For 28 years Dr. Frank Settle was a professor of chemistry at Virginia Military Institute, Lexington, VA. During this time he received several local and state awards for teaching and undergraduate research in analytical chemistry. Since that time he has been a consultant to the Department of Energy and a program officer in the Division of Undergraduate Education at the National Science Foundation. He currently is a visiting professor of Chemistry at Washington and Lee University where he directs the Alsos Digital Library for Nuclear Issues and teaches interdisciplinary courses on the nuclear age, the role of nuclear power in the global energy portfolio, and the science and politics of weapons of mass destruction.
Dr. Settle obtained a BS in chemistry from Emory and Henry College and PhD in chemistry from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He received the J Calvin Gibbons Award for Excellence in Education from the Division of Analytical Chemistry in 2005.
The Chemistry of Nuclear Weapons
Chemistry has played an important role in nuclear science from the early 1900s to the current proliferation of nuclear weapons. The tale will begin with the discovery of the neutron in 1932, examine the role of chemistry in the discovery of fission, follow the path taken by scientists in the United States and Great Britain that led to the first nuclear weapons, and finally look at some of the legacies of the Manhattan Project. The underlying techniques used to produce uranium-235 and plutonium-239 for the first atomic bombs are still used today by countries seeking nuclear weapons. The roles of chemists in producing materials for these weapons as well as in the design of the weapons themselves will be described. These chemists include Otto Han and Fritz Strassman, Glenn Seaborg and Arthur Wahl, Clarence Larson, Raymond Grills, George Kistiakowsky, and Frank Spedding. Many of the references used for this presentation are found in the Alsos Digital Library for Nuclear Issues (http://alsos.wlu.edu).
The Chemistry of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle
The nuclear fuel cycle consists of a series of industrial processes that produce fuel for the production of electricity in nuclear reactors, use the fuel to generate electricity, and subsequently manage the spent reactor fuel. While the physics and engineering of controlled fission are central to the generation of nuclear power, chemistry dominates all other aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle. An understanding of this chemistry is necessary to address the economic, environmental, safety, and proliferation issues which are essential to any substantive evaluation of nuclear power’s contribution to the global energy portfolio. This paper describes the role of chemistry in each component of the cycle from the metallurgy of uranium to the disposition of spent reactor fuel. It also addresses the economics of the components of the cycle and the costs of nuclear power relative to other sources of energy.
Nuclear Power in Perspective
This presentation addresses the importance of nuclear power in the both the global and domestic energy portfolios. It reviews current energy sources and consumption of the leading nations and then focuses on the United States. A brief review highlights energy units, nuclear reactor design and operation, and the components of the nuclear fuel cycle. The costs associated with nuclear power are compared with those for coal and natural gas. Nuclear power’s role in mitigating destructive effects of climate change is compared with other means of reducing these effects. The current and future role of the US government in controlling and encouraging nuclear power is presented. The conclusion will summarize nuclear power’s assets and liabilities.