises either a single cell , cell clusters, or no cell at all...

s, bacteria
Bacteria
Bacteria are a large domain of prokaryotic microorganisms. Typically a few micrometres in length, bacteria have a wide range of shapes, ranging from spheres to rods and spirals...

, virus
Virus
A virus is a small infectious agent that can replicate only inside the living cells of organisms. Viruses infect all types of organisms, from animals and plants to bacteria and archaea...

es, or insect
Insect
Insects are a class of living creatures within the arthropods that have a chitinous exoskeleton, a three-part body , three pairs of jointed legs, compound eyes, and two antennae...

s that might be present in the food. The radiation sources used include radioisotope gamma ray sources, X-ray generators and electron accelerators. Further applications include sprout inhibition, delay of ripening, increase of juice yield, and improvement of re-hydration. Irradiation
Irradiation
Irradiation is the process by which an object is exposed to radiation. The exposure can originate from various sources, including natural sources. Most frequently the term refers to ionizing radiation, and to a level of radiation that will serve a specific purpose, rather than radiation exposure to...

 is a more general term of deliberate exposure of materials to radiation to achieve a technical goal (in this context 'ionizing radiation' is implied). As such it is also used on non-food items, such as medical hardware, plastics, tubes for gas-pipelines, hoses for floor-heating, shrink-foils for food packaging, automobile parts, wires and cables (isolation), tires, and even gemstones. Compared to the amount of food irradiated, the volume of those every-day applications is huge but not noticed by the consumer.

The genuine effect of processing food by ionizing radiation relates to damages to the DNA
DNA
Deoxyribonucleic acid is a nucleic acid that contains the genetic instructions used in the development and functioning of all known living organisms . The DNA segments that carry this genetic information are called genes, but other DNA sequences have structural purposes, or are involved in...

, the basic genetic information
DNA sequence
The sequence or primary structure of a nucleic acid is the composition of atoms that make up the nucleic acid and the chemical bonds that bond those atoms. Because nucleic acids, such as DNA and RNA, are unbranched polymers, this specification is equivalent to specifying the sequence of...

 for life. Microorganisms can no longer proliferate and continue their malignant or pathogen activities. Spoilage causing micro-organisms cannot continue their activities. Insects do not survive or become incapable of procreation. Plants cannot continue the natural ripening or aging process. All these effects are beneficial to the consumer and the food industry, likewise.

The amount of energy imparted for effective food irradiation is low compared to cooking the same; even at a typical dose of 10 kGy most food, which is (with regard to warming) physically equivalent to water, would warm by only about 2.5 °C (4.5 °F).

The specialty of processing food by ionizing radiation is the fact, that the energy density per atomic transition is very high, it can cleave molecules and induce ionization (hence the name) which cannot be achieved by mere heating. This is the reason for new beneficial effects, however at the same time, for new concerns. The treatment of solid food by ionizing radiation can provide an effect similar to heat pasteurization of liquids, such as milk. However, the use of the term, cold pasteurization, to describe irradiated foods is controversial, because pasteurization and irradiation are fundamentally different processes, although the intended end results can in some cases be similar.

Food irradiation is currently permitted by over 40 countries and volumes are estimated to exceed 500000 metric tons (492,101.8 LT) annually world wide.

Food irradiation is essentially a non-nuclear technology; it relies on the use of ionizing radiation which may be generated by accelerators for electrons and conversion into bremsstrahlung, but which may use also gamma-rays from nuclear decay. There is a worldwide industry for processing by ionizing radiation, the majority by number and by processing power using accelerators. Food irradiation is only a niche application compared to medical supplies, plastic materials, raw materials, gemstones, cables and wires, etc.

Accidents


Nuclear accidents, because of the powerful forces involved, are often very dangerous. Historically, the first incidents involved fatal radiation exposure
Radiation poisoning
Acute radiation syndrome also known as radiation poisoning, radiation sickness or radiation toxicity, is a constellation of health effects which occur within several months of exposure to high amounts of ionizing radiation...

. Marie Curie
Marie Curie
Marie Skłodowska-Curie was a physicist and chemist famous for her pioneering research on radioactivity. She was the first person honored with two Nobel Prizes—in physics and chemistry...

 died from aplastic anemia
Aplastic anemia
Aplastic anemia is a condition where bone marrow does not produce sufficient new cells to replenish blood cells. The condition, per its name, involves both aplasia and anemia...

 which resulted from her high levels of exposure. Two scientists, an American and Canadian respectively, Harry Daghlian and Louis Slotin
Louis Slotin
Louis Alexander Slotin was a Canadian physicist and chemist who took part in the Manhattan Project, the secret US program during World War II that developed the atomic bomb....

