What if Fission was Discovered Today?

Yesterday marked the 77 year anniversary of January 26, 1939, when during the Fifth Washington Conference on Theoretical Physics at the George Washington University, Nobel Laureate Niels Bohr publicly announced the splitting of the uranium atom. The resulting “fission,” with its release of two hundred million electron volts of energy, heralded the beginning of the atomic age. Would our choices of using this innovation be different if fission was discovered today?

The invention of fission was made amidst World War II, followed by the Cold War. At that time, fossil energy sources seemed limitless and there were no concerns about climate change. The major issue globally was national security. It did not take long before physicists realized that the fission of uranium could be used to create a nuclear chain reaction and weapons of mass destruction. Rest is history.

Niels Bohr

What if fission was only discovered today? How would we use the innovation of an enormous energy source to our benefit? Today’s biggest problems center around globalization issues such as overpopulation, resource depletion and climate change. Wouldn’t we use the innovation to solve our biggest problems, just like we did after 1939? If we would pretend to rediscover fission today, would we rather opt for the thorium fuel cycle - a safe, abundant, clean, efficient and proliferation resistant source of atomic energy?

Last updated 27 January, 2016