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Nuclear Chemistry

If commercial fusion is viable, it may well be a century away "If commercial fusion is viable, it may well be a century away" An international science magazine "New Scientist" opined as above in its editorial in 2006. This is because of many failures in designing a controlled nuclear fusion reactor. Unlike nuclear fission, nuclear fusion releases vast amount of energy such that it can not be controlled and use it for commercial production of power (electrical energy). Magnetic and laser or inertial containment are the advanced methods to produce nuclear fusion power. As of July 2010, the largest experiment by means of magnetic confinement has been the Joint European Torus(JET). In 1997, JET produced a peak of few megawatts (MW) but it sustained for only half second. Its successor, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) is designed to produce ten times more fusion power than the power put into the plasma. ITER is currently under construction in Cadarache, France.

Learning Objectives

After completing the topic, the student will be able to:

  • Define radioactivity, distinguish natural and artificial radioactivity, and explain the reason for radioactivity of unstable elements.
  • Categorize the radioactivity into α–decay, β–decay and γ–decay and identify the products or reactants in nuclear reactions.
  • Estimate the rate of radioactivity, determine the half–life of a radioactive species and understand the process of radiocarbon dating.
  • Discuss the effects of radiation and applications of radioactive isotopes.
  • Define and calculate the mass defect and nuclear binding energy.
  • Explain the basic difference between a fission reaction and a fusion reaction.
  • Discuss the difference between fission reactions in a nuclear bomb and in a nuclear fission reactor.
  • Give the details of fusion reactions occurring in the sun and in hydrogen bomb.
Nuclear energy Nuclear energy Destructive power of nuclear energy that shattered lives of many people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Nuclear Chemistry

Nuclear chemistry is the study of reactions involving changes in the structure of the atomic nuclei. Modern nuclear chemistry has become very interdisciplinary in its applications, ranging from the study of the formation of the elements in the universe to the design of radioactive drugs for diagnostic medicine. Nuclear research resulted in a promise of abundant nuclear energy and medical treatment for diseases like cancer. Positron Emission Tomography (PET) is a nuclear medicine imaging technique which is useful in diagnosis of cancer metastasis (i.e., spreading to other sites) and is just one of the many application of radioisotopes in medical diagnosis and therapy.

Nuclear phenomena – probably no subject in all of physical science is more likely to provoke an emotional response. The word "nuclear" carries a tremendous baggage of upsetting associations, including the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, radioactive fallout from bomb tests, radiation–induced cancer and birth defects, the risks of accidents and meltdowns, the difficulties of disposing of radioactive wastes, and the ultimate threat of nuclear annihilation.

Uses of nuclear energy

And yet, many benefits spring from the very heart of matter – the production of electricity by nuclear power plants, the uses of radioactivity and other nuclear phenomena in medicine for the diagnosis and treatment of a wide variety of ailments, and the technological exploitation of nuclear materials in industry. The applications of nuclear phenomena, harmful at one extreme and beneficial at the other, present us with a dilemma of risks and benefits. It is a double–edged sword of Damocles that hangs precariously over our heads.

Certainly the largest, and arguably the most controversial, non‐military application of nuclear energy is the generation of electricity by nuclear power plants. When it was first demonstrated that electricity could be obtained from the splitting of atoms, a new age appeared to be dawning. The first commercial nuclear power generating station was completed at 1957 at shipping port, Pennsylvania, along the Ohio River near Pittsburgh, USA. With great fanfare and a radioactive "magic wand", President Dwight Eisenhower launched this nation on a course of "atomic energy".

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