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Nuclear Radiation

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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