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Nuclear power

power generated from sustained nuclear fission
Nuclear know-how without nuclear infrastructure doesn't get you very much. A racecar driver without a car can't drive. A pilot without a plan can't fly. ~ Benjamin Netanyahu

Nuclear power, or nuclear energy, is the use of exothermic nuclear processes to generate useful heat and electricity. The term includes nuclear fission, nuclear decay and nuclear fusion. Nuclear power stations provided about 5.7% of the world's energy and 13% of the world's electricity in 2012. There is an ongoing debate about nuclear power, with proponents contending that nuclear power is a safe, sustainable energy source that reduces carbon emissions, and opponents contending that nuclear power poses threats to people and the environment.




  • Personally I think there is no doubt that sub-atomic energy is available all around us, and that one day man will release and control its almost infinite power. We cannot prevent him from doing so and can only hope that he will not use it exclusively in blowing up his next door neighbour. (1936)
    • Francis William Aston, Concluding remark in Lecture (1936) on 'Forty Years of Atomic Theory', collected in Needham and Pagel (eds.) in Background to Modern Science: Ten Lectures at Cambridge Arranged by the History of Science Committee, (1938), 114.


  • It is hard to think of fissionable materials when fashioned into bombs as being a source of happiness. However this may be, if with such destructive weapons men are to survive, they must grow rapidly in human greatness. A new level of human understanding is needed. The reward for using the atom’s power towards man’s welfare is great and sure. The punishment for its misuse would seem to be death and the destruction of the civilization that has been growing for a thousand years. These are the alternatives that atomic power, as the steel of Daedalus, presents to mankind. We are forced to grow to greater manhood.


  • The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.
    • Albert Einstein, Telegram (24 May 1946) sent to prominent Americans. Quoted in New York Times (25 May 1946). In Robert Andrews Famous Lines: a Columbia Dictionary of Familiar Quotations (1997), 340. Variations exist due to different translations from the original German.


  • One might be led to question whether the scientists acted wisely in presenting the statesmen of the world with this appalling problem. Actually there was no choice. Once basic knowledge is acquired, any attempt at preventing its fruition would be as futile as hoping to stop the earth from revolving around the sun.
    • Enrico Fermi, 'Atomic Energy for Power', Collected Papers (Note e Memorie) (1939-1945), Vol. 2, 556.


  • That atomic energy though harnessed by American scientists and army men for destructive purposes may be utilised by other scientists for humanitarian purposes is undoubtedly within the realm of possibility. … An incendiary uses fire for his destructive and nefarious purpose, a housewife makes daily use of it in preparing nourishing food for mankind.
  • Those of us who saw the dawn of the Atomic Age that early morning at Alamogordo … know now that when man is willing to make the effort, he is capable of accomplishing virtually anything.
  • The key to the utilization of atomic energy for world peace will be found in the will of all people to restrict its use for the betterment of mankind.
    • Leslie Richard Groves, Opening address (7 Nov 1945) of Town Hall’s annual lecture series, as quoted in 'Gen. Groves Warns on Atom ‘Suicide’', New York Times (8 Nov 1945), 4. (Just three months before he spoke, two atom bombs dropped on Japan in Aug 1945 effectively ended WW II.


  • Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery;
    None but ourselves can free our minds.
    Have no fear for atomic energy,
    cause none of them can stop the time.
  • Qualified scientists in Washington believe that the atom-blasting of Japan is the start toward heating plants the size of telephone booths for great factories, and motor-car trips of 1,000 hours on one gram of fuel. One expert estimated that with a few grams of uranium it might be possible to power the Queen Mary from Europe to the U.S. and back again. One of America’s leading scientists, Doctor Vollrath, said that the new discovery brings man’s attempt to reach the moon within bounds of possibility.
    • The Maple Leaf (8 Aug 1945), 4.
  • I happen to be one who believes that we will not get very far in working out a peace program, or in lowering the suspicious fingers which are now being pointed toward America by other nations of the world, until we recognize that, after all, the secret of atomic energy does not belong to America, but that, instead, it belongs to all mankind.
    • Wayne Morse, remarks in the Senate (October 22, 1945), Congressional Record, vol. 91, p. 9893.


  • We are not bent on conquest or on threatening others. But we do have a nuclear umbrella that can protect others, above all the states to which we are allied or in which we have a great national interest.
    • Richard Nixon, on-the-record interview with C. L. Sulzberger (March 8, 1971); reported in The New York Times (March 10, 1971), p. 14.
  • Klaatu: So long as you were limited to fighting among yourselves -- with your primitive tanks and planes -- we were unconcerned. But soon you will apply atomic energy to space ships -- and then you become a threat to the peace and security of other planets. That, of course, we cannot tolerate.


