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Nuclear energy: uses & effects

Chapter 31: Nuclear Energy; Effects and Uses of Radiation

31.1: Nuclear Reactions and the Transmutation of Elements
31.2: Nuclear Fission; Nuclear Reactors
31.3: Nuclear Fusion

31.4: Passage of Radiation Through Matter; Biological Damage
31.5: Measurement of Radiation—Dosimetry
31.6: Radiation Therapy
31.7: Tracers in Research and Medicine
31.8: Emission Tomography: PET and SPECT
31.9: Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

Using nuclear power to create energy

This article includes nuclear fission of uranium, nuclear fission of thorium, and nuclear fusion (several types). – Nuclear power

Nuclear power and cancer

In theory radiation released from nuclear power plant accidents should increase the background rates of cancer, perhaps dramatically. It has long been expected by opponents of nuclear power that it’s use would be highly dangerous.

Yet in the 60 years of it’s use, the number of actual accidents, Soviet designed tragedies like Chernobyl (an event in a class by itself, due to deliberate malfeasance), and even Fukushima Daiichi, the tsunami-damaged nuclear reactor site, have caused far less damage and death than coal, oil and other sources of power.

Surprisingly, simply burning coal releases more radiation into the environment than running a nuclear reaction.

Similarly, getting into an airplace to fly away from Fukushima Daiichi caused thousands of Japanese citizens to be exposed to even more ionizing radiation than if they had simply stayed at home – as airplane flights make one rise above most of the atmopshere, thereby increasing one’s exposire to natural background radiation from space.

There is also the intriguing phenomenon of radiation hormesis:

Radiation hormesis is the hypothesis that low doses of ionizing radiation (just above natural background levels) are beneficial. Low level radiation apparently activates repair mechanisms that protect against disease, that are not activated in absence of ionizing radiation. The reserve repair mechanisms are hypothesized to be sufficiently effective as to not only cancel the detrimental effects of ionizing radiation – but also inhibit disease not related to radiation exposure. This counter-intuitive hypothesis has captured the attention of scientists and public alike in recent years.

Radiation hormesis. (2016, December 10). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 18:44, February 2, 2017
Radiation hormesis (Wikipedia)

There is no environment without some level of background radioactivity. What society needs to do is become familiar with the statistics, so it can make informed choices on how much power to generate/consume, and where this power should come from. – Coal releases more radioactivity than nuclear power


Learning Standards

SAT Subject Test: Physics

Nuclear and particle physics, such as radioactivity, nuclear reactions, and fundamental particles

A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas (2012)

Electromagnetic radiation can be modeled as a wave of changing electric and magnetic fields or as particles called photons. The wave model is useful for explaining many features of electromagnetic radiation, and the particle model explains other features. Quantum theory relates the two models.

Massachusetts Science and Technology/Engineering Curriculum Framework 2006

Chemistry: Atomic Structure and Nuclear Chemistry
Atomic models are used to explain atoms and help us understand the interaction of elements and compounds observed on a macroscopic scale. Nuclear chemistry deals with radioactivity, nuclear processes, and nuclear properties. Nuclear reactions produce tremendous amounts of energy and lead to the formation of elements.

2.1 Recognize discoveries from Dalton (atomic theory), Thomson (the electron), Rutherford (the nucleus), and Bohr (planetary model of atom), and understand how each discovery leads to modern theory.
2.2 Describe Rutherford’s “gold foil” experiment that led to the discovery of the nuclear atom. Identify the major components (protons, neutrons, and electrons) of the nuclear atom and explain how they interact.
2.3 Interpret and apply the laws of conservation of mass, constant composition (definite proportions), and multiple proportions.
2.4 Write the electron configurations for the first twenty elements of the periodic table.
2.5 Identify the three main types of radioactive decay (alpha, beta, and gamma) and compare their properties (composition, mass, charge, and penetrating power).
2.6 Describe the process of radioactive decay by using nuclear equations, and explain the concept of half-life for an isotope (for example, C-14 is a powerful tool in determining the age of objects).
2.7 Compare and contrast nuclear fission and nuclear fusion.


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