Meaning of Nuclear
What is Nuclear
Nuclear means what is at the core, at the centre of something, what is main, what is most important or something.
Nuclear physics is a branch of physics that studies the properties and behaviour of atomic nuclei, the fundamental structure of matter and the interactions between subatomic particles.
But nuclear physics is not only used for military purposes, as there is a wide variety of applications, for example, in medicine (for the cure of cancer) and in agriculture.
Protons, which are positively charged atomic particles, and neutrons, which are uncharged particles, are part of the nuclei of atoms or atomic nuclei.
Nuclear energy, also called atomic energy, is the energy that is released spontaneously or artificially in the nuclear reactions that occur in these atomic nuclei.
These nuclear reactions occur only in some isotope atoms (atoms of the same element, but they differ in that the nuclei have a different amount of neutrons, and therefore differ in their atomic mass) than in certain chemical elements.
These isotope atoms are called radioisotopes, are radioactive isotopes, have an unstable atomic nucleus and emit energy and particles when transformed into a different, more stable isotope.
An example of a nuclear reaction is the fission of uranium-235, with which nuclear reactors (controlled fission) and atomic bombs (uncontrolled fission) operate, and the most common in nature is the fusion of the pair of hydrogen atoms (deuterium-tritium) produced inside stars.
Ways of harnessing nuclear energy
In order to take advantage of the nuclear energy present in the nucleus of atoms, it can be done in two ways: by splitting the nucleus of an atom or by fusing the nucleus of two atoms. In the first case, we call it nuclear fission and in the second case nuclear fusion.
The energy produced by the Sun, for example, comes from nuclear fusion reactions. But it is currently very difficult to reproduce nuclear fusion reactions artificially so that all nuclear reactors generate fission reactions.
When one of these two physical reactions (nuclear fission or nuclear fusion) occurs, the atoms experience a slight loss of mass.
This lost mass is converted into a large amount of heat energy as Albert Einstein discovered with his famous equation E=mc2.
The vast majority of nuclear power reactors use enriched uranium as nuclear fuel. Uranium is a naturally occurring element that is enriched by a certain process to make it more unstable.
That it is unstable means that it is easier to divide, which is precisely what is intended to be done in a nuclear reactor.
The planet’s uranium reserves are not considered unlimited, so nuclear energy is not considered a renewable energy source such as solar or wind power.
Nuclear energy applications
Although electricity production is the most common utility, there are many other applications of nuclear energy in other sectors. These applications can be for civil or military use. There are a large number of treaties and agreements to regulate these activities.
Within the civil applications, we would find the generation of electrical energy or medical, environmental, industrial applications.
On the other hand, military applications would include military weapons such as atomic bombs or the propulsion of military vehicles such as submarines or the propulsion of long-range missiles.
Nuclear chain reaction
When a nuclear reaction extends over time because a neutron causes the fission of an atom, and this results in many neutrons being released and causing new fission, it is called a nuclear chain reaction.
The main condition for this type of reaction to take place is that at least one of the neutrons emitted by fission has the qualities to generate another fission.
The history of the nuclear chain reaction goes back to 1933 when Leó Szilárd, a Hungarian-born scientist, coined the term and a year later patented the concept of a simple nuclear reactor.
Another idea that served to build nuclear reactors was the theory postulated by physicist Semyonov of the Soviet Union, called total chemical chain reaction, which also supports more than one technology that uses gas mixture incineration.
Three years after the initial conception, Szilárd failed in attempting a chain reaction using Indian and beryllium, two chemical elements.
Bombing the ranio U
It was not until the end of the 1930s that he discovered, with the help of Enrico Fermi (a physicist of Italian origin), that by bombarding uranium with a series of neutrons it was possible to obtain a multiplicity of by-products since a fission is produced in its nucleus.
After that finding, they made the relevant demonstration.
It is worth mentioning that the discovery of Szilárd and Fermi led the acclaimed Albert Einstein to contact President Roosevelt by letter to warn him that Nazi Germany was probably building an atomic bomb.
The first self-sustaining nuclear reaction took place in a reactor that Fermi created and named Chicago Pile-1 at the University of Chicago in late 1942.
Right there, the Manhattan Project was carried out, a codename for the research that the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom carried out during World War II with the intention of developing the first atomic bomb before the Germans.