  • A paper reactor [new reactor concept] has the following characteristics: it is simple; it is small; it is cheap; it is lightweight; it can be built very quickly; very little development is required and it will use off the shelf components; it is in the study phase and not being built now. By contrast a real reactor has the following characteristics: it is complicated; it is large; it is heavy; it is being built now; it is behind schedule; it requires an immense amount of development on apparently trivial items; it takes a long time to build because of its engineering development problems.
    • Hyman G. Rickover in pp. 158-159 The Rickover Effect (1992) by Theodore Rockwell, Naval Institute Press.
  • We have seen that a proton of energy corresponding to 30,000 volts can effect the transformation of lithium into two fast α-particles, which together have an energy equivalent of more than 16 million volts. Considering the individual process, the output of energy in the transmutation is more than 500 times greater than the energy carried by the proton. There is thus a great gain of energy in the single transmutation, but we must not forget that on an average more than 1000 million protons of equal energy must be fired into the lithium before one happens to hit and enter the lithium nucleus. It is clear in this case that on the whole the energy derived from transmutation of the atom is small compared with the energy of the bombarding particles. There thus seems to be little prospect that we can hope to obtain a new source of power by these processes. It has sometimes been suggested, from analogy with ordinary explosives, that the transmutation of one atom might cause the transmutation of a neighbouring nucleus, so that the explosion would spread throughout all the material. If this were true, we should long ago have had a gigantic explosion in our laboratories with no one remaining to tell the tale. The absence of these accidents indicates, as we should expect, that the explosion is confined to the individual nucleus and does not spread to the neighbouring nuclei, which may be regarded as relatively far removed from the centre of the explosion.


  • Our children will enjoy in their homes electrical energy too cheap to meter.
    • Lewis L. Strauss, chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, speech at the 20th anniversary of the National Association of Science Writers, New York City (September 16, 1954); reported in The New York Times (September 17, 1954), p. 5.
  • It is probable that all heavy matter possesses—latent and bound up with the structure of the atom—a similar quantity of energy to that possessed by radium. If it could be tapped and controlled, what an agent it would be in shaping the world's destiny! The man who puts his hand on the lever by which a parsimonious nature regulates so jealously the output of this store of energy would possess a weapon by which he could destroy the Earth if he chose.
    • Frederick Soddy Lecture to the Corps of Royal Engineers, Britain (19040. In Rodney P. Carlisle, Scientific American Inventions and Discoveries (2004), 373.
  • [The surplus of basic knowledge of the atomic nucleus was] largely used up [during the war with the atomic bomb as the dividend.] We must, without further delay restore this surplus in preparation for the important peacetime job for the nucleus - power production. ... Many of the proposed applications of atomic power - even for interplanetary rockets - seem to be within the realm of possibility provided the economic factor is ruled out completely, and the doubtful physical and chemical factors are weighted heavily on the optimistic side. ... The development of economic atomic power is not a simple extrapolation of knowledge gained during the bomb work. It is a new and difficult project to reach a satisfactory answer. Needless to say, it is vital that the atomic policy legislation now being considered by the congress recognizes the essential nature of this peacetime job, and that it not only permits but encourages the cooperative research-engineering effort of industrial, government and university laboratories for the task. ... We must learn how to generate the still higher energy particles of the cosmic rays - up to 1,000,000,000 volts, for they will unlock new domains in the nucleus.
    • Chauncey Guy Suits Addressing the American Institute of Electrical Engineering, in New York (24 Jan 1946). In Schenectady Gazette (25 Jan 1946)


  • The Atomic Age was born in secrecy, and for two decades after Hiroshima, the high priests of the cult of the atom concealed vital information about the risks to human health posed by radiation. Dr. Alice Stewart, an audacious and insightful medical researcher, was one of the first experts to alert the world to the dangers of low-level radiation.
    • Stuart Udall, quoted in Gayle Jacoba Greene, The Woman Who Knew Too Much (1999), back cover.


  • Fission is a process of deadly fascination; had nature chosen her constants just a little differently, we should have been deprived of its potential for social good and spared its power for social evil. Despite the former and despite the undeniable fact that the latter is responsible for nuclear and particle physics being decades in advance of what would otherwise have been their time, I know what my own choice for the constants would have been.

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