Of Nuclear Bombs, Fission And Fusion
Nuclear bombs are lethal. Unlike conventional bombs that release energy as a blast, atomic or nuclear bombs packs in it blast, heat and nuclear radiation. For every one kg of TNT (tri-nitro-toluene), the material used to blast in conventional bombs, one kg of nuclear fission fuel can release 20 million times more energy! Energy is the force behind these bombs.
While the atom bombs have defamed nuclear energy, used the right way, it can be a useful way to generate electricity.
The energy in the nucleus or core of an atom is nuclear energy. Albert Einstein helped us understand the power of nuclear process in his famous formula E=MC^2 (Mass x Square of the speed of light). Atoms are the tiny particles that make up every object in the universe.
There is enormous energy stored in the bonds that hold atoms together. The release of this energy can occur in one of two different ways – fission and fusion.
In nuclear fission, atoms are split apart to form smaller atoms. This breaking of the bond release energy. Nuclear power plants like the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan that was impacted by the Japanese tsunami, use nuclear fission to produce electricity.
Fusion: Is it possible?
Meanwhile, in nuclear fusion, energy is released when atoms combine or fuse together to form a larger atom. The sun for instance, produces energy using fusion. Nuclear fusion occurs at extremely high temperatures – in the tens of millions of degrees, since atoms have to be forcibly collided into each other at temperatures and speed far greater than the force of the electrons that repel them. During the process, matter is conserved because mass of some of the fusing nuclei is converted into energy or heat -- this energy is released during the fusion process. Active stars are said to be powered by the process of fusion.
It has been very difficult to produce nuclear fusion. However claims to cold fusion - the type of nuclear reaction that would occur at relativley low temperatures, were made by two leading electrochemists - Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons in 1983. The claims received wide media attention and raised hopes of a cheap and abundant source of energy. However the process was difficult to replicate and subsequently discredited. Fleischmann died on August 3 this year, a much discredited man, unable to convince the scientific community.