What is atomic energy?
Atomic energy is the energy that is stored inside of atoms. It originates from the forces that hold the atom’s nucleus together. Atomic energy is also called nuclear power.
Types of atomic energy
Just like energy in general, atomic energy has several forms, which are:
- Nuclear binding energy: it is the energy needed to split the nucleus of an atom into its free constituents of unbound protons and neutrons.
- Nuclear potential energy: as its name suggests, it is the sum of all potential energy of particles inside the atom’s nucleus.
Radioactivity of atoms
Atoms that are used to produce atomic energy are those that can decay spontaneously. The most common example is uranium. This characteristic is known as radioactivity, in which atoms release ionizing radiation when they decompose. They are very unstable and can release high amounts of energy during the process, which can be harnessed.
Production of atomic energy
At the moment, the most common methods to produce nuclear or atomic energy is by fusion and fission. Countries that are prominent producers of atomic energy are United States, France, Japan, Russia and Korea.
Fission is the splitting of atoms in a nuclear reactor. Usually, uranium is used for this process. When it splits, it releases neutrons, which strike neighboring atoms. This chain reaction results in much energy being produced.
Fusion is the opposite of fission. In fusion, two nuclei are forced to fuse under high pressure. This process releases much energy. Fusion is less preferable to fission because it is much harder to control.
Uses of atomic energy
Since large amounts of atomic energy are produced at a time, the energy can be used for multiple purposes. One of them is electricity production. The energy is used to drive turbines by steam production, and the turbines in turn generate electricity.
Aside from electricity, atomic energy can also be used to control ships and submarines. The high amount of energy produced enables big ships and submarines to travel at high speeds for a long period of time.
Dangers of atomic energy
Since large amounts of energy are released during fusion and fission, one of its implications is radioactive waste. It is a hazardous waste that may originate from the medicine, research, power, or manufacturing industry. Radioactive waste needs to be handled accordingly to protect both human and environmental health.
Radioactive waste can exist in the form of gases, liquids, or solids. They release ionizing radiation in amounts that vary depending on the waste. Ionizing radiation can affect living organisms at their DNA level and cause unpredictable mutations. That’s why regulations exist regarding how process and handle it. This is done in an effort to reduce the dangers of these hazardous materials.
Another more terrifying danger of atomic energy is when it is being used as weapons. Atomic energy can cause mass destruction because of the significantly high amount of energy it produces. It can even wipe out large areas and populations at once. Not only that, the radiation given off when nuclear weapons are used causes devastating harm to both health and the environment.