Nuclear energy

Nuclear energy is the type of energy that is released during the fission or fusion of atomic nuclei. The amount of energy obtained by these processes is much higher than that obtained by chemical processes.

There are some elements whose nuclei spontaneously emit nuclear particles, thus transforming into other different nuclei. This emission of nuclear particles is the phenomenon known as radioactivity. Radioactive nuclei emit three types of radiation: alpha rays, beta rays, and gamma rays.

About 40 naturally occurring radioactive elements are known today, most of which have a higher atomic number (Z) value of 83. They undergo nuclear reactions such as spontaneous disintegration or nuclear transmutation (bombardment of the nucleus with neutrons, protons, and other nuclei).

Nuclear energy is only achieved through two types of processes: fission and fusion. In the first, a heavy nucleus splits to form smaller nuclei of intermediate mass and one or more neutrons. For example, the isotope Uranium-235, when capturing a neutron, transforms into a nucleus of the isotope Uranium-236, which is unstable and fragments into two new nuclei, while 2 to 3 neutrons are released, and a huge amount of energy. The neutrons that have been released can cause the fissions of other uranium nuclei, and cause what is called a chain reaction.

Nuclear chain reactions were first used for destructive purposes: atomic bombs. However, since then the application of nuclear energy has been oriented towards the production of electrical energy from nuclear power plants. Some countries get most of their electricity this way.

Unlike the process of nuclear fission, nuclear fusion is found, which is the combination of small lighter nuclei to form a heavier one; it is the type of reaction that occurs in the Sun. Fusion reactions are often also called thermonuclear reactions because they take place only at very high temperatures, so large-scale controlled nuclear fusion cannot yet take place.

This energy has peaceful uses in agriculture and food (pest control, mutations, food conservation), hydrology (hydrological studies), medicine (vaccines, nuclear medicine, radioimmunoanalysis, radiopharmaceuticals), environment, industry and research (tracers, instrumentation , images, dating), etc.

Although nuclear energy is much more powerful than other forms of energy, and arguably a cheaper and cleaner energy (it does not emit greenhouse gases), it involves enormous risks with its waste in the event of an accident. Various ways have been proposed to store or dispose of them, such as the construction of underground cemeteries, or in the subsoil of the sea; but none of these sites prove to be absolutely safe in the long run.

High-energy radiation damages living systems, attacking the cell membranes of tissues, organic compounds such as enzymes and DNA molecules, causing mutations; in addition, it can also induce skin cancer. All this means that the use of this energy inspires strong distrust and resistance on the part of some sectors of society.