Nuclear Radiation

                              Nuclear Radiation
Viktor                                                       Chernobay
                                               Biology             115

     Nuclear energy was discovered in  the  process  of  creating  the
atomic bomb.  After scientists conducted more experiments, they  found
that nuclear power was a clean and efficient way  to  produce  energy.
“The first nuclear reactor was created on December  2,  1942,  at  the
University  of  Chicago  by  Enrico  Fermi.”  (Editors  of  Scientific
America, 1995).  The discovery of nuclear energy provided a new source
of energy and an alternative to the use of natural resources: such  as
coal, oil, water, and wood.  At the same time, nuclear energy could be
used in a destructive way, such as  the atomic bomb.
     At that time, the discovery of a new source of energy was a  very
significant event. By using a small amount of plutonium  and  uranium,
two radioactive elements,  an  enormous  amount  of  energy  could  be
obtained.  Nuclear energy can be produced in two  different  ways,  by
the fission or fusion process.  Fission involves the  breaking  up  of
heavier atoms into lighter atoms.  In a nuclear fission reaction,  two
smaller nuclei of  approximately   equal  mass  are  formed  from  the
splitting of a large nucleus.  This splitting of an  atom  produces  a
large amount of energy.  This process  is  the  most  common  form  of
nuclear power.  Fusion is a method that combines  lighter  atoms  into
heavier atoms.  In a nuclear  fusion  reaction,  a  large  nucleus  is
formed from two small nuclei joined together.   Fusion  reactions  are
difficult to produce because of the repulsion of the atom’s negatively
charged electron clouds and the positively  charged  nucleus.  (LeMay,
Beall, Robblee, Brower, 1996).    Fusion is mostly used to create  the
hydrogen bomb. (The World Book Encyclopedia, 1990).  The byproduct  of
nuclear energy is radiation.  Radiation is created from the  particles
(strontium-90, cesium-137,  radon-222,  krypton-85,  and  nitrogen-16)
that are given off as a result  of  the  splitting  of   atoms.  (Gale
Encyclopedia of Science, 1996) (Demmin, 1994).
     As time went on, the attitudes of people towards  nuclear  energy
changed.  There were many positive and negative aspects for the use of
nuclear power.  Recently, people worldwide  have  started  questioning
the continued use of nuclear power. Due to the deaths  resulting  from
the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear reactor accident, as well  as  the  adverse
effect the aftermath of the accident had on the environment, there has
been a public outcry concerning the safety of society.  As  with  many
controversial issues, this  topic  has  been  widely  debated,  but  a
solution has not been determined.
     The positive aspects of the use of nuclear energy  are  that  the
supply of natural resources does not have to be depleted, and also  it
is clean.  It takes a great amount of natural resources  to  create  a
small amount of energy.  On the other hand, a  very  small  amount  of
plutonium and uranium is necessary for the creation of a large  amount
of nuclear energy.  This is important since there are relatively small
amounts of plutonium and uranium in the earth’s  crust.   Compared  to
the production of power using coal, the creation of power generated by
nuclear energy does not pollute the air.  As  coal  burns,  there  are
poisonous fumes that could cause sickness, if the area is not properly
ventilated.  As the cost  of  electricity  rose,  the  government  was
forced to look  for  an  alternative  source  of  energy,  which  they
discovered in nuclear reactors.
     One of the major disadvantages of a reactor is  the  disposal  of
the nuclear waste which harms the environment.  “There are 434 nuclear
reactors in the world and 110 of  them  are  in  the  United  States.”
(Wasserman, 1996)  Not a single one is functioning  without  polluting
the environment.  Attempts to store nuclear wastes have not been  very
successful.   One  such  attempt  is  to  bury   the   nuclear   waste
underground, but  the  leakage  of  nuclear  waste  has  poisoned  the
groundwater.  Another attempt is to put the nuclear  waste  into  deep
ocean water.  Later, this was rejected by  the  public  and  also,  in
violation of an international treaty because  of  the  possibility  of
harming the ocean.  Another problem to the environment is the  leakage
of radioactive waste from space.  This problem is not pollution to the
earth’s environment, but pollution of  space.   There  is  no  way  to
dispose of the nuclear waste in space.
     The most significant drawback on this controversial issue is  the
threat of a disaster.   The  two  most  serious  situations  were  the
accident at Chernobyl and  the  explosion  of  the  hydrogen  bomb  on
Hiroshima. The first  time  that  people  discovered  the  dangers  of
nuclear power was when the atomic bomb was dropped, August 6, 1945, on
Hiroshima.  The effects of the bomb was that it destroyed  4.7  square
miles of the city.  Approximately 70,000 people were killed and  about
another 70,0000 people were injured.  Many  people  died  later  as  a
result of nuclear radiation and radiation sickness.  (The  World  Book
Encyclopedia, 1990).   The  most  serious  nuclear  disaster  was  the
Chernobyl accident that occurred April 26, 1986 in the  Soviet  Union.
(Medvedev, pp.83-89.).  An accurate number of deaths as  a  result  of
this accident is very hard to determine due  to  the  secrecy  of  the
U.S.S.R. surrounding this accident. (Marples, 1996).  A study done  by
a team of scientists from both the United States and Japan  has  shown
that there has not been any evidence found of genetic mutation,  which
are changes in heredity, in the  children  of  the  survivors  of  the
bombing of Hiroshima. (Science News, 1996).
     Following the Chernobyl accident, Soviet scientists suggest  that
there is evidence that radiation has exhibited genetic mutation in the
parents who  were  exposed  to  radiation.   According  to  them,  the
mutation was found in sperm and egg cells, which contain  the  genetic
building  blocks  of  future  generations.  The  child’s  DNA   is   a
combination from both parents’ genetic  makeup.   When  there  is  any
sequence that the child has, but that sequence was not found in either
parent, then this is called germline mutation.  Ten  years  after  the
accident that occurred at Chernobyl,  evidence  of  mutation,  in  the
exposed areas  of  the  country,  indicates  that   radiation  changed
genetic makeup and that  this  has  passed  onto  future  generations.
(Science News, 1996).  Also, there has been an explosive  increase  in
childhood  thyroid  cancer  in  Belarus,  Ukraine  and   the   Russian
Federation since 1986.  This cancer is present in brothers and sisters
of the same family, which indicates that the cancer is a result of the
accident at Chernobyl. (Balter, 1995).
     Whether the atom is used for peace or for war, man  must  contend
with the hazards of  nuclear  radiation.   This  radiation  may  cause
burns, diseases, and death.  It may harm future generations by causing
     In peacetime, the escape of radioactive  particles  from  nuclear
plants is the main radiation hazard.  More nuclear power  plants  will
be built if  a significant amount of the world’s power is to come from
 uranium.  As a result of these plants, huge  amounts  of  radioactive
material will be produced.   The  power  plants  must  take  necessary
precautions to insure the communities are safe from the radiation that
may escape.
     In wartime, the most serious danger from  radiation  is  near  or
below the place where the atomic bomb has exploded.  If people are not
killed by the bomb, then  they  have  to  deal  with  the  radioactive
fallout.  Even at a  distance  from  the  blast,  the  injury  can  be
     The use of radiation has many positive  attributes,  but  at  the
same time, the significance of the  drawbacks  are  overwhelming.   No
government nor scientist can guarantee the safety of  nuclear  plants.
Without this guarantee, there is an immediate concern for the  welfare
of the world.  I believe countries around the  world  should  begin  a
gradual process of shutting down nuclear plants  and  begin  making  a
much greater effort to develop widespread  use  of  other  sources  of
energy, such as wind and solar power.
     In the last decade, public concern for the use of nuclear  energy
has increased dramatically.  Few can debate  that  nuclear  energy  is
clean, and can be produced without using hardly any natural resources.
  Likewise,  few  can  debate  that  radiation  is  harmful   to   the
environment, unsafe,  and  a  great  danger  for  all  living  things.
Scientists and mankind have to weigh  the  positive  as  well  as  the
negative aspects of nuclear radiation, and then decide what source  of
energy the future holds that will benefit not only all living  things,
but also the environment.