, died after mishandling the same plutonium mass
Demon core
The Demon core was the nickname given to a subcritical mass of plutonium that accidentally went briefly critical in two separate accidents at the Los Alamos laboratory in 1945 and 1946. Each incident resulted in the acute radiation poisoning and subsequent death of a scientist...

. Unlike convention weapons, the intense light, heat, and explosive force is not the only deadly component to a nuclear weapon. Approximately half of the deaths from Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
During the final stages of World War II in 1945, the United States conducted two atomic bombings against the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, the first on August 6, 1945, and the second on August 9, 1945. These two events are the only use of nuclear weapons in war to date.For six months...

 died two to five years afterward from radiation exposure.

Civilian nuclear and radiological accidents primarily involve nuclear power plants. Most common are nuclear leaks that expose workers to hazardous material. A nuclear meltdown
Nuclear meltdown
Nuclear meltdown is an informal term for a severe nuclear reactor accident that results in core damage from overheating. The term is not officially defined by the International Atomic Energy Agency or by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission...

 refers to the more serious hazard of releasing nuclear material into the surrounding environment. The most significant meltdowns occurred at Three Mile Island
Three Mile Island accident
The Three Mile Island accident was a core meltdown in Unit 2 of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania near Harrisburg, United States in 1979....

 in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is a U.S. state that is located in the Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States. The state borders Delaware and Maryland to the south, West Virginia to the southwest, Ohio to the west, New York and Ontario, Canada, to the north, and New Jersey to...

 and Chernobyl
Chernobyl disaster
The Chernobyl disaster was a nuclear accident that occurred on 26 April 1986 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine , which was under the direct jurisdiction of the central authorities in Moscow...

 in the Soviet
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 Ukraine
Ukraine
Ukraine is a country in Eastern Europe. It has an area of 603,628 km², making it the second largest contiguous country on the European continent, after Russia...

. The earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011 caused serious damage to three nuclear reactors and a spent fuel storage pond at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan. Military reactors that experienced similar accidents were Windscale
Windscale fire
The Windscale fire of 10 October 1957 was the worst nuclear accident in Great Britain's history, ranked in severity at level 5 on the 7-point International Nuclear Event Scale. The two piles had been hurriedly built as part of the British atomic bomb project. Windscale Pile No. 1 was operational in...

 in the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 and SL-1
SL-1
The SL-1, or Stationary Low-Power Reactor Number One, was a United States Army experimental nuclear power reactor which underwent a steam explosion and meltdown on January 3, 1961, killing its three operators. The direct cause was the improper withdrawal of the central control rod, responsible for...

 in the United States.

Military accidents usually involve the loss or unexpected detonation of nuclear weapons. The Castle Bravo
Castle Bravo
Castle Bravo was the code name given to the first U.S. test of a dry fuel thermonuclear hydrogen bomb device, detonated on March 1, 1954 at Bikini Atoll, Marshall Islands, as the first test of Operation Castle. Castle Bravo was the most powerful nuclear device ever detonated by the United States ,...

 test in 1954 produced a larger yield than expected, which contaminated nearby islands, a Japanese fishing boat (with one fatality), and raised concerns about contaminated fish
Fish
Fish are a paraphyletic group of organisms that consist of all gill-bearing aquatic vertebrate animals that lack limbs with digits. Included in this definition are the living hagfish, lampreys, and cartilaginous and bony fish, as well as various extinct related groups...

 in Japan. In the 1950s through 1970s, several nuclear bombs were lost from submarines and aircraft, some of which have never been recovered. The last twenty years have seen a marked decline in such accidents.

See also

  • Atomic age
    Atomic Age
    The Atomic Age, also known as the Atomic Era, is a phrase typically used to delineate the period of history following the detonation of the first nuclear bomb Trinity on July 16, 1945...

  • Lists of nuclear disasters and radioactive incidents
  • Nuclear power debate
    Nuclear power debate
    The nuclear power debate is about the controversy which has surrounded the deployment and use of nuclear fission reactors to generate electricity from nuclear fuel for civilian purposes...

  • Outline of nuclear technology

External links