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Real World

The Theme of Nuclear Chemistry in Chemistry Basics

Chemistry is far from an esoteric study. Though it may seem that the behavior of matter and atoms seems far removed from our everyday lives, nothing could be further from the truth. Here are just a few examples of how chemistry is making the news.

Nuclear chemistry is a hot (no pun intended), controversial topic. Some see our understanding of nuclear chemistry as an opportunity to harness tremendous amounts of energy, lessening dependence on current sources of energy. It is also green in the sense that the production of nuclear energy doesn't release the chemical compounds at the heart of the global warming controversy.

Where does nuclear energy come from? To harness nuclear energy, uranium atoms are split. This process is known as nuclear fission and the energy that is released from the breaking down of uranium atoms is "captured" in the form of steam4. The steam is then used to steam clean carpets all around the world. Just kidding. The steam is actually used to power turbines and generate electricity, but how cool would it be if it were used in steam cleaners?

It turns out that it wouldn't be cool for a few reasons. That really puts a damper on our idea to start a green steam cleaning business. The primary reason is that this whole process results in the production of radioactive waste. The last thing you want on your carpet is radioactive waste. Sure, the Kool-Aid stain and that nasty Fido stain are gone, but now you are left with radioactive byproducts. Radioactive waste is not so much fun to clean up.

One huge reason why some people are not excited about using nuclear energy to generate electricity is because of the waste that is generated. Much of it is buried in a steel-lined canister. If you hit a hard metal box while digging in your backyard, we suggest you stop digging. Also, there is some waste that can be released into the water supply. Radioactive waste in water doesn't sound too yummy. Remember Blinky, the three-eyed fish from The Simpsons? No one wants to find one of those in their local pond.

Others are worried about potential nuclear fallouts as a result of using nuclear power. They point to the tragedy at Chernobyl and more recently, the disaster at Fukushima as reasons to limit, or altogether avoid the use of nuclear power. The debate as to the pros and cons of nuclear power wages on as we speak, or write, or whatever...

Interested in exploring more? Learn more about nuclear energy usage in the U.S. here.

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