Most people are taught in school that Thomas Edison invented the light bulb and that Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin. Yet very few people know who invented nuclear energy–schools do not teach about this topic. It seems to be a bit unfair, seeing as how nuclear energy may prove to be a very important form of power throughout the world in the future. After all, it does not cause pollution or contribute to the greenhouse effect and it is reliable and inexpensive to produce.
Here, then, is a brief history of the origins of nuclear energy. After reading about the roots of this form of power, spread the word so that more people will come to understand how nuclear power was invented.
Enrico Fermi, who was born in Rome, Italy, was the first scientist to split the atom. His research is what ultimately led to nuclear power generation. But, it was his work with Leo Szilard that helped him to first discover how nuclear reactors cause nuclear chain reactions.
Ferni began his adult life studying and teaching theoretical physics. He went on to create artificially radioactive isotopes through the bombardment of neutrons. At this time, he also pursued atomic fission–the bombardment of uranium with slow neutrons. This is when he began working with Leo Szilard. They completed projects involving the controlled release of nuclear energy at Columbia University and at the University of Chicago.
Ferni received a Nobel Prize for physics in 1938 for his research on nuclear power. He finished his projects with Szilard by 1942 and then worked as a professor at the Institute of Nuclear Studies in Chicago beginning in 1945 when he obtained his American citizenship.
Shortly after Ferni’s experimental project work, electricity was generated for the first time by nuclear power at an experimental station near Arco, Idaho. On December 20, 1951, about 100 kW was produced, which led many to have great hope in the possibilities of nuclear power. At the time, however, President Harry Truman was not impressed; he was reportedly quite pessimistic about this type of energy and believed that solar energy should instead be researched.
The first nuclear power plant to generate electricity for a power grid was the USSR’s Obninsk Nuclear Power Plant. It produced about 5 megawatts of power on June 27, 1954. Two years later, the world’s first commercial nuclear power station–Calder Hall in Sellafield, England–was opened. Calder Hall initially produced 50 megawatts of nuclear power; later, it went on to produce up to 200 megawatts of power.
Both the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Army developed nuclear power programs during this same time period. The U.S. Navy used nuclear power for the purpose of propelling submarines and aircraft carriers. In fact, the Navy has operated more nuclear reactors than any entity. As for the U.S. Army, they used nuclear power for their own electrical needs.
There is much to be learned about who invented nuclear energy and the history of this type of power. Perhaps one day soon, schools will begin teaching this information alongside other important historical discoveries.