La force forte est presque avec nous

HAMBOURG – Il y a environ 60 ans, la découverte de la puissance nucléaire promettait la solution ultime aux problèmes énergétiques du monde. Aujourd’hui, cette promesse demeure non tenue. Le développement de la technologie nucléaire stagne et les centrales nucléaires fonctionnent encore avec une technologie développée il y a un demi siècle.

L’énergie nucléaire est produite dans les processus de désintégration d’éléments lourds comme l’uranium ou le thorium. Les noyaux de leurs atomes se désintègrent généralement en deux noyaux plus petits et une paire de neutrons, libérant une énergie des millions de fois supérieure à ce que n’importe quel autre processus chimique ne pourrait jamais produire. La raison pour laquelle les éléments lourds contiennent tant d’énergie est qu’ils ont emmagasiné une fraction de l’énergie relâchée dans l’explosion de la supernova qui est à l’origine de la création de notre Terre et du système solaire il y a environ cinq milliards d’années.

Les centrales d’aujourd’hui utilisent comme combustible un type particulier d’uranium, l’U235, qui est consumé dans une chaine de processus par lesquels les neutrons obtenus par désintégration atomique produisent la désintégration suivante. Ni l’uranium 238, qui est environ cent fois plus abondant que l’U235, ni le thorium, qui est encore plus accessible, ne sont utilisés pour produire de l’énergie à grande échelle.

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