Nuclear Energy

Historian - Rachel

1938- Nuclear Fission was first demonstrated by German Scientists Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassman.
1942- A group of scientists at the University of Chicago demonstrated the first sustained fission chain reaction. It was led by an Italian physicist named Enrico Fermi. The machinery they used, the Chicago Pile-1, is considered the world's first nuclear reactor.
The U.S. feared that the nazis were going to use there atomic research for aggression so most of the early U.S. research involving atoms as energy wa focused on making a weapon for World War II. This was all done under the code name of the Manhattan Project.
1943- the worlds first production nuclear reactor was developed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. It was the 3,5000 kWt X-10 Graphite Reactor. It was used for separating and producing uranium and plutonium.
1946- The Atomic Energy Act of 1946 was passed.
1953- The first nuclear powered submarine was launched. It was called the USS Nautilus.
1954- The Atomic Energy Act of 1954 gave the civilian nuclear energy program further access to nuclear technology
1955- Arco, Idaho was the first town powered by nuclear energy.
The first international conference on peaceful uses of nuclear energy was at Geneva, Switzerland, sponsored by the United Nations
1957- The first full-scale nuclear power plant in Shippingport, Pennsylvania began service.
1959- The first U.S. plant was built in Illinois without any government funding.
1965- The SNAP-10 was the first nuclear reactor was launched by the United States.
1977- President Carter created the U.S. Department of Energy by combining the Energy Research and Development Administration with the Federal Energy Administration
1979- A major accident happened in Unit 2 at Three Mile Island nuclear plant by Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Nobody was injured but it caused a public scare.
The U.S. nuclear energy industry created the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations to address issues of safety and performance.
President Carter completed a process started by President Ford. It banned the use of nuclear fuel generated at power plant from being reprocessed.
1983- Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 was signed. This approved the development of high-level nuclear waste repository. Also, nuclear energy generated more electricity than natural gas for the first time.
1984- Nuclear power replaced hydropower as the second-largest source of electricity in the U.S.
1993- About 109 nuclear power plants were providing one fifth of the of the nations energy in the U.S.
1994- The Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued final design approval for the first two of four nuclear power plant designs- General Electric's Advanced Boiling Water Reactor and ABB Combustion Engineering's System.
2004- Since the last commercial reactor began opperations in 1996, the improved efficiencies of America's new nuclear power plants are the same as 17 new generation facilities being added to the nation's electricity grid.



A nuclear power plant is essentially a steam power plant that is fueled by a radioactive element, like uranium. The fuel is placed in a reactor and the individual atoms are meant to split apart. This splitting process is called fission. Under the right conditions, a uranium atom will split into two smaller atoms and throw off two or sometimes three neutrons in the process. The combined mass of these resulting particles tends to be roughly 99.9 percent of the mass of the original uranium atom. The other 0.1 percent of the original mass got converted to energy. The energy is released in the form of gamma rays. These rays are similar to X-rays and can cause burns, cancer and genetic mutations in living things. Fission releases great amounts of energy. This energy is used to heat water until it turns to steam. From here, the mechanics of a steam power plant take over. The steam pushes on turbines, which force coils of wire to interact with a magnetic field. This creates an electric current.

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Local Expert: Katlin Himmel

Pennsylvania ranks second in terms of the production of nuclear energy. Unfortunately, Pennsylvania ranks in the top five in terms of electrical utilities that produce green house gasses like CO2 and NO2. Pennsylvania relies too heavily upon coal fired electrical plants

Nuclear Power Plants:

  • Beaver Valley (14,671 MWH)
  • Limerick (19,047 MWH)
  • Peach Bottom (18,535 MWH)
  • Susquehanna (19,040 MWH)
  • Three Mile Island (7,365 MWH)


  • Davis Besse (6,823 MWH)
  • Perry (10,691 MWH)

  • Calvert (14,679 MWH)


Pros/Cons of Nuclear Energy

-The more nuclear power is used the less the environment will be effected.
-Thirty one states have nuclear power plants, but one third of the nation’s total capacity is located in just 4 states: Illinois, Pennsylvania and North and South Carolina.
- In the year of 2008, Pennsylvania was ranked the 2nd in nuclear capacity for each state.
-The first commercial nuclear power plant in the United States went on line in the Shippingport, Pennsylvania.
-The oldest reactor in the U.S is still in service is located at the Penn State University, Pennsylvania.
-The reactor at Penn State is older than any operational licensed reactor and is older than any reactor listed as decommissioning or decommissioned. (

Little pollution: Pollution producing from fossil fuel- burning plants is heading towards dangerous levels. Burning coal produces carbon dioxide, which is harming the ozone layer. As more soft coal is used, the more the amount of pollution will increase.

Reliability: Nuclear plants need little fuel, this makes them less vulnerable to shortages because of natural disasters. Coal burning leaves ashes that will increase future radon exposures. The estimates of radon show that it’s safer to use nuclear fuel than burning coal.
Safety: Safety is considered to be both a pro and a con. The results of a reactor core can be disastrous, but the precautions can prevent that from happening as well. Nuclear power Is known to be the safest method of producing energy. Each year 10,000 to 50,000 Americans die from respiratory diseases due to the burning of coal, while 300 are killed in mining and transportation accidents. So far, no Americans have died or been seriously injured from a reactor accident or radiation exposure. There are tons of safety precautions that make the chances for a serious reactor accident very low.

Meltdowns: The rods on the reactors may overheat, the rod contains uranium fuel pellets that dissolve, leaving the fuel exposed. While the rod can heat to 2,800 degrees celcius, the fuel will melt and white-hot molten mass will melt its way through the containment vessels. The disaster at Three Mile Island was classified as a partial meltdown, cause by failure to supply coolant to the core.
Radiation: The three major effects of radiation are cancer, radiation sickness and genetic mutation. They are nearly untraceable at levels below 50 rems. In a study of 100,000 survivors of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, there have been 400 more cancer deaths then normal.
Waste Disposal: The byproducts of the uranium remains radioactive, requiring safe disposal away from society until they lose their significant radiation values. Many underground sites have been constructed, only to be filled within months. Storage facilities are not sufficient to store the worlds nuclear waste, which limits the amount of nuclear fuel that can be used per year. Transportation of the waste is risky, as many unknown variables may affect the containment vessels. If one of these vessels were compromised, the result may be deadly.