Smashing Atoms: The History of Uranium and Nuclear Power



The following content is sponsored by the Sprott Physical Uranium Trust

uranium and nuclear power infographic

The History of Uranium and Nuclear Power

Uranium has been around for millennia, but we only recently began to understand its unique properties.

Today, the radioactive metal fuels hundreds of nuclear reactors, enabling carbon-free energy generation across the globe. But how did uranium and nuclear power come to be?

The above infographic from the Sprott Physical Uranium Trust outlines the history of nuclear energy and highlights the role of uranium in producing clean energy.

From Discovery to Fission: Uncovering Uranium

Just like all matter, the history of uranium and nuclear energy can be traced back to the atom.

Martin Klaproth, a German chemist, first discovered uranium in 1789 by extracting it from a mineral called “pitchblende”. He named uranium after the then newly discovered planet, Uranus. But the history of nuclear power really began in 1895 when German engineer Wilhelm Röntgen discovered X-rays and radiation, kicking off a series of experiments and discoveries—including that of radioactivity.

In 1905, Albert Einstein set the stage for nuclear power with his famous theory relating mass and energy, E = mc2. Roughly 35 years later, Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassman confirmed his theory by firing neutrons into uranium atoms, which yielded elements lighter than uranium. According to Einstein’s theory, the mass lost during the reaction changed into energy. This demonstrated that fission—the splitting of one atom into lighter elements—had occurred.

“Nuclear energy is incomparably greater than the molecular energy which we (Read more...)