The discovery of atomic energy is an event of great significance, It may be regarded as the completion of the industrial age. It will affect our lives for more than was done by the Industrial Revolution. The great question, however, is of the use that may be made of this terrifying energy. It can be used both for good and evil.
If used well it can make the world a happier place but if used wrongly it can wipe out the human race. Just as steam and electric power made big changes in our lives, both for good and evil, atomic power will mold our living far more deeply. In ten or fifteen years’ time, atomic energy will be used in place of electricity. The fear is that these advances may not be accompanied by the right kind of thinking which can make wise use of them for the good of humanity.
Atomic energy can be used for power generation. In England. it has been used for several years to heat houses in a small area. The United States of America has successfully employed atomic fuel in a submarine which can go to all the seas and remain underwater without the need for refueling. The Soviet Union has put into operation an atomic electric station of 5,000 Kwts. Within the next ten years or so many atomic power stations will be set up all over the world. Atomic energy has entered the farms, the factories, the powerhouse, and the hospitals.
A significant application of atomic energy in the field of agriculture has been in the use of radioactive tracers” in fertilizers.; Radiation, when directed on seeds and plants, increases the crop output. Experiments are going on to find a method of killing harmful bacteria by radiation. This will keep food lit for human use for longer than is possible now. It will be possible to produce food by laboratory process.
In the field of medicine, it has already made great advances. In course of time, it is going to revolutionize medicine and give us the means to fight those diseases which are now considered beyond cure. Radioisotopes are used for medical operations. Radioactive cobalt can be employed to cure cancer.
In the field of industry, its uses can be enormous. In the U. S. A. many firms are applying atomic energy to obtain better products at a lower cost. Some countries have already started building electric plants which use atomic energy.
Another important field in which atomic energy will bring about revolutionary charges is communications. In a few years, we can expect atomic energy to be used for ocean-going vessels, trains, and aircraft. Isolated and barren lands will again become centers of activity. This new source of power can supply heat and light to villages hidden in far away valleys.
The industrialization has so far proceeded on the basis that most of the materials needed will be available. It is known that the reserves of a number of metals will not last for more than a few decades. The industrialization of new areas of the world will be checked if no other way is found. Atomic energy has now given us new hope.
The source of the energy used in the world today is coal oil and gas, and hydro-electric power, The present known reserves of coal and oil are limited. In underdeveloped countries, they are not sufficient for the attainment of a standard of living equal to that of industrially advanced countries. Atomic energy here has a great role to play. It has been estimated that uranium and thorium contain enough atomic energy to meet the needs of the under-developed countries. Atomic energy will also enable advanced countries to maintain a high standard of living for centuries to come.
The extent to which atomic energy is put to general use will depend upon capital and running costs involved and the very high quality of technical skill needed. At present atomic energy is extremely expensive. Its technology is very difficult. Development of new methods and techniques, along with greater education in atomic science will solve this problem.
While atomic energy has come as a great liberator of humanity, it has given to men vast power of destruction, if wise use is ‘not made of the energy its ultimate dreadful consequences may outweigh the good it can do. We are living today under the shadow of nuclear weapons. The known consequences of the explosions of these are too horrible to think of. Though their full effects are not known, enough is known to show that such weapons endanger the very existence of the human race. If another World War breaks out millions will be killed. Many millions injured and many more millions will die a slow and painful death. All over the world, there have been protests against the tests of such weapons. There is also a move to get these weapons banned. Nobody knows for certain if the leaders of the two Great Powers will realize this danger to mankind and take a pledge not to use atomic power for destructive purposes.
Apart from the heat and blast effects of such weapons, a man like Einstein and Bertrand Russell have warned against the radiological effects of nuclear explosions. A number of radioactive substances, such as radio-strontium, enter into the body, soil, air, water, and food. This brings about various diseases, life-shortening and giving slow death. Not only the present but the future generations are also subject to the dreadful effects. The future of atomic energy is full of hope and danger.