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The Atomic Power Solution This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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   Since the first explosion of an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan in 1945, the world has entered a new age of atomic awareness and discovery. Previously, very little was known about the structure or function of an atom. Now, however, scientists can use the power from splitting atoms to produce electricity for our growing industrial society. Unfortunately, nuclear power, because of its violent beginnings, has met with more opposition than any other method of generating electricity.

Although atomic power was developed 50 years ago, there are relatively few functioning nuclear facilities in the world, especially in this country. Many factors may cause atomic energy to become more widely used, however. As we rush toward the end of our supply of fossil fuel, other options must be kept in mind.

Uranium is more abundant and less expensive than fossil fuels. It can also easily be shipped across long distances. Hydroelectric, solar and wind power cannot be.

Most nuclear power is produced by shooting a neutron into the nucleus of certain isotopes of the element uranium. An isotope is a variation of an element containing a different amount of neutrons in the nucleus. The nucleus of an atom of uranium contains 92 protons. These protons repel each other almost enough to overcome the power of the neutrons, which hold the nucleus together. Adding another neutron to the nucleus causes it to react violently and split into two main pieces, with two or three odd neutrons shooting out. In a nuclear reactor, these neutrons trigger other uranium nuclei to split in a continuous chain reaction. The two which are the most unbalanced, and therefore, produce the most energy when divided, are known as U-235 and U-238. These radioactive substances sometimes emit subatomic particles such as protons, neutrons, or electrons in order to stabilize their nuclei. It is only when plants do not operate properly that radiation leaks to the outside, and operating them properly is relatively simple.

One reason to use atomic energy is the limited fuel needed to run the plant. "A cube of U-235 can produce the same amount of energy as three million pounds of coal, enough to light a home for about one thousand years, or New York City for approximately one night." 1 This can reduce shipping costs, and would also reduce the cost of fuel for the plant . Due to a great supply for uranium, but a limited demand, this fuel can be bought at lower prices than fossil fuels. Fossil fuels (such as oil, natural gas and coal) were produced under extreme and rare conditions from the decaying bodies of animals from millions of years ago.When humans discovered the enormous amounts of energy trapped inside these substances, we quickly began to burn them up, creating global warming and eroding the ozone layer. We depend heavily on fossil fuels, but our limited supply is beginning to diminish. Experts predict that we will run out of fossil fuels in the next century. Uranium can be obtained much more cheaply than fossil fuels.

Uranium can successfully be shipped across long distances. A nuclear power plant can be built wherever possible or necessary, instead of where the fuel supply is present. Hydroelectric plants can only be located near fast-moving currents of water, such as waterfalls. A solar or wind-powered generator can only be placed in areas with a nearly continuous source of sun or wind, respectively. Coal plants are usually built close to coal mines. Nuclear power is a convenient way to produce power in almost any location.

For numerous reasons, nuclear power will be a viable option for electricity in our future. It can be conveniently located and the fuel is inexpensive and abundant. Our most common methods of producing electricity may soon become impractical as fossil fuel prices rise. People should not be as frightened of atomic power because if run properly, mutations caused by the radiation are rare, but it can produce enough electricity to power a city with limited cost. u

1 Quotation from Martin Mann's Peacetime Uses of Atomic Energy (Thomas Y. Crowell Co., New York, NY: 1975).


This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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