Balter, Michael. ( 1995). “Chernobyl’s Thyroid Cancer Toll.”  Science.
vol. 270, no. 5243, pp. 1758-1759.

Demmin,  Peter  E.   (1994).   Reviewing   Chemistry.   Amsco   School
Publications, Inc. New York. P. 85.

LeMay, Eugene H. Jr., Beall, Herbert, Robblee, Karen M.,  and  Brower,
Douglas C.  (1996).  Chemistry  Connections  to  Our  Changing  World.
Prentice Hall. New Jersey. Pp. 792-798.

Marples, David R. (1996). “The Decade of Despair.” The Bulletin of the
Atomic          Scientist. vol.52, no.3, pp.22-31.

Medvedev, Grigori. (1991). The Truth About Chernobyl. Basic  Books.  A
Division of Harper Collins Publishers. pp. 83-89.

Science News. (1996). “Radiation Damages Chernobyl Children.”  editors
of Science News. vol. 149, no. 17, p. 260.

Scientific American. (1995). “Disposing of Nuclear Waste.” Editors  of
Scientific American. p. 177.

The Gale Encyclopedia of Science. (1996). Bridget Travers, editor. New
York. vol. 5, pp. 3008-3009.

The World Book Encyclopedia.  (1990).  Field  Enterprises  Educational
Corporation. Chicago. vol. 9 p. 230. and vol. 1 p. 832.


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