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CHAPTER 5- RADIOACTIVE WASTE MANAGEMENT
John E. Marra
Savannah River National Laboratory
Aiken, South Carolina 29802, United States ofAmerica
Ronald A. Palmer
Institute for Clean Energy Technology, Mississippi State University
Starkville, Mississippi 39762, United States of America
The ore pitchblende was discovered in the 1750's near Joachimstal in what is now the
Czech Republic. Used as a colorant in glazes, uranium was identified in 1789 as the active
ingredient by chemist Martin Klaproth. In 1896, French physicist Henri Becquerel studied
uranium minerals as part of his investigations into the phenomenon of fluorescence. He
discovered a strange energy emanating from the material which he dubbed "rayons
uranique." Unable to explain the origins of this energy, he set the problem aside.
About two years later, a young Polish graduate student was looking for a project for her
dissertation. Marie Sklodowska Curie, working with her husband Pierre, picked up on
Becquerel's work and, in the course of seeking out more information on uranium,
discovered two new elements (polonium and radium) which exhibited the same
phenomenon, but were even more powerful. The Curies recognized the energy, which they
now called "radioactivity," as something very new, requiring a new interpretation, new
science. This discovery led to what some view as the "golden age of nuclear science"
(1895-1945) when countries throughout Europe devoted large resources to understand the
properties and potential of this material.
By World War II, the potential to harness this energy for a destructive device had been
recognized and by 1939, Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassman showed that fission not only
released a lot of energy but that it also released additional neutrons which could cause
fission in other uranium nuclei leading to a self-sustaining chain reaction and an
enormous release of energy. This suggestion was soon confirmed experimentally by other
scientists and the race to develop an atomic bomb was on. The rest of the development
history which lead to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 is well chronicled.
After World War II, development of more powerful weapons systems by the United
States and the Soviet Union continued to advance nuclear science. It was this defense
application that formed the basis for the commercial nuclear power industry.
The Dawn of the Commercial Nuclear Power Industry
Both the Soviet Union and the West realized that the tremendous heat produced in the
process could be tapped either for direct use or for generating electricity. It was also
clear that this new form of energy would allow development of compact long-lasting
power sources which could have various applications. The first nuclear reactor to
produce electricity was the Experimental Breeder Reactor (EBR-1) in Idaho, USA
December 1951. In 1953 President Eisenhower proposed the "Atoms for Peace" program,
Here’s what’s next.
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Marra, J. CHAPTER 5-RADIOACTIVE WASTE MANAGEMENT, book, May 5, 2010; South Carolina. (https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc932490/m1/2/: accessed April 25, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, https://digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.