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The Atomic Age: Three Miles Island, Chernobyl And Hiroshima

2291 words - 9 pages

The discovery of the atom has led humanity down a road of uncertainty and destruction. The Nuclear age has caused many disasters including the meltdown at Chernobyl, the accident at Three Mile Island and the bombing of Hiroshima. The atom enabled society to create weapons of mass destruction and to discover a new and potentially dangerous form of energy. Not only are there environmental risks with nuclear power plants, the radioactive waste they create is a long term problem that the world will have to cope with for centuries. Radioactive fallout from both meltdown and bombings have left thousands of people sick and deformed. Knowledge of the atom perhaps should have been enough, as the trail that the atom leaves behind is one of devastation and ruin.The discovery of the atom in the early 20th century was the first step in the journey to creating the nuclear bomb. Scientists had been toying with the theory of the atom for centuries. In 1896 French physicists proved the existence of radioactivity. Shortly after this discovery Ernest Rutherford started his experiments in nuclear physics. Through his experiments he discovered the three main components of radiation: alpha, beta and gamma rays. Rutherford was the first to describe the atom as a dense nucleus which electrons circulate in orbits. He was the first to artificially induce a nuclear reaction by transmutating nitrogen into oxygen. Rutherford was also the first to identify the electron and the proton, but still the atomic model wasn't complete. It was not until 1932 that Sir James Chadwick of England identified the neutron. With the atom model finished more effort could go into researching the possibilities of the atom, and the energy that is contained inside it. Niels Bohr, another nuclear physicist from the turn of the century, demonstrated that uranium 235 was the particular isotope of uranium that undergoes nuclear fission. This was an important step in developing the first atomic bomb, because it is nuclear fission that makes nuclear energy.It wasn't until 1939 that the atom was split for the first time. German scientists Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassman split the first uranium nuclei by bombarding them with neutrons. They also learned that neutrons released into the particle accelerator can cause a chain reaction with other nuclei. An uncontrolled reaction of this sort is seen in the explosion of an atomic bomb. When these reactions are controlled in a reactor, they can be used to produce nuclear power. The splitting of the atom came in conjunction with World War Two. There had long been speculation about the possibility of an atomic bomb, and with the world at war, the world powers were desperate to find out if it was. With the Nazis in power in Germany, thousands of Jewish people were forced to flee. Included in this group were famous scientists such as Albert Einstein. Most of the refugees went to the United States and England; Germany lost its scientific edge. From then on, the bomb...

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