Chemistry is one of the most critical scientific fields that provide practical solutions to global problems. What makes chemistry even more crucial is that it comprises different branches, each dealing with specific aspects of matter. Nuclear chemistry is one of the branches of chemistry that primarily focuses on studying radiation on atomic and molecular levels. From nuclear reactions to their applications in medicine, physics, and other scientific areas, nuclear chemistry provides knowledge of what different nuclear processes are and how they work. To give you a better understanding of what this branch of chemistry is all about, here are ten reasons why nuclear chemistry is so important:
#1. Nuclear Chemistry Studies Radioactivity
Nuclear chemistry studies radioactivity, a phenomenon during which unstable atomic nuclei spontaneously disintegrate to form more stable atoms. In order for unstable isotopes to transform into more stable ones, they emit particles and energy. The overall process is often referred to as radioactive decay, which is a nuclear reaction as it affects the nucleus of an atom. Although radioactivity is a physical phenomenon, nuclear chemistry is key to understanding how it works.
#2. Nuclear Chemistry Deals with Nuclear Processes
Nuclear chemistry explores nuclear processes, also known as nuclear reactions, on an atomic or molecular level. There are four main types of nuclear reactions, including fission, fusion, nuclear decay (radioactive decay), and transmutation. While nuclear fission involves splitting or breaking the nucleus of an atom into two or more nuclei, nuclear fusion describes how two atomic nuclei are joined together. On the other hand, nuclear transmutation is a phenomenon during which the number of protons in the nucleus of an atom is changed, leading to the formation of another element or isotope.
#3. Nuclear Chemistry Allows Scientists to Study Power Generation Methods
Nuclear power plants are thermal power stations that use a nuclear reactor as a heat source. In order for a nuclear power plant to work, the water must be heated. Therefore, these stations aim to produce heat through nuclear fission, nuclear fusion, or nuclear decay reactions. While all three processes can be used to obtain nuclear power, fission is the most commonly used nuclear reaction. Without nuclear chemistry, scientists would not be able to develop the efficient power generation methods that exist today.
#4. Nuclear Chemistry Enables Scientists to Create Safe and Efficient Nuclear Power Sources
While developing nuclear power plants is important, creating safe and efficient sources of nuclear power is even more crucial. Although every energy source can increase the rate of greenhouse gas emission and the level of air pollution, some sources are considered to be cleaner than others. According to Our World In Data, nuclear energy is the second safest energy source after solar energy. Therefore, nuclear chemistry plays a key role in advancing the way nuclear power sources are used.
#5. Nuclear Chemistry Lets Scientists Improve the Methods of Storing Radioactive Materials
As radioactive materials can be pretty dangerous, they should be kept away from living beings. Besides, minimizing the chances of radiation pollution is just as important. By understanding how radioactivity works, nuclear chemistry allows scientists to store radioactive materials or wastes as safely as possible.
#6. Nuclear Chemistry Provides Knowledge of How to Dispose of Radioactive Materials Safely
While storing radioactive materials is of huge importance, disposing of radioactive wastes is just as crucial. To minimize the risks of radiation exposure to living beings or the environment in general, it is essential to understand how radioactivity works in the first place. And this is when nuclear chemistry comes into play. Nuclear chemists provide detailed information about discarding radioactive materials and equipment without damaging the environment or causing any health issues.
#7. Nuclear Chemistry Is Fundamental to Understanding Radiation Detection and Measurement Techniques
Nuclear chemistry allows scientists to understand how to detect and measure radiation. While radioactive isotopes can be easily detected and measured even in very low quantities, precautions are required when dealing with radioactive isotopes in high amounts. Having knowledge of nuclear chemistry minimizes the risks of contaminating the lab equipment or the environment itself with radioactive materials.
#8. Nuclear Chemistry Is Key to Understanding How Nuclear Weapons Work
A nuclear weapon is an explosive device that is based on different nuclear processes, including nuclear fission and nuclear fusion. In order for a nuclear weapon to work, chemical explosives are used to facilitate the nuclear reactions mentioned before. Without nuclear chemistry, it would be impossible to create and advance different nuclear weapons.
#9. Nuclear Chemistry Is Involved in Medicine
Nuclear chemistry is widely used in different branches of medicine. Nuclear medicine, in particular, uses radioactive materials to diagnose and treat a broad range of illnesses. Most of the time, nuclear medicine is used for scanning the heart, lungs, kidneys, thyroid gland, and gallbladder. Besides, nuclear medicine plays a key role in diagnosing various brain disorders and heart conditions. Evidently, nuclear chemistry is crucial for healthcare professionals to obtain information about different organs, tissues, cells, and diseases in general.
#10. Nuclear Chemistry Is Essential for Preventing Nuclear Accidents, Like the Chernobyl Disaster, from Happening
On April 26th in 1986, the world’s worst nuclear accident occurred in the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. As a result of an explosion and fire that destroyed the reactor building, large amounts of radioactive materials were released into the atmosphere, killing at least 30 people and injuring even more. Therefore, nuclear chemistry is crucial for preventing nuclear disasters like this from happening.