Oil, Coal and natural gas are all exhaustible sources of power. However, water is an inexhaustible source of power and will continue to be used by man for all times to come.
But, water power shall not be able to meet ever increasing demand of energy. Hence the scientists continue to explore new sources of energy. The discovery of atomic energy is highly appropriate.
The ‘atom’ is a Greek word which means ‘uncut table’ or ‘indivisible’. According to scientists, atoms are unbelievably tiny. Many millions of atoms can be laid side by side along a line one inch long. In fact, the tiniest grain of matter that can be seen contains many millions of atoms.
Atomic energy is the energy released by rearrangement of atomic nuclei, as in nuclear fission. It is also called nuclear energy.
Nuclear or atomic energy is the most powerful kind of energy so far discovered. Nuclear energy results from changes in the nucleus of atoms. Scientists have found many uses of this energy especially in producing electricity.
But they are not able to make full use of the nuclear power. If this energy were fully developed it could meet the entire world’s electricity demand for millions of years.
Nuclear energy is useful mainly because it creates excessive heat. It can be used to make steam and the steam can be used to generate electricity. Nuclear reactors have been invented to produce and control nuclear energy. A nuclear reactor works somewhat like a furnace. But instead of using coal or oil, reactors use uranium.
Electric power production is by far the most important use of nuclear energy. But nuclear energy has great value because it produces high energy particles and rays called nuclear radiation. Nuclear radiation has important uses in medicine, industry and science.
Nuclear energy propels submarines and other ships. Like nuclear power plants these vessels have a reactor to create heat for making steam. The steam is used to turn the ship propellers.
After World War II, efforts have been made to apply nuclear energy to peace-time uses. Improvements have been brought about in the design of nuclear reactor. It was found that nuclear energy could produce electric power efficiently and safely.
Radioisotopes are being used in the fields of agriculture, biology, medicine, industry and scientific research. Radioactive isotopes are radioactive atoms of ordinary elements such as carbon, sodium or phosphorus.
The field of medicine is deriving a lot of benefit from nuclear energy in the form of radioisotopes. Doctors are using radioisotopes to locate tumors, to diagnose and treat patients suffering from throat irregularities, and to study and treat cancer. In the field of agriculture, scientists have determined how plants absorb chemicals as they grow. With radioactive cobalt, botanists have produced new types of plants.
At present, all atomic power stations are thermal plants and the sole purpose of the atomic reactors is to produce heat for raising steam. The world’s first atomic power station designed mainly for electricity production came into operation in 1957 at Calder Hall in Cumberland district of the U.K.
The U.S.A. leads the world in atomic energy production. In 1994 there were 220 nuclear power stations in the world. Nuclear power plants have two main advantages over fossil fuel (coal, oil or natural gas) plants:
(a) A nuclear plant uses much less fuel than does fossil fuel plant. One ounce of uranium has the energy equivalent to more than 100 metric tons of coal. In this way, the development of nuclear energy can bring about saving of coal, oil and natural gas which can be diverted to other uses.
(b) Uranium, unlike oil and coal, does not release chemical or solid pollutants into air during use. Coal and oil because more air pollution as compared to a nuclear plant.
The importance of atomic energy lies in the fact that countries lacking in coal, oil, gas or even water-power can now develop industry and its wide use will help in dispersal of industry. But for backward countries of the world, the chances of atomic energy development are bleak because development of nuclear energy requires: (i) huge capital, and (ii) high degree of scientific and technical knowledge.
Atomic Energy in India.
At present, India is not rich in such sources of power as coal, petroleum, natural gas and hydro-electricity. The north-eastern region of the country has petroleum resources. In order to meet the increasing power requirements of existing manufacturing industries and to encourage their expansion and establishment of the new units, nuclear energy is being planned to be developed for the generation of electricity.
The first nuclear power station in India was constructed at Tarapur, known as Tarapur Atomic Power Station in Thana district near Mumbai 440 MW It was commissioned in 1969-70.
(i) Rajasthan Atomic Power Station (near Kota)
(ii) Madras Atomic Power Station (near Kalpakkam) (iii) Narora Atomic Power Station (U.P)
The deposits of pitchblende (the principal source of uranium) are poor in India. Kerala possesses monazite in the south of Quilon. Monazite is an important source of uranium and thorium. Alwaye in Kerala has a factory for processing monazite.
The Atomic Energy Commission has been set up by the Government of India and is responsible for planning and development of atomic energy for peaceful purposes.
The programme aims at encouraging the use of atomic energy in agriculture, biology, industry and medicine mainly through the radioisotopes and radiation sources and the development of atomic energy as a source of cheap electric power.
India entered the nuclear club on May 18, 1974 by successfully conducting an underground atomic explosion for peaceful purposes in Southern Rajasthan.
Another explosion was done at Pokhran in Rajasthan. Atomic reactors are being installed at Kaiga (Karnataka) and Kakrapar (Gujarat).
In order to meet the fuel and heavy water requirements of power reactors, nuclear fuel complex was set up at Hyderabad and a heavy water plant at Vadodra, Talcher (Orissa), Rawatbhata (Rajasthan), Tuticorin (Tamil Nadu) and Thai (Maharashtra).